For the week of October 15, 2022 / 20 Tishri 5783
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 33:12 – 34:26; B’midbar/Numbers 29:26-34
Haftarah: Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16
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And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” (Shemot/Exodus 34:10)
The festival of Sukkot (English: Booths or Tabernacles) begins this year the evening of October 9 and lasts eight days. The readings this week are special for the festival. Outside the Land of Israel, due to ancient issues with the calendar, it continues for one more day. Sukkot is a harvest thanksgiving festival that includes two special features. First, the people were directed to “take…the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and…rejoice before the Lord” (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:40). Traditionally these four things are willow, palm, and myrtle branches, plus a lemon-like fruit called an etrog (English: citron). Second, the people were to build temporary dwellings called sukkot (one sukkah, many sukkot). They were to live in these sukkot for seven days. This was to remind the people that their ancestors lived in similar accommodations the years they were in the wilderness (see Vayikra/Leviticus 23:43).
It is interesting how this festival of rejoicing is to occur while living in sukkot. Calling the people to leave their permanent homes for a week to connect with the years of wilderness wanderings is powerful. Think of how effective it is for parents to tell their children stories of God’s miraculous provision and protection while sitting in a flimsy hut far more exposed to the elements than their normal residences. But more than simply providing a tangible backdrop, the environment places the people into a state of vulnerability, so that they could better relate to the vulnerability of their ancestors.
Within the context of getting in touch with their forebears’ state of vulnerability the people would more than just remember that God took care of them, but also how he did. As we read in this week’s Torah reading, God protected and provided them by doing “marvels.” The Hebrew word for marvels is “pala’,” which is often translated as “miracles.” The word carries the sense of “special” or “out of the ordinary.” God had promised Israel he would do extraordinary things, marvels, never experienced before to cause others to realize how awesome he really is.
God does more than take care of his people. He does so in marvelous ways. For Israel in the wilderness, it was through a physical manifestation of his presence in the form of a pillar of cloud and fire, which both guided them and protected them from the elements. He also gave them manna for their daily bread, which miraculously appeared on the ground every day except the Sabbath (he doubled the amount the day before). He sent quail to give them meat, he cleansed undrinkable water on one occasion, and caused water to emerge from rocks twice.
Note, however, that we can list God’s marvels yet not be impacted. Somehow we can tell these and other marvelous Bible stories and they remain just that – stories. Stories that happened to a people in such a different time and place, they may as well be fairy tales. This is why he sent Israel back outside into a wilderness-like environment. Perhaps there, in a place of vulnerability, we can feel the need for him in a way our more secure permanent houses don’t allow us to. For it’s in the place of vulnerability that we realize how much we need God.
The extraordinary nature of God’s marvels is most often due to the state of our vulnerability. The greater the need, the greater the marvelous nature of his provision. The more vulnerable we are, the more extraordinary is his power in and through our lives. But if we don’t allow ourselves to be in places of vulnerability, we might have a general sense of God’s presence and goodness but fail to experience his marvels. I wonder what we may be missing.
 The duration of the festival is a bit complicated. It would be more accurate to say that Sukkot lasts seven days plus one. The people were to celebrate with the specified growing things and live in the sukkah for seven days. The first day was to be treated as a sabbath (the first two days are sabbaths outside Israel). God also directed that an additional eighth day, known as “Shemini Atzeret” (Eighth Day of Assembly) was also to be observed. Traditionally, a special ceremony to mark the restarting of the annual Torah reading cycle, known as “Simchat Torah” (Rejoicing over the Torah), is observed during Shemini Atzeret (in the diaspora, it is observed on the extra ninth day).