By Rabbi Lewis
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
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.
*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:
If you would like to add to these ideas, please contact Rabbi
John Friedman, chair of Brit Tzedek’s Rabbinic Cabinet at
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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