By Rabbi Lewis Weiss*

In the brief five days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we go from one of the most solemn days of the Jewish calendar, to one of it's most joyous, "ach sameah", especially happy. Sukkot is widely considered our oldest festival, and at eight days is certainly among the longest.

In the lead-up to the holiday, Jewish families have traditionally built for themselves a temporary dwelling, a sukkah, intended to serve as a reminder of the portable dwellings in which the Israelites lived during their 40 year sojourn in the wilderness, and, later, during the fall harvest season. We have always invited guests to our sukkahs to celebrate with us, and we raise the Four Species: branches of palm, willow and myrtle held together (lulav), and an etrog (a citrus fruit similar to a lemon) -- a symbolic representation of both the diversity and unity of humanity. If we hope to build a true Sukkah of Peace, we're taught, we must value and appreciate every human quality.

The theme of human unity is in fact central to the holiday. When the Temple was yet standing, Israel offered sacrifices for all nations during Sukkot, and to this day, we pray for the well-being of the world's communities, and universal peace. We're taught that in the Messianic age, the nations will celebrate Sukkot together in Jerusalem -- as it is said, "My House shall be a House of Prayer for all people." It's interesting to note that this is one of the rare years in which the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday season coincide -- a faint shadow of the promised unity.

As anyone has built a sukkah can attest, it is a frail home, a place where it doesn't do to depend on material security. We are required to be able to see the stars through its roof -- a potent reminder that we lie beneath the heavens shared by all God's creatures. The message is clear: We are all but guests on a frail planet. If we don't work together, our future is endangered, our temporary structure will collapse. Furthermore, Torah tells us, there's no one to pick up the pieces if we allow our home to be destroyed.

The events of recent years have reminded us quite starkly of our vulnerability: the attacks of 9/11; Hurricane Katrina; the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Israel's wars in Lebanon and Gaza. It is this very fragility that stands behind Brit Tzedek's call for negotiations toward a two-state solution of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We can heal ourselves -- or we can condemn ourselves to further suffering.

This Sukkot, let us resolve to strengthen our prayers and deeds for tikkun olam, repairing the world, as we struggle to find a way to dwell together in peace. Let us recognize our common values and fate. After the conclusion of Sukkot, Simchat Torah sees us completing our annual cycle of Torah reading, concluding Deuteronomy and beginning again with Genesis -- an opportunity to recognize the eternal truth that we can always start anew. Your involvement with Brit Tzedek is a crucial part of the Jewish people's search for healing and renewal, as we work together for peace and justice. As Rabbi Nachman of Bretzlav said: "The entire world is nothing but a narrow bridge; the most important thing is not to give in to fear."

Spread over us the Sukkah of your peace. (Proverbs 17)

(The Torah) is a Tree of Life to those who grasp hold of it, its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace. (Proverbs 18)

*Rabbi Lewis Weiss was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. He is married to Rabbi Faedra Weiss with whom he has three daughters, a dog, and a cat. Rabbi Weiss is a board certified chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains and the National Association of Jewish Chaplains and is active as a police, fire, and airport chaplain and with the American Red Cross Crisis Response Team. He currently works as Jewish Staff Chaplain for Clarian Health Partners in Indianapolis, Indiana. Rabbi Weiss is a member of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet and is presently building a new chapter in Indianapolis.

Suggestions for Sukkot:

  1. When you attend Sukkot gatherings, talk to family and friends about Brit Tzedek's activities, in particular the Rabbinic Call, in which more than 300 rabbis and cantors called on our community to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34).

  2. Invite loved ones to a special evening dedicated to discussing the spirit of Sukkot and the ideas of universal peace and tikkum olam. You can download Brit Tzedek materials to guide your conversation. Consider ways in which the goal of peace might be best achieved.

  3. It's customary to invite guests both literal and metaphorical into our sukkahs, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David and, for some, seven female prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Hannah, Huldah, Avigail. You might want to "invite" the spirits of those you consider heroes of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation such as Yitzhak Rabin. Whose spirits would like to have inhabit your sukkah? If you don't build a sukkah, chose seven figures - one for every night of the festival - and read something about each one at your dinner table each night.
If you would like to add to these ideas, please contact Rabbi John Friedman, chair of Brit Tzedek’s Rabbinic Cabinet at

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

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