Thoughts on Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot – 5783

This Shabbat is a special one as it is the Shabbat during Chol Hamoed Sukkot (the intermediary days of the moed). As such, there is a special Torah reading, Exodus 33:12 – 34:261, which is part of Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35). Just as a reminder, Ki Tisa deals with Moses spending time on the mountaintop with HaShem, receiving the original tablets with the Ten Words escribed. This special time is tragically interrupted as HaShem sent Moses back down the mountain to deal with the Bnei Israel and their sin with the molten calf. 

There is much more in Ki Tisa portion, and we will look at it later at its time. However, as I read through the special portion for this Shabbat, an aspect of HaShem’s interaction with Moses and well as all Bnei Israel seemed to jump out at me. In Exodus 34:1 it is written

ADONAI said to Moses, “Carve for yourself two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write upon them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

Now read the verse about the the first tablets in Ex. 31:18.

When He (ADONAI), had finished speaking with him (Moses) on Mount Sinai, He gave the two tablets of the Testimony to Moses—tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

Do you see it? On both sets of tablets, the same Torah was written, both by the finger of HaShem. The difference is that HaShem prepared the first tablets, he required Moses to prepare the second.

Remember these two tablets and let’s now consider Sukkot. In Leviticus 23, we read the instructions for the various moadim established by HaShem. In verses 42 & 43 we read these words dealing with Sukkot.   

You are to celebrate it as a festival to ADONAI for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations—you are to celebrate it in the seventh month. You are to live in sukkot for seven days. All the native-born in Israel are to live in sukkot, so that your generations may know that I had Bnei-Yisrael to dwell in sukkotwhen I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am ADONAI your God.”

Turning to the Talmud, we find a thought-provoking connection with the special Torah reading.

As it is taught in a baraita that the verse states: “I made the children of Israel to reside in sukkot”; these booths were clouds of glory, this is the statement of Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Akiva says: They established for themselves actual sukkot. This works out well according to Rabbi Eliezer; however, according to Rabbi Akiva what can be said?

Sukka 11b2

Do you see the connection? Typically, we understand the phrase, “I had Bnei-Yisrael to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt,” to mean that throughout their wilderness wandering, Bnei Israel lived in tents, or temporary dwellings. Interestingly, Rabbi Eliezer notes that while Bnei Israel did dwell in tents as they traveled, the true sukkot was the cloud of glory that covered them. In Exodus 13, we see that Bnei Israel was guided by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night and these two never departed throughout their travels, (verses 20 & 21). In Exodus 40, upon completion of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the cloud covered the Mishkan as the glory of HaShem established his dwelling, in the midst of his people (verse 34). 

In the Talmudic reading, Rabbi Akiva did not disagree with Rabbi Eliezer’s affirmation that it was the cloud of HaShem’s glory that was the sukkot during the wandering. What Rabbi Akiva was stressing was that now, it was Israel’s responsibility to build and dwell in sukkot that they made, in remembrance of what HaShem had done.

During Sukkot, we are to remember the many ways that HaShem has blessed us, whether those blessings are through the works of our own hands, the assistance of others, or by HaShem’s grace alone. What is important to remember this Sukkot, is that we work with HaShem in our life’s journey. Sometimes he does the work, and sometimes he expects us to do the work, with the tools and abilities he has given us. There will be times, when we are doing the work, that we will get tired and weary. When those times occur, we can be encouraged by Yeshua’s words as he celebrated Sukkot, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37). Equally, we are not expected to act in our own strength alone, as Yeshua continued,

“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture says, ‘out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” Now He said this about the Ruach, whom those who trusted in Him were going to receive; for the Ruach was not yet given, since Yeshua was not yet glorified.

John 7:38-39

Therefore, remember we, like Bnei Israel in the wilderness, can trust in the care and protection of HaShem. Likewise, he expects us to do what we can do as we travel through life – utilizing the talents and skills he has given each of us, while being empowered by the Ruach as was promised. 

Shabbat Shalom & Sukkot Sameach!

1All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
2Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Editor-in-Chief. The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli, Volume 10: Tractate Sukka, with commentary by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz. Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2013, p 56.
* The readings for this Shabbat are, Torah: Exodus 33:12-34:26 & Numbers 29:29-34; Haftarah: Ezekiel 38:18-39:16; and from the Apostolic Writings John 7:37-39.

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