By Sarah L, Staff Writer
“On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.”
One of the traditional observances of the holiday of Sukkot – the Feast of Booths – is the waving of the four species: today, the citron (like a large lemon), the myrtle, the willow and the palm. Rabbinical tradition observes this mitzvah, or commandment, by holding the four species together, and, after saying a specific blessing, waving them to each of the four different directions (north, east, south and west).
One Jewish interpretation is that the four species represent four different types of Jewish person.1 By holding them together, we proclaim the importance of unity among the People of Israel despite our many differences of opinion or belief. Although this interpretation is not based directly on the Torah, a similar idea is found in the New Covenant Scriptures.
In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul writes,
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Messiah. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
Shaul (Paul) is emphasizing the importance of human differences, whether between Jews and Gentiles, slaves or free men, or any other difference. While he uses the metaphors of “hands” and “ears” etc, he could be saying, “Now if the Jew should say, ‘Because I am not a Gentile I do not belong to the Body.’”
The body of Messiah needs variety – otherwise why would God have created men and women or divided Israel into twelve tribes and why would He have sent the message of Yeshua beyond Israel’s borders? The idea that unity requires cultural homogeneity reflects human weakness: either a fear of the unknown or a desire for control; God clearly intended for the Body to be diverse. Yet simultaneously, as the four species are held together, the Body must be unified.
The way that the four species – the four different types of Jew – are waved is also significant. They are waved towards each of the four directions, echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah that God will “gather the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12)
Today, this prophecy is being fulfilled. Jews are making (or have made) Aliyah from the United States, France, Ethiopia, Iraq, China, Hungary, India and Mexico, among many others. There are Jews coming from all different denominations of Judaism – Secular, Reform, Orthodox and even Messianic. Despite their differences, they are all Jewish and they are all coming home.
Incredibly, the prophet Zechariah foresaw the day when not only would Israel be regathered to her land and to the city of Jerusalem, but also the nations would come to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel.
In Zechariah 14, he writes,
“Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.”
In that day all our human differences will be overlooked as we worship God together – not because they don’t matter, but because we share a higher purpose. Then Paul’s vision of one Body will also be realized.
Today, as upheaval after upheaval strikes the Jewish state, it is hard to hold on to this vision of redemption and unity. Frankly, it is also hard to overlook differences and withhold judgement. If each one could this Sukkot for a moment remember the truth that despite current differences, the people of Israel is here in the Land – that redemption has begun – perhaps common purpose could be restored and compromise achieved.
Yet perhaps the purpose of Sukkot is not to restore unity but to remind us of the One who can. In the same chapter of Zechariah quoted above, it says, “The LORD will then be king overall the earth. In that day the LORD will be One and His Name One.”(Zechariah 14:9) Unity is a theme of Sukkot because Sukkot foreshadows the redemption, the geula in Hebrew, when God will be One and His Name One. In looking towards Him, it is most possible to overlook our own differences and instead remember our unity of purpose.
May this be our prayer for Israel this Sukkot!
1.“Four Species.” Www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/four-species. Accessed 21 Sept. 2023.
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