Succoth 5781 - Weekly Torah Portion

In Leviticus chapter 23 we read the following, “Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord. On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work.’… ‘On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’”

Today, as we well-know, the seventh month of the year is in fact the first month, Tishrei. And according to the scripture we are instructed to sit in a Succah for a period of seven days. The reason given for that order is not to simply remember the event but rather “so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt”. Therefore, this is not just reviving an old possibly fading memory but more so as to internalize, gain deep understanding of the meaning of that deed. A period where a permanent structure one sort is replaced by a temporary dwelling so as to finally reside in hopefully a better one.

In this context you may wish to refer to the interesting Hebrew words used in this context and these are the words "חַג", "תָּחֹגּוּ" and "חַגֹּתֶם". All have the basic of CHAG which we tend to connotate immediately with some sort of celebration, festival or event. It is an opportunity, I think, to look at the word from another perspective and that is to circle, or to fly around, or to draw a circle. A motion which is repetitive over itself. The CHAG gives us the opportunity to make motion in time and observe what has happened, is happening and what ought to be happening – past, present and future. The past we cannot change, and the present is almost an inevitable result of the past. However, by spending time at the present to understand what has happened and is happening gives us a chance to change the future, to have positive influence on the world for us and those who surround us. Look at things carefully, examining them once again in an attempt to maybe reach new conclusions that will lead to a better future outcome.

There is no doubt that we had an unusual Rosh HaShana, a peculiar Yom Kippur, and Succoth will certainly be different. On the other hand we know that in the past we have experienced unusual, peculiar and different kinds of events. Despite difficulties and challenges we are here today to witness that we withstood them. No doubt that we see certain despair in the eyes of many around us. It is not new and is a result of loss of confidence in leaders. However, there are leaders and there are leaders. Some know how to take these calamitous times and handle the coronavirus challenges boldly, decisively and in unity. Others cannot. In the first book of Kings chapter 20 we find, “Let not him who girds on his armor boast like him who takes it off.” One should not be fast to declare victory when the fight has not even begun. It seems that some leaders have a lot to learn before they continue to lead. They need to learn to circle over again, study the past, understand the present and only then make plans for the future. Only then will they have the chance to boast about successes.

We, in Israel, shall spend Succoth in a lockdown. We should take this CHAG and circle our thoughts over again on all that we have done in the past several months. Even if the government is not well tuned or is unable to direct, we still need to celebrate responsibly. It is certainly tough, I would have preferred to be at synagogue, experience the special holy atmosphere of the day, each congregation with its own beautiful traditions. It is not to be this year and we need to take over the responsibilities that are required from us so that at the next cycle of our festivals, we shall hopefully know more, take some of the learnings of the past, and those of the present and apply them to a successful future.

Shabbat Shalom and Moadim LeSimcha.

Reuven Marko, 15 Tishrei 5781, 2 October 2020

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