Weekly Torah Commentary – Oct. 6, 2017 Shabbat Sukkot

Torah reading: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16

Special reading:  the Book of Ecclesiastes

This week’s Haftorah details the prophecy about the war of Gog and Magog which will occur in Israel at the end of days.  Commentaries on this particular passage abound and offer various insights into this war to come.

Our purpose here is not to engage in biblical analysis or debate but to find inspiration that will make a difference in our daily walk with God.  To that end I want to focus on what is to me the most important verse in the entire narrative.  Here it is in two translations:

I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the LORD.  Ezek. 38:23  NASB

In this way I will show My greatness and holiness, and I will make Myself known to all the nations of the world.  Then they will know that I am the LORD.  Ezek. 38:23 NLT

presenceofGod

From the beginning, God has desired that we should know Him and have a personal relationship with Him. He is not an abstract God, nor is He aloof and withdrawn but rather, He is directly and purposely involved in His creation and in particular in the lives of those who follow Him.  He wants to be known by us.

The presence of God in the Tabernacle was central to the life, organization, and governance of Israel. In fact, the organization of Israel’s camp demonstrated this. Both in the order of the camp and while Israel traversed the desert, the tabernacle was central, just as God was central to the very heart of the nation.

Moses continually labored to teach the people how to live in a proper and meaningful relationship with God.  His passion to ready them for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham – entry into the Land of Israel – was unwavering. To his dying day, he urged, exhorted and challenged them to walk in holiness with the God who called them, delivered them and led them to their Promised Land.

His presence was also seen by them in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  God went out of His way to convince the children of Israel that His presence was in their midst.

How timely this message is – we are this very week observing the Feast of Tabernacles, the celebration of God’s presence among us.  There is a major difference between saying “God is everywhere” and “God is here”.  At the heart of the feast of Tabernacles is the truth that “God is HERE” – He is with us, He is always with us, He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  The question is: Do we pay attention to His presence with us? Or do we by and large ignore the fact that He really and truly IS here, wherever you are at any time day or night?

Mystics and godly men and women throughout the ages have testified to the awareness of His presence and exhorted us to seek His presence.  How do we do that?

Let’s make it really simple: a person in love doesn’t have to be coaxed to desire the presence of the one they love.  They long for it, yearn for it, and do whatever it takes to be ‘IN’ the presence of their beloved.  Love is the key.

The greatest commandment is this one: You shall LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources.  Deut. 6:5  I love the way the Message Bible renders this verse: Love God, your God, with your whole heart; love Him with all that is in you, love Him with all you’ve got!

So the question is not: how do we seek His presence?

The real question is: how much do I love God?  The degree of my love for Him will dictate the measure of my desire to spend time with Him. 

In Tune with Torah this week = We humans have an incredible ability to make time for what we really want to do.

Honestly…ask yourself : how much do I really, really love God for Himself?

How much do I really, really want to know Him?

Am I more enamored with my ‘religious practices’ than with the God that they are supposed to exalt?

Or am I truly enamored with HIM?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Feast of Tabernacles Oct. 8-15, 2014

SuccotThe Festival of Sukkot or Tabernacles is the last of the yearly festivals commanded in the book of Leviticus. Coming as it does right after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it seems redundant to some, even anticlimactic. However,it is a beautiful and inspirational festival.

Some believe that it was the Festival of Sukkot that inspired the Puritans of Massachusetts to celebrate their Thanksgiving Day. While giving thanks is a fitting conclusion to a succession of sacred days, Sukkot is much more than just a biblical “Thanksgiving.”

One of the readings during Succot is the book of Ecclesiastes in which the wise King Solomon speaks to us about the changing nature of life and eternal values. We are reminded that our condition is always precarious even when we think we dwell in security and safety. Yet through reading his book, we are reminded of a central issue in Succot: the temporariness of our earthly existence.

When we see what has happened to the world’s economy in a few short months, we might consider that we actually do ‘live’ in a sukkah. Anyone who has ever experienced a hurricane up close understands how a solid house can suddenly feel like a sukkah. When our trust-in our relationships, our work, our health-is shaken, we see that we really do ‘live’ in temporary dwellings on this earth. We can’t depend on the outer walls; our security and our stability is in God alone.

Since that’s the case, we are reminded each year during Succot of a valuable lesson about life. Strong faith is not a luxury but a necessity. Faith is a decision against chaos. It gives us the strength that comes from the inside, not from the outside.

Sukkot reminds us that what really matters in life is what will follow us into eternity: those words and actions which have eternal value; which have contributed to the betterment of our family and friends; which have inspired others to walk with God, to choose righteousness, to seek integrity, humility and holiness.

Succot is all about renewing in us the awareness of the destiny for which we were created: to be a living ‘Tabernacle’ or ‘Sukkah’ of His presence as we make our way through life’s joys and sorrows.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Sukkot September 20, 2013

Leviticus 22:26-23:44

The Shabbat that occurs during the eight days of Sukkot has its own reading in keeping with the holiday. So what is this holiday all about? For seven nights Jews around the world eat – and some even sleep – in the outdoor temporary huts unique to this Jewish festival. Why do we do that?

One of our greatest Sages, Rabbi Akiva, taught that the “sukkot” or huts signify the specific relationship which the chosen people enjoy with the Holy One of Israel. It is a relationship to be sure with very specific demands but also great joys.

Our forefathers wandered into the desert under the leadership of Moses after being set free from the slavery of Pharaoh. Their faith in God sustained them throughout the forty years of their sojourn and that same faith sustains the Jew to this day. For us as individuals and families to forego the comforts of our homes and ‘live’ in a temporary shelter for these seven days is the heart of the Sukkot experience. It reminds us that in fact this earth is not our permanent dwelling place, but the God of Israel who led and fed our forefathers in the desert, and Who dwells in ultimate glory in the world to come awaits our reunion with Him after this life is over.

It also expresses our complete trust in His almighty providence and provision. It is an expression of our unwavering faith that despite the uncertainties of this world and its systems, we have a heavenly Father Who watches over us unceasingly and responds to our trust in His covenant with us.

Taking our meals in the Sukkah also serves as a reminder that since this life is temporary, it behooves us to focus on that which is spiritual. As food feeds the body, so spiritual food in the form of prayer and meditation on God’s Word, feeds our soul.

Though death is not something we generally like to think about, the serious minded person understands that at some point, this life as we know it will come to an end, and then what? Our Sages remind us that “this world is like the lobby for the World to Come; therefore, prepare yourself in the lobby so that you might enter the Banquet Hall of the Great King.” Sukkot is a vivid reminder that our thoughts, words, and actions on a daily basis DO matter; that each day we are creating our position, so to speak, in the next world. Each act of kindness, each choice to serve others rather than ourselves, each opportunity to pray, to study the Torah, to hold back our tongues from speaking negatively about others — all of these and more are recorded in the heavens and on that day when we are called to stand before the heavenly Court, those good deeds will be all we can take with us. Bank accounts, homes, jewelry, possessions — they will all remain behind. Our mitzvot – our good deeds – will accompany us into the presence of the King. Doesn’t it make sense to invest in what will remain for eternity?

In Tune with Torah this week – Sukkot is a wonderful time to reflect on our daily tasks. Are they simply routine or do we take the opportunity to make each one an offering of praise to Him Who has given us life and sustains us day by day?

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!