|Maggid ben Yoseif / Jerusalem Torah Voice in Exile|
The story behind
The Festival of Joseph:
Holy Torah 'Christmas' Story
It has been our custom every year since 1988, to share with any interested, our insights about Hanukkah and the Holy Torah 'Christmas' Story. In recent years, I have been persuaded to also relate the story behind the story, because those who hear it think it so unusual and I believe it glorifies the God of Israel.
The story itself is based on a question asked in an intertestamental literature class in which I was enrolled at the ORU Graduate School of Theology in 1984. The question was "When was Jesus (Y'shua) born?" Most everyone in the class answered December 25. (Since I was not sure -- and it sounded like a trick question -- I did not venture a guess.) The professor opened the Complete Works of Josephus and from the footnotes and text itself, began to systematically show how Jesus (Y'shua) had to have been born in the fall, not the winter and in the year 4 B.C.E. not the year 1 as again, most of the students had thought.
Then in 1987, my first year in Israel, I was a more-or-less independent self-supported missionary (to Moslems not Jews) living on a rooftop and ministering in the all-Moslem West Bank village of Beit Phage on the back side of the Mount of Olives which was home to two Arab clans, the Abuhavals and the Sa'ayads. (The primary message Hashem had me speak to the men in the village -- who were then more loyal to King Hussein of Jordan than they were Yasser Arafat and the PLO -- was that He was bringing Israel home to its borders and that if they or their sons resisted Hashem by opposing the return of Israel, it would be like "pissing against the wind.")
That year, I noticed that the Jews in nearby Jerusalem were building succot and one of the Arab men in the village -- perhaps not to be outdone by the Jews -- for some reason decided I should experience "tabernacling" there on the outskirts of the village! He chose a hillside adjacent to the ancient Roman Road to Bethany from Beit Phage and had his sons erect a ceremonial Beduin tent. The sons also constructed a gigantic triangular-shaped structure at the entrance of the tent, which completely covered its top and which they covered with date-palm branches like the succot in Jerusalem a few miles away. I ate and slept in the Succah built by the sons of Sa'ayad, for the entire festival entertaining dozens of mostly Arab visitors -- and more than a few curious Christians. Just as many other Arabs, however, passed by and honked their horns, waved their fists, their middle fingers or yelled what sounded like obscenities but this did not deter us from passing out grapes, olives and other Jericho fruits to those who would park and drop in (telling all the Arabs about Hashem's plans to bring Israel home). There were a few death threats, too, but when the word got out about the crazy man living in the succah those died down. (Even the most militant Islamic fanatic fears enough about his soul to not kill a crazy man, a fear in evidence among the Arab nations in antiquity relating to their admonition to treat the stranger with hospitality. . But I never gave any thought during the joy of this fall festival of associating it with Christmas or Y'shua's birth.
Then came Hanukkah and Christmas a few days afterward. I had moved away from Beit Phage on December 9, 1987; just the day before the Palestinian uprising began in Beit Phage after being warned of the trouble by my Arab friends, so I was living temporarily in an apartment in Tiberias and doing some writing. I had never experienced Hanukkah before and was enthralled by the fact that every window in Tiberias displayed the lights or candles of a hanukkiah growing brighter each night. For Christmas, I revisited my same Arab friends -- who I was sorry to learn, had not listened to Hashem's warnings -- but who nonetheless took me to Bethlehem and nearby Beit Jala to "see the sights." But compared to Succot and the simple lights of Hannukah, this experience was a tremendous let down. The closest I could get to any holiday spirit that year was camping out one night in the Shepherd's Field outside of Bethlehem. Most of the Christians visiting Israel complained the holiday was diminished because of the Palestinian intifada (uprising), which was then in full swing throughout Israel. The air around the Mount of Olives, Nablus, Ramallah, Tulkarm, Kalkilyah, Bethlehem and Hebron was thick with black smoke from tires burning. Palestinian children were slinging rocks, huge boulders were being rolled down the roads on the Mount of Olives at cars and busses passing by below and IDF soldiers everywhere were replying to all this with dismay, frustration and rubber bullets. That certainly put a damper on the "traditional" celebration. But I could not help the feeling that Hashem was pointing to something else being wrong with "Christmas."
I was a week or two behind in my Torah schedule reading and had skipped over portion Vayishlach which that year was supposed to have been read around the 12th of Kislev.
I also started socializing some with a messiancially oriented but otherwise Orthodox and Torah observant Jewish woman who had written a little pamphlet contending that Y'shua may have been born during the Feast of Tabernacles, (Succot). After Hanukkah and Christmas passed, I finally read portion Vayishlach and noted that Ya'acov had built succot (mangers) for his animals. Then, Hashem began putting it all together, Y'shua's birth in a succah fit with the timetable my Jewish friend had advocated in her pamphlet. It also fit with the manger story and Josephus' account as interpreted by Whiston.
I spent most of the next six months learning everything I could about Succot and was particularly fascinated with the custom of Simhat Torah when the rabbis would dance with the Torah scrolls as though the Torah was itself ALIVE!
So what is the TRUE meaning of quote unquote Succot/Christmas? To me, experientially, it is the season to relate to the nations -- and anyone who will listen -- the message of the Torah: that the God of Israel chooses to again tabernacle with Israel and to do that He will bring Israel HOME!!!
The story (which I add to every year) was first disseminated over the old KESHERNET Bulletin Board from Israel in 1988. The 2000 year's additions include more on the mystical symbology of Hanukkah.
Maggid ben Yoseif