Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Today is the last day of the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, and that means my favorite Jewish holiday, Simchat Torah, is on the horizon. As I've waited for Wednesday, and more importantly, as I wait to celebrate Wednesday's significance at Tikvat Yisrael in Richmond this Saturday, it dawned on me that Sukkot has a special significance to me this year.

The Jewish festival of booths, as it is often translated, is a week for celebrating God's provision in the desert. Jewish families build a "booth" or a small hut in the backyard to resemble the temporary homes inhabited by the Israelites as they were lead by God's Spirit in the pillar of cloud. The family then eats all of its meals picnic-style in the booth for the duration of the festival. Children are encouraged to line the sukkah with pictures, and sometimes the family even sleeps in it. As Lauren Winner has remarked, "It is while sitting in the sukkah that you learn lessons about dependence on God, that even the walls of your brick house are flimsy."

As I thought about Sukkot and lessons of dependence, I recalled my Jewish studies professor telling us that one rabbi called the first sukkah "clouds of glory." I am really struck by that language as I continue to apply the principle of the pillar of cloud day-to-day. The walls of our lives may seem oh-so-flimsy in times of transition or uncertainty, and the desert is cruel. But we can trust in the God who always provides, who continues to speak to us about where we're headed and the plans that He has for us. As we anticipate Simchat Torah (literally, "the joy of the Word," which I'll discuss when I return from Richmond), let us give thanks to the God who provides and who speaks!

"After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night."
Exodus 13:19-21

Note: I love what A.W. Tozer has said about the observance of special days in Jewish culture: "By innumerable distinctions God taught Israel the difference between holy and unholy. there were holy days, holy vessels, holy garments. There were washings, sacrifices, offerings of many kinds. By these means, Israel learned that God is holy. It was this that He was teaching them, not the holiness of things or places. The holiness of Yahweh was the lesson they must learn." So as we reflect on these "holy" days, we must also remember that it is a Holy God we are worshiping, not a day or a ritual.

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