Weekly Torah Commentary — Succot October14-15, 2011

Also in the 15th day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a feast to the Lord seven days; on the first day shall be a Sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a Sabbath. And you shall take on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. And you shall keep it a feast to the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths seven days; all who are born Israelites shall dwell in booths. That your generations may know that I made the people of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:39-43)

This Shabbat falls in the middle of the seven day festival of Succot/Tabernacles and therefore the reading is specific to the festival and describes the commandment to Israel to keep this festival in every generation. It is an eternal decree.

Succot is a festival of great joy and celebration — true! Families and friends gather to eat meals together in the Succah as the children proudly display the decorations they have made and/or added to the temporary dwelling. It’s great fun and if you’ve never been in Israel for Succot, plan to do so – hopefully next year!

But there is much more to Succot than just fun. Succot is a visible, tangible reminder of who we are as Jews and why we are here. Enslaved by the Egyptian Pharaoh for 210 years, we were miraculously delivered by Hashem, taken out into the wilderness where we lived in ‘succot’ – temporary dwellings – and were fed from heaven by the sovereign Hand of our Deliverer. But most importantly, it was in that desert at the foot of Mt. Sinai that we were given the gift of the Torah.

Some people think the Torah is what defines us as Jews. Not so.

The nation of Israel is special in and of itself, a unique Divine creation which Hashem formed and chose for Himself. (Isaiah 43:21) Only afterwards was the Torah given to us. Precisely because of its Divine choseness was Israel given the Torah. It isn’t the Torah which makes ‘Am Yisrael‘; it is the Divine uniqueness of ‘Am Yisrael’ that makes the Torah specific to us for it is in the Torah that we learn WHY we were chosen and HOW we are to fulfill our mission.

Sitting in the succah vividly reminds us that as individuals we are temporal, that our days are numbered and as our forefathers have before us, we shall also one day pass on to the World to Come, Olam Haba. But sitting in the succah just as vividly reminds us that as a people, as Am Yisrael, we are eternal, that Israel is eternal — because the Torah decrees it to be so — and the Torah itself is eternal.

Sitting in the succah takes us beyond our personal boundaries and limitations to the higher reality that each Jew is part of a nation, a people, chosen by the Mighty One of Israel for His eternal purpose and just like a body that is handicapped if one organ or one limb is missing or dysfunctional, so the larger community of the children of Israel is interdependent and profoundly connected to each other. While an individual may bring honor to Hashem by his or her life — and so we should –the greater sanctification of Hashem’s Name is the mission of all Israel in this world.

Sitting in the succah reminds us that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves and our personal concerns. We are a people, created for His purpose, chosen for His possession, called to His Holiness and commissioned to illuminate the world with His Light and Truth.

In Tune with Torah this week = re-connecting with our identity and our mission that in the new year just begun we may walk, talk and live as His chosen ones.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach Succot

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