by Rabbi Herbert Bronstein [bio]

In the time of the ancient Temple, the eight-day harvest festival of Sukkot was the most widely observed and biblically significant Jewish holiday, so much so that it was known simply as HeChag (literally: The Festival). As one of the three major pilgrimage festivals, Sukkot required that the people “go up” to Jerusalem in order to celebrate. Through the vision of the prophets and the teaching of the sages, Jerusalem was already becoming the Judaic metaphor and symbol for the hope of messianic culmination. The city was considered to be the center from which the Torah, the teaching of righteousness and peace (tzedek v'shalom), would emanate, preserving the world from conflict, misery and hate.

That goal, however distant, is bound up in the necessary work, the down to earth tasks in which we engage in fulfilling our covenant. The literal translation of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom is “Covenant of Justice and Peace,” and it is by acting for peace that we draw nearer to that fulfillment. Every particular detail-- in the practical efforts of informational meetings, of planning, of gatherings, of letter writing and calls to government leaders, engagements in dialogue, fundraising – is as Isaiah put it, "kav, kav, tzav, tzav" (“here a line, there a line, here a mitzvah, there a mitzvah”). Through all of this work, the prophetic vision and promise is accomplished:  "The work of righteousness shall be peace and the effect of justice will be security and confidence enduring." (Isaiah 32.17)

By Judaic liturgical design, every section of prayer must be concluded with a prayer for peace. On one level, this became a liturgical principle, but on another, Judaism generalizes it to mean that the highest of all blessings we can enjoy is peace. The Hebrew word for peace -- shalom -- comes from the root SH-L-M, meaning “complete.” In this sense, peace becomes the state of perfection to which we strive. During the autumn as we celebrate the completion of the world (Rosh Hashana), the completion of the harvest (Sukkot) and finally the completion of the year’s Torah reading (Simchat Torah), prayers for shalom are particularly resonant. May this spirit accompany and inspire our daily efforts throughout the year.

"Spread over us the Sukkah of your peace."
"(The Torah) is a Tree of Life to those who grasp hold of it
its ways are ways of pleasantness
and all it's paths are peace." (cf. Proverbs 17, 18)

 Suggestions for Sukkot:

1. When you attend Sukkot activities, tell family, friends and acquaintances about Brit Tzedek’s campaign, "Gaza First, Not Last," and ask them to sign it, by going to http://message.btvshalom.org/

2. Make decorations for your sukkah that spread the message of peace and reconciliation.

3. There is a custom of inviting "guests" into the sukkah. The traditional guests are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David and some also invite Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Hannah, Huldah, Avigail (seven women prophets). Be creative and come up with seven heroes of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation whose spirits you would like to invite into your sukkah. Even if you don't have a sukkah you can still chose seven characters - one for every night of Sukkot - and read something about each one every night at your dinner table.

If you would like to add to these ideas, please contact the Brit Tzedek Religious Affairs Committee by writing to rac@btvshalom.org.


Rabbi Herbert Bronstein, who was one of the first members of Brit Tzedek’s Rabbinic Cabinet, is Senior Scholar of North Shore Congregation Israel, a leading metropolitan Chicago congregation where he served as Senior Rabbi for over a quarter of a century. He is a member of the faculty of the Religion Department at Lake Forest College and the editor of what has been termed a “modern classic" of Jewish liturgy, the popular Haggadah of Reform Judaism. He is a recipient of the Isaac Mayer Wise Award for contributions to Reform Judaism. He has also served as president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, the Chicago Association of Reform Rabbis and on the board of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago-Jewish United Fund. [back to top]


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