Dear Refiner's Fire...

Help! I've been getting so many mixed messages from the Hebrew Roots crowd about how to properly keep Sukkot, that I'm now totally confused. Will I be sent to hell for not sleeping in a tent for a whole week? What if my personal situation prevents it?

Our Response...

Great question! It's a real shame that some Hebrew Roots types insist on turning Sukkot into something stressful. Known as the Feast of Tabernacles, this holy festival is, in reality, one of the most "fun-filled" of God's seven annual festivals (Appointed Times). The Hebrew word "Sukkot" is the plural of "sukkah" which actually means "booths" - which refers to the temporary dwellings that we are commanded to build and live in during this holiday designed to commemorate the Hebrews' 40 year-period of wandering.

Sukkot is actually not only the "Festival of Booths" but also the "Festival of Ingathering" (See Exodus 23:16) … AND it is the actual birthday of Messiah Yeshua, who was born on the first day of Sukkot and circumcised on the 8th day! (The first and eighth days of Sukkot are High Holy Days that we are to take off from productive labor.)

The festival has deep significance to the Israelites (in Israel), because YHWH combined the time of the year (the last of the annual harvests and "first fruits") with perpetual commemoration of the exodus from Egypt, when His people were forced to live in temporary dwellings during their 40 years in the desert.

But what about those of us living in the diaspora (outside of Israel)?

Well, the first thing we can do to keep this wonderful week-long festival is by taking the first and last days off from our income-producing, or laborious work! (See Leviticus 23:35-39).

Leviticus 23:36 "For seven days you are to bring an offering made by fire to YHWH; on the eighth day you are to have a holy convocation and bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI ; it is a day of public assembly; do not do any kind of ordinary work."

Since there is no Temple, we can't bring an offering made by fire. Remember, YHWH even told us that His people would not be doing things in the same way once they left the desert. Consider the following passage:

Deuteronomy 12:8 You will not do things the way we do them here today, where everyone does whatever in his own opinion seems right; 9 because you haven't yet arrived at the rest and inheritance which ADONAI your God is giving you. 10 But when you cross the Yarden and live in the land ADONAI your God is having you inherit, and he gives you rest from all your surrounding enemies, so that you are living in safety; 11 then you will bring all that I am ordering you to the place ADONAI your God chooses to have his name live -your burnt offerings, sacrifices, tenths, the offering from your hand, and all your best possessions that you dedicate to ADONAI;

Has Israel had "rest from all surrounding enemies" yet? Is she "living in safety" yet? No. So, the best we can do is to "bring ourselves" and make ourselves worthy of participating in the annual festival. And we can certainly keep the first and eighth days holy! However, unless we are farmers, "gathering of the produce of the land" as commanded in Leviticus 23:39 can present a problem….

Leviticus 23:39 But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to observe the festival of YHWH seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest.

So, what can we do? We can honor the fact that it is harvest season by using some common sense and celebrating when it comes to the commands such as this:

Leviticus 23:40-41 "On the first day you are to take choice fruit, palm fronds, thick branches and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of YHWH your God for seven days. You are to observe it as a feast to Adonai seven days in the year; it is a permanent regulation, generation after generation; keep it in the seventh month."

Depending upon where we live, most of us will probably have a problem finding palm fronds or river willows, which make up part of the "Four Species". However, we can take fresh fruit and branches from trees in our area, and honor YHWH with them during our local celebration of Sukkot. The commandment is to take these items and "celebrate in the presence of YHWH your God for seven days."

Now, here's a verse that seems to cause great concern, and even arguments among brethren, as some are adamant that we all "have to" live in tents or temporary dwellings for a week … NO exemptions!

Leviticus 23:42-43: "You are to live in sukkot for seven days; every citizen of Isra'el is to live in a sukkah, 43 so that generation after generation of you will know that I made the people of Isra'el live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am ADONAI your God."

The problem is with the words, "live in a sukkah" which implies that one must actually "live" in the sukkah! However, "live" or "dwell" (as in some translations) does not necessarily mean "take up residence." It means to make it part of your life for that period; and center your activities on it. In Nehemiah's day, they built their sukkot, "each one on the roof of his house, also in their courtyards, in the courtyards of the house of God, in the open space by the Water Gate and in the open space by the Efrayim Gate." (Nehemiah 8:16).

The main thing to remember is that Sukkot is symbolic! It represents many things: The temporary dwelling, the urgency, the difficulty, the inconvenience, etc.

For the eight days of Sukkot, make the sukkah part of your life as outlined in John 1:14: "And the Miltha [Manifestation of the Ruach, the Word] became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory..." Here the phrase "dwelt among us" is clear; yet in Leviticus when it says to "dwell" in a sukkah, many insist that it must mean to physically "move into and live there."

So, for those who wish to, and CAN dwell in a sukkah for a week, that's fine - they should do it! However, it is simply not feasible for everyone around the world. For instance, would it really be reasonable to expect those who live in extremely cold climates to sleep in an unheated, fragile sukkah for a week? How about those who are very fragile (the very young or very old); or those who live in large apartment complexes in the middle of New York or Chicago or some other big city? Should they grab their sleeping bags and put up a sukkah on the sidewalks outside their buildings just to uphold Leviticus 23:42?

Some live in places that are plagued violence, and virus-carrying mosquitos; or rattle snakes, scorpions or fire ants. Does God really expect THEM to actually "live" in a sukkah - or does He simply expect them to simply use some common sense and make it a part of their lives during the eight days of the festival, in whatever way they safely can?

The truth is, NOTHING we do during the week of Sukkot can actually parallel what the Israelites went through! But this festival simply reminds us of what Sukkot is all about: The remembrance of the hard times YHWH's people endured during their 40 years in the desert wilderness.

The following was borrowed from

"The symbolism associated with the Sukkah is one that is intended to remind us of being homeless, the feeling of living somewhere on a temporary basis. It should serve as a reminder to us not to become over confident with our wealth or influence. It should remind us that we need to look to God for our provisions, not man. It should also remind us that this earth is not our permanent home. It is also symbolic of the protection that the Jews [Hebrews] received from God in the desert after they were freed from bondage in Egypt (Lev. 23:43). It should remind us that our survival is dependent upon God."

So, let's observe Sukkot without the stress of "doing it right." Unless we were present in the desert with Moshe who received his instructions directly from YHWH Himself, we cannot truly know whether or not we are "doing it right." Just concentrate on DOING it!

Build a sukkah, or pitch a tent and enjoy fellowship! (If you can't build a temporary dwelling outside for whatever reason, then simply decorate a spot in the safety of your own home where you can to sit, read Scripture, and take at least one meal each day, and just "be" with YHWH.) The trick is to just DO it to get the "feel" of the Leviticus 23:43 experience.

Sukkot is not a feast where we are supposed to be made to feel "uncomfortable" or "put out" in any way. It is to be a time of REJOICING! Take a look:

Deuteronomy 16: 13 "You are to keep the festival of Sukkot for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing-floor and winepress. 14 Rejoice at your festival - you, your sons and daughters, your male and female slaves, the L'vi'im, and the foreigners, orphans and widows living among you. 15 Seven days you are to keep the festival for ADONAI your God in the place ADONAI your God will choose, because ADONAI your God will bless you in all your crops and in all your work, so you are to be full of joy!

So, take this time to participate in, and reflect on, the rich history of God's people and just "be" with YHWH for a week. Chag sameach! (Happy holiday!)

In all the excitement of this week-long holiday, don't forget that Sukkot is the actual birthday of our Messiah! Y'shua was born on the first day of Sukkot and circumcised on the 8th day.