As the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) approached, the entire Jewish nation started making preparations. Work crews were sent to repair roads and bridges for the thousands of pilgrims going to Jerusalem.
During the festival many Jews eat (and sleep, as well) in the booths or huts, which are built in the five days between Yom Kippur and this festival.
The Feast of Tabernacles is by far the most festive and joyous of occasions. History records that four huge candelabra were constructed, lighted, and attended by young men ascending ladders periodically with pitchers of oil to keep them burning. The light from these lamps illuminated the whole city, and around them danced distinguished men with torches in their hands, singing hymns and songs of praise. The dancing as well as the music continued until daybreak. It was an extravaganza (Somerville 1995).
Speak to the children of Israel, saying, “On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the festival of Sukkos, a seven-day period for HaShem. The first day shall be a sacred holiday when you may not do any work…The eighth day is a sacred holiday to you… it is an atzeres, you may not do any work…
On the first day you must take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree, an unopened palm frond, myrtle branches, and brook willows, and you shall rejoice before HaShem for seven days. …
You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days…So that your future generations shall know that I had the children of Israel live in sukkos when I brought them out of Egypt. Leviticus) 23:34-43
Outline in Leviticus
- They lived in booths made with the boughs of trees and branches of palm trees for the seven days of the feast (Lev. 23:42).
- They rested from all regular work on the first and eighth days.
- The priest offered sacrifices on each of the seven days, beginning with thirteen bullocks and other animals on the first day and diminishing by one bullock each day until, on the seventh day, seven bullocks were offered.
- On the eighth day there was a solemn assembly when one bullock, one ram, and seven lambs were offered (Num. 29:36). The sacrifices offered during this time amounted to 189 animals.
- Men carried the cluster of branches to the synagogue to wave as they rejoiced before the Lord, as commanded by the Lord (Lev. 23:40).
Water was also an important part of the Feast of Tabernacles. Before the festival, the rabbis taught on every passage in Scripture dealing with water. In Old Testament biblical times, golden pitchers of water were brought from the pool of Siloam to the temple.
The priest would pour the water over the altar to signify Israel’s gratitude for the rain that had produced the harvest, and would pray for rain in the next year. The priest would recite Isaiah 12:1-3.
And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD YHVH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.
This special libation was performed only during the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles. This was done not only to remind God of the need for abundant rain during the winter season, but also to remind the people of the coming Messiah who had promised to pour out His Holy Spirit on the people.
The last day of the feast was called Hosha’na Rabba, meaning the Day of the Great Hosanna. As the celebration continued, the priests blew the trumpets and waved the branches and the people sang the Great Hallel (Psalms 113 through 118)