The greatest ceremonies of the year in the Temple happened at Sukkot, and that is why we are going to begin by doing a brief overview of what went on, and then go back and fill in the details of these ceremonies. We will also study Yeshua and his association with Sukkot, and then show you why Yeshua was born at Sukkot and get into a detailed study of why we think this is true.
There was the daily Water Pouring ceremony called the “Beit ha SHoevah” which means “House of the Water Pouring.” This took place in the Azarah during the Shacharit service (morning). During this ceremony, water was taken in a procession from the Pool of Shiloach (meaning “sent”) and brought back to the Temple and poured over the Altar. There were two special holes there and they flowed down the Altar to the Amah channel, which in turn flowed out of the Temple to the Kidron Valley, then flowed to where the Kidron met the Hinnom Valley south of the city, in an area called Tophet and Akeldama. Akeldama is mentioned in Acts 1.19 and it means “field of blood” and this alludes to the blood of the Temple that flowed there.
Another ceremony is linked to the Beit ha Shoevah and this was called the Aravah (willow) ceremony. Priests would go out to the Valley of Motza (which also means “sent”), east of the city near Emmaus (Luke 24) and cut down 20-25 foot willow branches. These branches would be brought back to the Temple in a procession where the priests would swing them up and down, creating a “swooshing” sound which was a picture of the Ruach, the “wind”, entering the Temple. Then these branches were brought into the Temple by the kohanim who circled the Altar with them once and then placed them against the Altar, making a Sukkah.
On the seventh and “last day” of the festival called Hoshanah Rabbah (“great salvation”) the kohanim circled the Altar seven times, other kohanim carried small willow branches and what was called the Arba Minim (four species consisted of the Etrog, fruit from a citron tree, like a lemon. Second, the Lulav was a ripe, green, closed frond from the date palm. Third, there was the Hadass, a bough from the myrtle tree and last there was the Aravah, a branch with leaves from the willow tree. All of these together were called a “lulav.”). On the last day (Hoshanah Rabbah-see John 7.37) the small willows in their hands were beaten on the ground causing the day to also be called “Willow Beating Day.”
During the ceremonies the flute played as the Hallim (Psalms 113-118) was being sung by the Levitical Choir. As the day ended and night began, the second part of the celebrations began in the Ezrat Nashim (Court of the Women). Four giant posts had been placed in the courtyard and each post had four vats that were used as lamps. These were called the “light of the world.” The Nicanor Gate was opened with the Chief Priests, Elders, the Levitical Choir and Musicians standing at the top of the 15 steps there. Women and children observed all this in a gallery above the courtyard as sages danced with torches.. This ceremony was called the Simchat Beit ha Shoevah ceremony which means “Rejoicing in the House of Water-Pouring.”
Through the night, the choir and the musicians proceeded down the 15 steps and crossed the courtyard till right before dawn. Then everyone turned their faces towards the Sanctuary and the Kodesh ha Kodeshim, with their backs to the rising sun. They made a declaration that they worshipped the true God and did not worship the the sun like their ancestors did before the destruction of the First Temple (Ezek 8.16; Sukkah 5.4).
So, what is the greatest festival of the year in the Temple? Yom Kippur had the highest kedusha but Sukkot was the greatest. Why? It is the seventh of seven festivals. Eschatologically speaking, it speaks of when the Messiah comes with the Kingdom of God being set up on the earth. It also teaches the concept of the Wedding Supper for the believer, but it also teaches the concept of the Feast of Leviathan and the defeat of the false messiah, also known as Azazel in the Yom Kippur service. What were the greatest ceremonies of the year in the Temple? There were two and both happened at Sukkot. The first was the Beit ha Shoevah ceremony and the second was the Simchat Beit ha Shoevah ceremony.
We are going to begin to talk about the ceremonies at Sukkot and we will be using the Danby Mishnah, beginning in the tractate Sukkah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 1.
4.1…The rites of the Lulav (the four species together, called the Arba Minim-Lev 23.40) and the Willow branch (Aravah) continue six and sometimes seven days (how long they shake the Lulav depended on when the Sabbath was. They did a “tenufa” with these. This is where they stand facing the Sanctuary, and wave the Lulav in six directions; the Hallel (Psa 113-118) and the Rejoicing (Simchat Beit ha Shoevah ceremony) eight days (including Shemini Atzeret); the Sukkah and the Water libation, seven days (depending on how the days fell); the Flute playing (called the “chalil” or pierced one); sometimes five and six days.
4.2…The rites of the Lulav…seven days-thus if the first festival day fell on a Sabbath the Lulav is carried seven days’ but if it fell on any other day it is carried six days only (carrying the Lulav overrides the Sabbath only if the first day of Sukkot falls on the Sabbath because it is a Shabbaton, a Yom Yov.
4.3…The Willow branch…seven days-thus if the seventh day of the rites of the Willow branch fell on a Sabbath the rites of the Willow branch continue for seven days; but if it fell on any other day, six days only (carrying the Willow branches override the Sabbath if the first day of Sukkot was a Sabbath).
4.4…How was the rite of the Lulav fulfilled on the Sabbath? If the first festival day of the feast fell on a Sabbath, they brought their Lulavim to the Temple Mount and the ministers took them and set them in order on the roof of the portico (there is discussion as to whether this meant on the seats of the portico where they would not wither), but the elders set theirs in a special chamber (Lishkat ha Gazit or Chamber of Hewn Stone). The people were taught to say, “Whosoever gets possession of my Lulav, let it be as his gift” (the commandment was “You shall take a Lulav.” When they set it down, it can be “possessed” by someone else so they can fulfill the commandment and wave it if they did not have one). The next day they came early and the ministers threw the Lulavs before them down before them and the people (some children) snatched at them and beat each other (they were sword fighting). And when the Court (Sanhedrin) saw that they incurred danger, they ordained that everyone could carry his Lulav in his own name.
4.5…How was the rite of the willow branch fulfilled? There was a place below Jerusalem called Motza (meaning “sent”, the same as the Shiloach Pool. Motza was east of the city and it is thought to be the biblical Emmaus spoken of in Luke 24.17). Towards that place they (the kohanim) went and cut themselves young willow branches. They came and set these up at the sides of the Altar so that their tops were bent over the Altar (the Altar was 15 foot high and 64 feet square. The willows were placed on three sides because the ramp was on the fourth side). They then blew on the shofar a sustained (tekiah), a quavering (teruah) and another sustained (tekiah) blast. Each day they went in procession a single time around the Altar, saying “Save now, we beseech thee, O Lord! We beseech thee, O Lord, send now prosperity (Psa 118.25). But on that day (the seventh) they went in procession seven times around the Altar (on Hoshana Rabbah, meaning the “great salvation”, and it was a picture of the end of the Messianic Kingdom when Ha Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire and going into the Olam Haba, which is picture by Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day). R. Judah says: “Ani Waho (or “Ana YHVH” which involved pronouncing the Name, so they modified it to “ani waho”)! Save us we pray! Ani Waho! Save us we pray! But on that day (the seventh) they went in procession seven times around the Altar. When they departed what did they say? “Homage to thee, O Altar! Homage to thee , O ALtar!” R. Eliezer says: “To the Lord and to thee, O ALtar! To the Lord and to thee, O ALtar!”
4.6…As was the rite on a weekday so was the rite on a Sabbath, save that they gathered the willow branches on the eve of the Sabbath and set them in gilded troughs that they may not wither. R. Johanan b. Baroka says: “They used to bring palm tufts (short ones) and beat them on the ground at the sides of the Altar, and that day was called, “The day of beating the palm tufts.'”
4.7…Straightway the children used to cast away their Lulavs and eat their citrons (a “citron” is called the “etrog” and it is like a big lemon. The Hebrew may be rendered, “They took away the Lulavs from the children and ate their citrons”).
In Part 33, we will pick up in Sukkah 4.8 and study the ceremonies at the festival of Sukkot.