D’Var Torah: October 21, 2016

According to Philip Goodman in his book The Sukkot/Simchat Torah Anthology, “The festival of Sukkot is rooted in the Bible, which delineates its basic laws and recounts the historical events related to it. According to the Pentateuch, Hag ha-Sukkot (Feast of Booths) or Hag ha-Asif (Feast of Ingathering), as the holiday is alternately termed, is one of the three pilgrimage festivals on which the Israelites were enjoined to make a pilgrimage to the chosen place in Jerusalem. It prescribes the manner of observance – dwelling in booths (sukkot), prohibition of work on the first and eighth days, observing sacrifices, use of the Four Species [lulav & etrog] and rejoicing over the harvest.

The observance of Sukkot is intended to help reconnect us with the natural world. This is part of the reasons why we dwell in the Sukkah. But it is so much more than that. According to Isaac Aboab (a 17th Century Rabbi and scholar from the Netherlands), “The commandment to dwell in the sukkah is intended to teach us that a man(or woman) must not put his(or her) trust in the size or strength or salutary conveniences of his(her) house, even though it be filled with the best of everything; nor should he(she) rely upon the help of any man(woman), even though he(she) be lord of the land. But let him(her) put his(her) trust in God whose word called the universe into being … (Menorat ha-Maor 3.6.1).

And if this is true of Sukkot, how much the more so on Chol HaMoed Shabbat Sukkot. The intermediate Shabbat which falls during the festival of Sukkot is regarded with special reverence. This is in part because Sukkot, at least in Biblical times, was the most important holiday for our ancient Israelite ancestors. Without a successful fall harvest, their entire winter could be in jeopardy. Hence it is of even greater importance to celebrate the world beyond our doors. 

Shabbat and Sukkot have another connection as well. Shabbat is the day of menucha, the day of rest. As Franz Rosensweig argued, Sukkot “is the feast of both wanderings and rest. In memory of those long wanderings of the past which finally led to rest, the members of the family do not have their merry meal in the familiar rooms of the house but under a roof which is quickly constructed, a makeshift roof with heaven shining through the gaps. This serves to remind the people that no matter how solid the house of today may seem, no matter how temptingly it beckons to rest and unimperiled living, it is but a tent which permits only a pause in the long wanderings through the wilderness of centuries.”

Therefore on this Chol HaMoed Shabbat Sukkot, may we all gather to celebrate the blessings of the natural world, and the blessings of the rest and calm to be found in our Shabbat and Festival observances.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach!

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff