A Carmelite interpretation of the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth

The word «sukkoth» is the plural of the Hebrew word sukah which means «hut». The term sukah in the common language indicates precisely the hut that is built for the celebration of the feast in memory of the period “in the desert” after the biblical Exodus of the Jewish people after having been in Egypt.

The festival of Sukkoth therefore remembers the life of the people of Israel in the desert during their journey to the promised land, the land of Israel. During their desert pilgrimage they lived in huts (sukkoth).

«Celebrate the Festival of Booths for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your festival you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete» (Deuteronomy 16, 13 -15).

In the Exodus, what united the Jewish people on the way was the desire to get out of the condition of oppression to the desire to live in freedom.

This path to freedom, which we call the Exodus, is the main source of YHWH’s religion. According to the biblical perspective, the experience of the Exodus is the foundation of the people of Israel.

Israel leaves, not to be just any people, but to serve God. The goal to reach is the mountain of God, hitherto still unknown, where to worship and serve Yahweh. The land dreamed of and expected by Israel will be the land destined for the service of the Lord, the land where the people who inhabit it can live as God wishes, in freedom and justice.

The experience of Israel emerging from the harsh slavery in Egypt and starting “a journey of search for freedom” by crossing the desert towards the Promised Land, is not only significant for the Jews, to the point of becoming their founding creed (Dt 26, 1-11), but it also becomes a paradigm of the Christian life.

Jesus carries out the final and definitive Exodus: he passes from death to Life. This is the central context and the interpretative key of all biblical exodus.

The Christian communities, born after the Resurrection of Jesus, will begin to read and interpret the book of Exodus in the light of the Paschal Mystery, that is, of faith in Jesus Christ, dead and risen, the new Paschal Lamb (Ap 15,3) .

By virtue of baptism, we too live the paschal dynamics of the new exodus (Rom 6, 1-14). Jesus gives us a new law (Mt 5-7), he nourishes us with the new manna (Jn 6, 48-51) to support our journey, just as he supported his people in the desert (cf. Ex 16, 1 -35). The Passover of Jesus Christ definitively seals the Covenant and opens the way for the New People of God (Ex 19, 5-6; 1Pt 2, 9-10).

Even Saint Teresa of Jesus, as the new Moses (within the new people, which is the Church), tried to guide the Carmelite family, through her itinerary of prayer towards the mountain of perfection which is Christ.

In the first steps of the spiritual life (FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD MANSIONS of his work «THE INTERIOR CASTLE») she speaks of the person praying, who sets out on a journey towards a horizon that embraces at the same time: self-knowledge … and the discovery of a God who asks more and more space in our hearts, to give himself more, to communicate himself in all its fullness.

The door to embarking on this journey is prayer, a dialogue of friendship, where the person praying slowly learns to entrust himself to a God on whom he can progressively count, because there will be no lack of proofs of his love along his personal history.

Of course, there will be temptations: the memory of a past life, but as Teresa says – «do not be discouraged … if at times you fall to the point of interrupting the effort to move forward, even from that fall God will know how to profit … » (2M 1,8-9).

Therefore, the experience of the Exodus in the desert has been fundamental in Carmelite spirituality from the very beginning. In particular, in St. John of the Cross the true desert is that of human growth, like the exodus of the people of Israel into the desert, it is a search for God through the various stages of the spiritual life.

This journey in the Exodus will lead man from the slavery of the senses to the freedom of encounter with God.

The desert is an initiatory pedagogy through which God frees us from our slavery and unnecessary things, to walk lighter and thus enter the promised land of his love.

Through this exodus into the desert a profound transformation takes place in our way of being and so we pass from slaves to children, from selfishness to love. This is an existential step towards the full life to which all Christians are called.

Jesus Christ:

He will be our guide on the journey through the desert.

As God guided his people with the cloud in front of them (Ex 13,21), Christ will guide our steps in our exodus of interior freedom.

So let’s build our huts (sukkoth) in the desert, full of confident abandonment:

«The Lord has led us here and certainly, from here on, He will lead us.

He has always loved us.

He has always called us and certainly will not abandon us.

From the beginning the Lord was there.

And certainly, from here on out, He will still be there.

Whenever we need, He will help us.

His grace called us.

His love has sent us.

We will continue to seek his peace!»


Reflection made in Muhraqa, Mount Carmel,

on 02nd October, 2020, vigil of the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth,

by Fr. Julio Almansa OCD and Pietro Braccu OCDS


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