Jacob spent more than twenty years in Aram, a place in Mesopotamia. Jacob’s sojourn in Aram symbolizes the exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel. His return to Canaan symbolizes the return of the Jewish people from exile.
As Jacob and his family returned to the holy land, they descended the Jabbok Canyon and arrived at a location east of the Jordan called Succoth. Biblical geographers tentatively identify the site with a high mound called Tell Deir Alla on the plain north of the stream of the Jabbok:
Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built for himself a house and made booths for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth. (Genesis 33:17)
The Torah offers a brief story to explain the name Sukkoth: “Jacob built for himself a house and made booths (sukkot, סוכות) for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth (i.e., ‘Booths’).” The Hebrew word sukkah (סוכה) means temporary shelter, stable, or hut. The name for the biblical festival of Sukkot (Feast of Booths) employs the plural form.
Although Jacob did not build his booths to keep the festival by the same name, the LORD commanded his descendents to imitate him by building sukkot annually as a reminder of their journey to the Promised Land, during which they lived in huts and booths:
You shall live in sukkot for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in sukkot, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in sukkot when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:42-43)
Just as God led Jacob out of exile and brought him safely into the land of Canaan, so too He led Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and safely to the Promised Land. The construction of booths during the festival of Sukkot commemorates the journey.
The festival of Sukkot also foreshadows the future kingdom of heaven when Israel will dwell under the shade of the Almighty. Then the LORD will establish Messianic Jerusalem and spread a canopy over the city: “There will be a sukkah to give shade from the heat of day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain” (Isaiah 4:1). In the Messianic Era, all nations will ascend to Jerusalem to hear the Torah and to worship the LORD at the festival of Sukkot. Then David’s fallen sukkah will be restored, and the kingdom of Esau will become the inheritance of the children of Jacob:
“In that day I will raise up the fallen sukkah of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,” declares the LORD who does this. (Amos 9:11-12)
Likewise, Jacob built sukkot and a house, foreshadowing the final redemption when the exiles of Israel will return to the Promised Land and the Messianic Era will commence. In that day, the nations will say, “Come let us go up … to the House of the God of Jacob” (Isaiah 2:3), as it says, “Jacob journeyed to Sukkot, and built for himself a house and made sukkot.”