Increasing Holiness Through Sukkot

This year the Feast of Tabernacles/ Sukkot begins September 30 (at sundown) – October 7, 2012

The principle of increasing holiness is reflected through the seven days of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles.

In ancient Israel, on each day of Sukkot, the people World gather young willow branches, bring them up to the altar of the Temple, and make one circuit around the altar crying out, “Save now, we beseech you O Lord!—Ana Adonai Hoshia’na!”

But on the seventh day, they would make seven circuits around the altar, calling out the same words—Ana Adonai Hoshia’na!

Likewise, on each of the seven days of Sukkot, a procession of worshipers went down to the pool of Shiloach. There a priest filled a golden flask with water, fulfilling the words, “With joy you shall craw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).

Then the people in the procession went up to the altar and poured the water out as an offering before the Lord in the midst of great rejoicing. The Mishnah comments on this ceremony: “Anyone who has not seen the rejoicing of bet hashoebah [the place of water drawing] in his life has never seen rejoicing.”

In accord with Hillel’s principle, the rejoicing reached its peak on the seventh day, with song and dance, harps, cymbals, and trumpets sounding before the Lord.

The rejoicing of “the place of water drawing” became linked in the Jewish mind to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit promised for the Age to Come as part of Creation consummated.

An old commentary on Parashat Vayetze makes the same connection. The Torah says, “So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well’s mouth” (Gen. 29:l–2).

The Midrash comments:

And behold, three flocks of sheep—the three festivals [Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles];
For out of that well they watered the flocks—from there [the festivals] they imbibed the Divine spirit;
A large stone—this alludes to the rejoicing of the place of water drawing.
R. Hoshaya said, ‘Why was it called the rejoicing of the place of water drawing? Because from there they imbibed he Divine spirit.’

This is, of course, a highly imaginative interpretation, even by the standards of midrash. Isn’t Jacob just a thirsty wanderer who is seeking water? He comes upon a well, sealed by a large stone, rolls away the stone, and drinks. But if we limit ourselves to this reading alone, we will miss a great deal that is in the text itself.

In the modern world, we don’t often see wells of water, but they were a common sight to our ancestors. Isaac restored the wells of Abraham, and then dug new wells of living water (Gen. 26:19).

Earlier, it was at a well that the servant of Abraham found Rebekah, who became Isaac’s wife. And, now, at another well, Jacob will meet Rachel, who becomes his wife. Indeed, the wells of Rebekah and Rachel reveal much about the lives of Isaac and Jacob. At Rebekah’s well, the servant arrives, sent by the father, loaded with gifts, on behalf of his son. At the end of the story, after Rebekah follows the servant home, Isaac is called adoni, my master. At Rachel’s well, Jacob arrives himself, a vagabond without gifts or possessions at all. He will become a servant to Laban, rather than a master to anyone.
Despite such contrasts, the well is the source of life for both Isaac and Jacob. When Jacob rolls away the stone to water the flocks he sets in motion events that will take us through the founding of Israel, the giving of Torah, the promise of renewal, and eventually the Age to Come, in which God pours out his spirit on all humankind, as the Midrash notes.
Perhaps “three flocks of sheep” lying by the well is not an incidental detail after all. The Midrash makes a profound point in linking this number to the three festivals. Just as Jacob finds restoration at the well, and provides restoration for others by rolling away the stone, so Israel finds restoration at its annual festivals, and rehearses the restoration to come upon all nations.

Yeshua the Messiah once went up to Jerusalem against such a backdrop of expectancy to celebrate Sukkot. Yeshua’s brothers had invited him to go up to “show yourself to the world” (Yochanan/John 1 7:4, CJB), and he declined. But later “he too went up, not publicly but in secret.

At the festival, the Judeans were looking for him ‘Where is he?’ they asked” (vv. 10–11, CJB). All the festivals point to the day of Messiah and the prophetic fulfillment that only he can bring. In Yochanan’s account, Yeshua finally shows him self to the world, as his brothers had suggested, “On the last day [of the festival, Hoshana Rabbah” (7:37, CJB).

The last day is great because in matters of holiness we seek to increase rather that decrease. The ritual of water drawing has just been completed, when Yeshua stands up and cries out: “If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me and drinking! Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!” (7:37–38, CJB). Yochanan comments: “Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who trusted in him were to receive later—the Spirit had not yet been given, because Yeshua had not yet been glorified” (7:39, CJB).
Like our father Jacob, we are all thirsty. And as the Midrash suggests, we are thirsty for more than water, for we sense there is living water that comes directly from God, which will satisfy us with true and vibrant life.

Messiah offers this water to all who trust in him. He offers a profound transformation as well. We will have a supply of living water deep within ourselves, to sustain us and to refresh those whom we encounter in life. “If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me and drinking! Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture: says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!”
A final lesson from Rachel’s well: Jacob cannot partake without rolling away the heavy stone so that all can drink. By slaking his thirst, he becomes a source of refreshment to all.

He drinks, and rivers of living water flow from his inmost being on behalf of others. Like Jacob, I cannot get to the true water without making it available to those around me.
For the journey: Messiah promises not only to satisfy my spiritual thirst, but to make me a source of satisfaction to others. How do I roll away the stone at the mouth of the well, so that I can drink and supply water to others as well?


The above is an excerpt from Creation to Completion: A Guide to Life’s Journey from the Five Books of Moses pages 26-28 about Rachael’s Well/Parashat Vayetze, Genesis 28:10–32:3.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Kara says:

    The Feast of Tabernacles actually started yesterday, but I didn't get a chance to post a link. Here's a good… http://fb.me/BPJG4jHx

  2. kmamatx says:

    The Feast of Tabernacles actually started yesterday, but I didn't get a chance to post a link. Here's a good… http://fb.me/BPJG4jHx

    • Amera says:

      that we would not know the day or the hour.That said, there are many problems. When did the last gatenerion begin. Was is May 1948 or June 1967? Is a gatenerion 40, 70, or 80 years? What about the possibility of the Year of Release which would begin the fiftieth year?If you read the 24th chapter of Mathew, Jerusalem seems to be key. This brings about the possibility that the last gatenerion began following the 6 days war. We all know that 40 years has been eliminated by the passage of time. The next possibility would be May this year. This can not happen if the Gentiles have not been reached. Should this be the year we have only four months to reach this entire world with the Gospel. So, I would recommend less time guessing when the end would come and more time sharing Christ with all of our friend, families, and people we encounter every day.Jim

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