Fall is a great time to be Jewish because it’s when all the fun feasts take place. The last one started last night, and it will continue for 7 days. It’s called Sukkot (pronounced Sue-Coat), and it’s a fun combination of Thanksgiving, harvest festival, and camping, all rolled into one big celebration. Last night, Dan and I were trying to figure out a way to honor the holiday, and our efforts came up a little bit short.
The holiday is mentioned in several places in the Old Testament, and even once in the New Testament. In Leviticus 23:39-43, we learn the requirements for the annual holiday:
“‘So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of rest, and the eighth day also is a day of rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’ “
Believe it or not, observant Jews construct huts outside their homes and live in them for a week. If it’s cold, they might only eat their meals in them, but the real hard core ones will pack their entire family into the “booth” for a mini camping experience.
I began my attempts to observe the holiday by consulting my official Jewish cookbook, which has come through on many obscure holidays with tasty, festive recipes. The food for Sukkot was downright bizarre, involving lots of cabbage, which I didn’t have on hand, and oddly enough, lemons, which made no sense to me. I did read that casseroles were popular features of Sukkot meals because they are easily transported to the outdoor booths. So, what did I make? Stir fry.
But it’s a seven day feast. Tonight, I’ve got a more traditional stuffed bell-pepper dish planned. Stuffed foods are also a tradition, and this also has a casserole feel to it. My cookbook said it counted, so I’m going with it. Dan, on hearing that it was a Jewish thanksgiving, automatically wanted turkey and stuffing. Somehow, I just can’t handle a Jewish pilgrim turkey fest in October.
Over our Chinese/Jewish thanksgiving dinner, we talked about whether or not we should construct a booth. Living in an apartment complex, this gets a little tricky. Dan volunteered to make a fort out of pillows in our living room. I passed on the offer. Actually, I told him HE could sleep on the deck in our tent. Neither option suited us very well.
I read him a section from a book I’ve been reading about a man who is trying to live “Biblically” by following all the laws in the bible, including all the holidays, for a year. He had a similar problem with Sukkot, and he ended up building a booth in his living room. Maybe next year.
But I think that instead of focusing on following the letter of the law here, the spirit of the law has a lot to teach us in this holiday. We have seven full days to be thankful for a lot of things. First, we get to be thankful that we don’t have to live in a tent, either in the wilderness with the Israelites or in our backyard with all the Jews who still live under the law. I’m also thankful for the freedom in Christ to eat all sorts of great foods, including Chinese stir fry (even though I couldn’t bring myself to make it a seafood or pork stir fry…that was a bit much. Just like I can’t do a Passover ham, no matter how much they are on sale.).
This week, have Thanksgiving a bit early, and spread it out over the whole week, not just one day. Go ahead, be Biblical.