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Sukkot Shabbat Chol Hamoed: Sukkot and the Clouds of Glory

Sukkot Shabbat Chol Hamoed
Exodus 33:12–34:26; Ezekiel 38:18–39:16; Book of Ecclesiastes;
Revelation 7:1–10

“‘If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.  Remember that this nation is your people.’  The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”  (Exodus 33:13–14)

Carrying the Torah scroll on Sukkot

Carrying the Torah scroll on Sukkot

The Torah reading for Shabbat Chol Hamoed is actually a portion taken from Parasha Ki Tisa, the portion that recounts the incident of the Golden Calf.

In Ki Tisa, Moses communed with the Lord on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights and received from Him the Ten Commandments.

In his absence, the Israelites decided to make a golden calf their representative before God.

Of course, the Israelites had already experienced the power of their invisible God when He miraculously delivered them out of Egypt.

But the reason they give for wanting the calf in Ki Tisa is that they do not know what has happened to Moses, the person they depend upon to be God’s representative.  They demand a physical representation of a deity.

The Golden Calf, a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company

The Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1–8, 30–35)

Seeing everything, God informed Moses of the events taking place in the camp and the severe punishment that would befall the Israelites.  He told Moses that He would destroy the children of Israel and Moses’ descendants would replace them.  In the face of this, Moses showed real leadership, and pleaded with God to spare the Israelites.

Moses descended the mountain with God’s assurance that He would forgive the people.

The Scripture portion for this Shabbat, which falls during the intermediate days of the weeklong festival of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles / Booths), focuses on the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf.

Some Jewish commentators have suggested that in the sin of the golden calf, the Israelites were attempting to seek God in inappropriate ways—ways perhaps influenced by their time in Egypt.

So while their desire to seek God was commendable, their method of seeking Him was not.

It is God Himself who shows us how to approach Him, going so far as giving His people moadim (appointed times) to meet with Him.

This Parasha, therefore, denounces idol worship and declares that all Israelite males were to appear before God at the three major festivals: Passover, Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and Sukkot.

“Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.  Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel.”  (Exodus 34:22–23)

Sukkot-Western Wall-Four Kinds

A Jewish man at the Western (Wailing) Wall carries a Torah in an elaborate silver Torah case during Sukkot.  The men around him are carrying the Four Species of Sukkot (Leviticus 23:40), which are traditionally the citron, the date palm, myrtle, and willow.

His Presence: Seeking and Finding It

In this Parasha, Moses requests that God’s Presence would dwell with His people.

As their humble leader who is so aware of their needs, Moses has enough sense to know that if God’s Presence does not go with them, then he does not even want to attempt the journey.

“Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.’”  (Exodus 33:15)

Why was it so important to Moses that God’s presence went with them?  Moses understands that it is the Presence of God that distinguishes the Israelites from all other nations.  God’s Presence reveals to everyone that He is pleased with His people.  (Exodus 33:16)

Sukkot at the Kotel

Jewish people gather on Sukkot at the Western Wall Plaza.

He also asks God to show him His glory, a request to which God agrees, but only partially.  Moses will only be allowed to see God’s back, not His face, for no one can see the full glory of the face of God and still live.

“You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”  (Exodus 33:20)

God instructs Moses to bring two more stone tablets up to Mount Sinai to replace the ones that were broken in the incident of the sin of the golden calf.  On these stone tablets, God would again engrave the Ten Commandments (Luchot HaBrit).

Here, on Mount Sinai, God reveals His glory to Moses by proclaiming His compassionate, loving, forgiving but just nature in what is referred to as His “Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.”

“Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘YHVH, YHVH, God of mercy and grace slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’”  (Exodus 34:6-7)

God confirms His covenant with the people of Israel through Moses, and warns him that the Israelites are not to make any kind of treaty with the inhabitants of the Land, nor to bow down to their gods in worship.

God asks only for the wholehearted devotion of His people, whom He loves so very much.  Like a faithful spouse, God is jealous for the love of His cherished Bride.

“Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God [El Kanah].”  (Exodus 34:14)

Jewish women pray at the Western Wall on Sukkot.

Jewish women pray in the women’s section at the Western Wall on Sukkot.

His Presence: The Mark of God’s People

“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  (Psalm 16:11)

Most people try to find meaning in life by searching for peace of mind, fulfillment, love, happiness and wealth but, in reality, the one thing that we all are perhaps truly seeking and so desperately need can only be found in the presence of the Almighty God, El Shaddai, El Elyon (God above all).

In His presence we find joy, rest, and a peace that passes understanding. In our harried lives, these qualities can be elusive.  Some people take exotic vacations and pamper themselves at spas to find true rest and peace, but are disappointed by how short lived is the relief.  The fact is that many people today are weary and burdened by the cares and concerns of life.

Yeshua extends a wonderful promise that we can come to Him and find rest for our souls.  He says,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

Reading from the Torah scroll on Sukkot

Reading from the Torah scroll on Sukkot

Just as Moses refused to move forward without God’s Presence, this should be the case for us as well.

Why would we want to attempt any endeavor in which God’s Presence is not with us?

We can be so thankful that God sent His Son to be born upon the earth as the Messiah.  His name was called Immanuel, which in Hebrew means God with us.  (Isaiah 7:14)

God has promised in His Word that He will never leave us or forsake us.  It is His presence with us that distinguishes us from other people.

Shepherds sometimes place a special mark on their sheep, such as pink spray paint, in order that their own sheep may be distinguished from the sheep of other flocks.

Yeshua has told us what distinguishing mark will be on the sheep He calls His own—love.  It is by the love that we show to one another that we are distinguished as His disciples, different from all other people who are upon the face of the earth.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:35)

Jewish men at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem carry the Four Species of Sukkot (Leviticus 23:40), which are traditionally the citron, the date palm, myrtle, and willow.

Jewish men at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem pray carrying the Four Species of Sukkot (Leviticus 23:40).

During Sukkot, we rejoice in the presence of God, remembering how God delivered over two million people from Egypt.  They left without the protection of a trained army, relying on the sheltering presence of God to keep them safe in the wilderness, which was a dangerous place full of all kinds of threats to their very lives.

And though they lived in temporary shelters, God protected them, shielding them with Clouds of Glory, supernaturally providing for their every need.

The structures called sukkot in which the Jewish People eat, entertain and often live in throughout this weeklong festival remind us of the huts that the Israelites lived in as they trekked through the wilderness.

The flimsy walls and incomplete roof remind us that God kept the Israelites through every type of danger.  These booths remind us that though life is fragile, God’s presence is enough to meet any challenge.

Dinner in the Sukkah

It is traditional to essentially live in the sukkah during Sukkot, eating meals there and even sleeping in it.  Being willing to leave the security of our homes and spend eight days in a flimsy temporary shelter is an act of faith that God still protects the Jewish People.

Haftarah Portion: Celebrating His Presence in Jerusalem

The Haftarah (prophetic portion) for this Shabbat is about the war of Gog and Magog, which is to take place before the final redemption in the end of times.

Why is this portion read during the festival of Sukkot?  Sages long ago determined that this war will take place during the month of Tishrei, the seventh month during which Sukkot takes place.

The war of Gog and Magog, as described in the book of the prophet Ezekiel is very similar to the war described in the fourteenth chapter of Zechariah.  This passage, which is read on the first day of Sukkot, tells us that all the surviving peoples of the war will be required to appear before the presence of the God of Israel during Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

“Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.”  (Zechariah 14:16)

Jerusalem Sukkot

An ultra-Orthodox man walks past wooden sukkot (plural for sukkah) in Jerusalem during the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles).

The related prophecy in Ezekiel 38 states that surrounding nations as far north as Russia (Magog), as far east as Iran (Persia), as far west as Libya (Put) under the leadership of Gog will invade Israel.  However, God will not abandon His everlasting covenant with Abraham: He declares His jealousy over His people and His land and vows to destroy her enemies:

“And it will come to pass on that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel, declares the Lord God, that My blazing indignation will flame in My nostrils.  For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken; Surely there shall be a great noise on that day in the land of Israel.”  (Ezekiel 38:18–19)

God, who is in control of all the great forces of nature, will use an earthquake, giant hailstones, flooding, pestilence and blood, fire and brimstone, to destroy the hordes of people who dare come against Israel.

“And I will judge against him with pestilence and with blood, and rain bringing floods, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone will I rain down upon him and upon his hordes and upon the many peoples that are with him.”  (Ezekiel 38:22)

And, yet, it will be through this judgment that God’s glory and greatness will be revealed to the Gentile nations so that they come to know that the God of Israel is the God of Creation.

“And I will reveal Myself in My greatness and in My holiness and will be recognized in the eyes of many nations, and they will know that I am the Lord [YHVH יְהוָה].”  (Ezekiel 38:23)

A Jewish man wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) prays using a siddur (prayer book) during Sukkot.

A Jewish man wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) prays using a siddur (prayer book) during Sukkot.

May Jew and Gentile in every nation come to know the greatness and holiness of the Lord and His protective love for His nation Israel.

And may all who know Him joyfully embrace His presence by tabernacling with Him every day, especially during this festive season of Sukkot.

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