Season of our joy

This holiday is another opportunity for us not only to celebrate what we have – in particular our sovereignty and independence – but also what we still have yet to achieve.

October 1, 2017 00:49
3 minute read.
sukkot jerusalem

A christian reveler holds a Star of David while marching in an annual parade during Sukkot in Jerusalem in 2007. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Close upon the solemnity of the Day of Atonement, Sukkot suddenly calls for a week of joyous celebration, as if to say the final exam is over and it’s time to party. But no Jewish holiday is that simple.

After each of us is issued a clean slate upon which we begin once again to list the deeds we will answer for in another year, Sukkot reminds us of both our vulnerability and our openness to transformation, by first of all remembering our ancestors’ perseverance and the basic underlying optimism of Jewish faith.

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The week of Sukkot calls upon the Jewish people to remember the travails of 40 years spent in the wilderness, by acting out a virtual desert crossing, building temporary shelters like those that sustained it through the crucible of the journey to the Promised Land.

Like our ancestors, we have certain existential challenges that make life constantly interesting, but Sukkot calls for us to pause in our soul-searching to celebrate the result, millennia later, of our independence and sovereignty.

This is perhaps made clearer on Sukkot than on any other holiday, for it also includes the annual joyous celebration of Simhat Torah, the Rejoining of the Law that has guided the Jewish people since Sinai.

We rejoice – not as on Shavuot, at the giving of the Torah – but at the completion of the yearly cycle of weekly Torah readings and its renewal in the New Year.

This is because this is zman simhateinu, the Season of our Joy, as we celebrate our divine mission to be first of all a light unto ourselves, then to light the path for the other nations.

This is not an abstract goal, but a pragmatic, goal-oriented process designed ultimately to transform the world by keeping it under constant repair. On Sukkot we work with our hands, not to clean compulsively as before Passover, but in order to feel the connection with our collective past by building a shelter from the storm.

This particular challenge faced many Jews in the US as Hurricane Irma approached. One family, the Leizersons of North Miami Beach, found it impossible to find wood with which to board up the windows of their home. Inspired by the approaching holiday, they dismantled their stored wooden sukka and used it instead. In their case, the sukka saved the house.

While storms and earthquakes have threatened other parts of the world, so far our region has been spared – but we have been warned. On the first day of Sukkot, the haftara reading is from Zacharia, 14:4. The prophet tells us that “the Mount of Olives will split at its center eastward and westward, making a huge ravine, half the mountain will move northward and half southward.”

The special relationship between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount was crystallized when King Solomon dedicated the First Temple on Sukkot (Kings I 8:2), and when the Second Temple was also dedicated on Sukkot (Ezra 3:4).

This holiday is another opportunity for us not only to celebrate what we have – in particular our sovereignty and independence – but also what we still have yet to achieve.

The holiday of Sukkot orders us to spend time outside in makeshift dwellings, to remind us of the temporary in life and the challenges our people once endured and overcame.

Still today, 70 years later, parts of the world refuse to come to terms with our existence and with the Jewish state that sits proudly in the Middle East. Examples don’t lack. One recent one came last week when the UN Human Rights Council held another one of its regular sessions simply to bash Israel. The great states of Syria, North Korea and Pakistan led the pack.

While the historical record continues to elude their grasp MK Yair Lapid noted for the record, “The return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel was not to the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv, but to the Tower of David in Jerusalem, and the heart of Jerusalem is also the heart of Israel.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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