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Weekly D'rash and Parsha Sukkot

A wooden sukkah with branches covering the roof

Chag Sukkot Sameach! This Friday begins Sukkot, the Feast of Booths. Sukkot is a holiday of rejoicing over the blessing of God. We have just journeyed through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which prepare us for rejoicing in our annual spiritual renewal. Many themes and traditions are present at Sukkot. One of the lesser-known traditions is the welcoming of the spiritual fathers of our people, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David into the sukkah. This Friday at the beginning of our Erev Sukkot service we will say a traditional prayer inviting our ancestors to join us in the sukkah. It is called “ushpizin”, which is an Aramaic word that means “guests”. Later, in Modern Hebrew, the root of the word had the sense of being hospitalized.

We invite each of these spiritual luminaries to dwell with us because traditionally there is a special blessing to be associated with them. This invitation to have our spiritual ancestors join us in the sukkah reminds us of Yeshua, who abides with and in us. The sukkah reminds us of the temporariness of this life and our reliance on God who provides an eternal shelter for us. Perhaps this is what Paul had in mind in 2 Cor. 5:1–2, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven.”

Even though our temporary sukkah is weak and flimsy, we are not alone! Yeshua travels through this life with us via the Holy Spirit. “For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor. 5:4–5)

The invitation of our spiritual ancestors reminds us that we are part of the history of Israel. God has traveled with the Jewish people through every era and every situation. While it is nice to think that our traditional spiritual ancestors bring a blessing, it is only Messiah Yeshua who truly is alive to walk with us through this life. He said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who abides in Me and I in them, they bear much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4–5).

Today, even in unbelief, Yeshua preserves the Jewish people. This is not a statement about individual eternal destiny. It is a statement about the faithfulness of God in his calling of Israel to be a Messianic people. When we say today that God has not abandoned Israel, we can say that Yeshua has not abandoned Israel. His face may be hidden, but he has not abandoned His own people.

However, for Messiah followers, the presence of Yeshua with us not only preserves us, but provides us with the beginning of an eternal new life. The modern meaning of “ushpizin”, being hospitalized, seems appropriate. Yeshua brings healing and wellbeing to us in a way that only occurs when we embrace Him as the Messiah. On this Sukkot, may we as Messiah followers remember that Yeshua abides in us. He is not a “guest”, but lives within us always. May the day come soon when our sukkah turns into a permanent structure. In the meantime, let us aspire to please Him in all things!

Chag Sukkot Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Howard

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