We made it! That’s the way I feel today after observing two of three Jewish High Holy days. Both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are hard holidays. During this time, we repent, fast, pray all day and take measure of our souls and sins against God and our fellow man. After all, we must first recognize our sins before we can authentically repent and seek His forgiveness.
The other day I was riding on the subway, and I sat next to a young Hasidic boy. He was a senior in a Jewish religious school for boys – a Yeshiva – and I asked him how his observance of the holy days had gone so far. He looked at me and said, “it was hard.” When I asked why, he recounted for me the difficulties inherent in the Day of Atonement observances: self-denial, fighting the worshiping crowds in a room that seemed far too small for this most holy day of the year, and going hungry from one evening to the next.
I sympathized and told him that this was the way I grew up, and that although I looked like a secular Jew, my love for God and need to be close to Him was strengthened by my own observance of the holiday. I did not go much further than this, but I did make the point that one does not need to be a religious Jew to desire a deeper proximity to the Holy One of Israel.
Some of my Christian friends seem to think that Jewish followers of Jesus, like myself, should not fast or spend the day confessing our sins and repenting – because we have our atonement through the Messiah! Of course, this is true, and I am grateful for the decision I made to ask Yeshua to be my Lord and Messiah when I was 19 years old. I have never looked back.
But as a Jewish person, I still follow many of the traditions of my forefathers, as we can draw closer to God through repentance, prayer, and denying the flesh. Not to make atonement for ourselves, as this is an impossibility, but rather to deepen our appreciation of the work of Yeshua the Messiah on our behalf as we view our sins more honestly and take time to inspect our souls. It is only when we understand our sinfulness do we really recognize what was done for us at Calvary.
But now it’s the middle of the week of the Feast of Tabernacles! The load of guilt is either gone or no longer the focus of the community, and Jewish people are all smiles. The sense of release is palpable; I can feel the joy in the air.
I visited one of our ultra-Orthodox Jewish areas in Brooklyn and watched as crowds of Hasidim gathered around street vendors selling the lulav, etrog and other materials needed to observe the festival. During the observance of Tabernacles, Jewish people wave the combined branches of myrtle, palm and willow which are wrapped together and shaken to all four sides and up and down to remind us of God’s sovereignty over all things. These are shaken along with the lemon-like etrog – a large and beautiful citrus fruit that reminds us of the final harvest of fruit in Israel. (Leviticus 23:40)
This conclusion to the cycle of feasts calls our attention to God’s faithfulness and fills our souls with expectation that the harvests will be renewed in the year to come, as He brings the rain and performs the miracle of bringing forth fruits, vegetables and grain from seeds planted.
Sukkot (booths) dotted the Orthodox areas of Brooklyn as well. We are commanded to live in little tabernacles during the seven days of the festival to remind us of the manner in which the Lord provided for us during the wilderness wanderings. This tradition also helps us remember that He who provided during a difficult 40 years is the same One who provides for us today. And even though we live in very flimsy and vulnerable tabernacles made of flesh, God is loving and powerful and will care for us as He did for our ancestors during their wanderings through the desert.
The lessons of this joy-filled holiday are as endless as the faithfulness and goodness of God!
For me as a Messianic Jew, the most profound message of the Feast of Tabernacles came when God sent His Messiah, born of a Jewish virgin, to live in a frail, human tent and to dwell among us;
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14)
We have seen the Glory of the One who carried us through the desert as if on eagles’ wings (Ex. 19:4), from the revelation at Sinai to the Promised Land. This same Lord is the One who said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). This is a much-appreciated change from the “hard” holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We no longer need to repent and focus on atonement for sin, but instead are commanded to rejoice and enjoy what God has done for a broken world!
Rejoice – for Messiah died and rose and will come again when we will dwell together in His Tabernacle of grace. The whole earth will be filled with His majesty and glory.
… and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. (Lev. 23:40)
Be sure to find out more about Sukkot by clicking here.