Is Sukkot really an “easy” mitzvah?
Table for Five: Sukkot Edition
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And it will come to pass that everyone left of the nations who came up against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to prostrate himself to the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the festival of Tabernacles.
Zechariah 14:16, from Sukkot haftarah
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, Founder, JewsforJudaism.org
Recently, a Chinese woman living in California contacted me for advice because her friends have been trying to convince her that Christianity is the only true religion. Although unconvinced by their arguments she was still confused. Her search for answers led her to the Jews for Judaism website. We spoke several times and she was relieved when I introduced her to the Noahide Covenant – a path for righteous Gentiles to reach God without converting to Judaism. She purchased a Jewish bible that I recommended and started reading from the beginning. Then I received an email from her expressing her concern that the Torah seems to be “only for Jews and not for non-Jews.” To dispel her fears I shared several bible passages with her, including, “My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations” Isaiah 56:7, the verse in this week’s Haftorah that states that the nations will go to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the festival of Sukkot. This festival, when we leave the security of our sturdy homes to dwell in a temporary dwelling, teaches the importance of trusting in God to provide our ultimate security. This is a lesson for Jews and non-Jews alike.
Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn, Columbia Presbyterian and Congregation Netivot Shalom
In the Messianic Era, God will wage war with all of the nations that attacked the Jewish people, and those who remain will celebrate Sukkot.
Why Sukkot? Because according to our rabbis, sukkah is a “mitzvah kallah” (an easy mitzvah). Specifically, it does not require monetary loss since a sukkah can be made with materials already within one’s possession. But is sukkah really an easy (and inexpensive) mitzvah? There are arguably many easier mitzvot and holidays that Hashem could have chosen!
Perhaps we can better understand if we place Sukkot’s annual context in dialogue with our verse from Zechariah. Leading up to Sukkot, we waged war with our yetzer hara (evil inclination). Through the hard work of teshuvah and atonement, we conquered our sins of the past. What remains is “easy”: to celebrate and give thanks. Spiritually from year to year, we shed our husks, and like its biblical name (Chag Ha’asif, “The Festival of Ingathering”), on Sukkot we reap the benefits of our spiritual sowing. We harvest a self that represents both the beginning of days and the end of days. Both new and complete, worthy of celebration. In this way, Sukkot isn’t so much “easy” as it embodies ease and joy borne out of hard labor. B’simcha (with joy), we show up and build with the materials we already have– our refined souls.
Bolstered by the spiritual abundance of forgiveness and renewal, let’s then ask ourselves: What does ease look like for me this 5784? And how can I bring that joyful ease into my sukkah and into my fellows’ sukkot – in mind, body, and spirit?
Rabbi Aryeh Markman, Executive Director, Aish LA
Historical context: The Jews were devastated by the First Temple having been destroyed, living 70 years in Exile and their return to Israel hindered by foreign powers. Enter Zechariah, one of the last prophets in history (there have been no prophets since, Jewish or otherwise), who tells us that in the End of Days the nations of the world will acknowledge that the Jews were the real Magic Kingdom all along. Imagine that! To riff off Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous 1965 speech, “The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, but it bends towards…” the Jews.
If we are going to reign supreme, then why are we distracted with anything other than guaranteeing our Jewish future? Don’t we want our own families to be part of it? The question I ask my students is, “If you had a 90% chance of your child attending Harvard and 20% chance of having Jewish grandchildren or a 90% chance of having Jewish grandchildren but only a 20% chance of attending Harvard, which one would you choose…….and why?” That, I think, sums up our American experience.
Zechariah has more credibility than anyone in the last 2000 years! We should be doubling down on Jewish education and living a Jewish lifestyle with dignity. Overall, could a family’s size somewhat indicate optimism for a Jewish future? As the great philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, told Louis XIV when asked to give the King one proof of the supernatural, “The Jews, your Majesty, the Jews.”
Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, Congregation B’nai Torah
Judaism has an “End Game”, discussed extensively in the Prophets. This ultimate positive future encompasses all of humanity. Maimonides (Shoftim: Melachim 12:5) offers an excellent synopsis of these prophecies: “In that era, there will be neither famine nor war, envy nor competition, for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d”
Judaism sees all of Humanity uniting in a harmonious, universal, Ethical Monotheism free of all concerns except for seeking and living Truth.
This does not suggest that all will adopt Judaism – it represents the idea that the universal ethical code given by G-d (the Noahide code) will be observed by all and that G-d’s rebuilt Third Temple in Jerusalem will be a unifying focal point of worship for all Humanity.
1) Sukkot is the most public “out there in the world” Festival. The Sukkah is built outdoors and visible to all. The Four Species and the Hoshanot (willows brough to the Altar) are paraded publicly in the Temple Courtyard. Sukkot represents Judaism turned outward sharing its values of G-d’s presence in the very fabric of nature with all humanity.
2) In the Midrashic tradition of the 3 Regalim, Passover evokes the First Temple – liberation and the first entry into Israel. Shavuot evokes the Second Temple – the era of elucidation of Torah. Sukkot evokes the Third Temple – The universal embrace of a common Divine ethic by all.
Rabbi David Eliezrie, President Rabbincal Council of Orange County
A few Jews were sitting in the synagogue after the services schmoozing over some refreshments and one exclaimed “When will Moshiach finally, come?” What followed was as debate on the belief in Moshiach, the Messiah. Who could he possibly be, why has it taken so long and what will happen when he finally arrives. All those at the table said they believed in Moshiach, but one guy had a condition. “Yes I believe in Moshiach, but I hope he comes after the cruise we’ve been planning.”
The belief in a Messiah is a core fundamental of Judaism. Maimonides highlights it as an essential belief in his classic, the Principles of Faith. Still to most it seems elusive, who, when, where? For most American Jews living in a country where we have the freedoms to live as we please and there is economic opportunity, the idea of a redeemer changing the world seems a bit farfetched.
Ezekiel provides us with a vision of the ultimate hope of Judaism, and takes a leap forward, telling us in his prophecy that not only will Jews be impacted but all of mankind will be changed. They too will recognize the transformation, when holiness becomes apparent to all. The promise of Moshiach teaches us that the world we are now is transitionary, but we can propel it to the next level. By living a life filled with sanctity, by learning torah and fulfilling Mitzvot, we can tip the balance of humanity and prompt G-d to fulfill his promise that is reflected in the words of Ezekiel.
Image: Jerusalem Sukkot
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