The first rain of the season poured down as thousands huddled into President Reuven Rivlin and First Lady Nechama Rivlin’s sukkah, a temporary dwelling used during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot (also known as the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles).
The President of Israel opened his sukkah for the public on Monday, October 9, for Israeli families and guests from overseas to enjoy educational displays about Sukkot, theatrical and musical performances, arts and crafts, and exhibitions. However, the grand plans were temporarily disrupted by a virtual downpour on the sukkah, soaking guests, many of whom saw the rain – the first of the season – as the fulfillment of prayers.
According to the sages, on Sukkot, God judges the people and determines how much rain will fall in the coming year. The mishna in Rosh Ha-Shana (1:2) establishes: “At four seasons [Divine] judgment is passed on the world… And on the festival [of Sukkot] judgment is passed in respect of rain.”
Consequently, the mood in the president’s sukkah was joyous, even with the downpour, as some guests commented on God answering prayers of the people of Israel.
The event marked the 70th sukkah celebration in the President’s Residence, with this year’s theme centering on connecting with the Diaspora, or Jews living outside of Israel, in partnership with the Diaspora Ministry. The President spoke of the importance of Jewish communities around the world.
“From everywhere in the Diaspora we have lived in exile, we have brought with us a wealth of culture when we returned to our land. And so we have today a vast and extraordinary mosaic of all the tribes, and still today half of the Jewish people live in the Diaspora. This year we are hosting them in a symbolic way, here in the President’s sukkah,” said President Rivlin.
Rivlin added, “The President’s sukkah has an educational role, to teach the younger generation that lives here in Israel about the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, about their importance and their contribution to humanity, as a part of understanding the history of the Jewish people. We want Israeli citizens to know world Jewry in all its diversity. The connection between the People of Israel to Zion was never broken for a moment, and also today, Jews who live in the Diaspora know and express all the time the connection to ‘home’, to the State of Israel, to the Land of Israel.”
Visitors came to visit the President’s sukkah from abroad, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Maria Lencoe and Elizabeth Van Deventer, born-again Christians from South Africa, came to Israel during Sukkot to learn about the Bible and take in inspiration from the Jewish people.
“We came to listen, to pray for the nations, and to become unified people like you are under this hut,” Van Deventer told Breaking Israel News. With tears in her eyes, she told of the power of “praying for her grandchildren” in Israel “that they should always serve the Almighty One” and being inspired by God’s “never-ending mercy, from generation to generation.”
Quoting Genesis 12:3, Lencoe explained, “We know that the lord will bless our nation, our community, and our generation because it says in the scripture that those who bless Israel will be blessed.” The women expressed hope that their visit to Israel during Sukkot would bring rain to their home country, which is currently in a terrible drought.
“I pray for South Africa. It’s not good to see animals die of hunger and thirst, so we pray and ask God for mercy upon the animals and the people of South Africa,” Lencoe told Breaking Israel News.
You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Yisrael shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made B’nei Yisrael live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I Hashem your God. Leviticus 23:42-43
The holiday acts as a reminder that God will take care of the Jewish people during challenging times as he did in the desert. As such, Lencoe and Van Deventer concluded that just as God provided shelter and rain to the Israelites while they wandered in the desert for 40 years, so too will God provide for South Africa and Israel.