Shabbat Sukkot | 5768
A Special Agricultural Holiday for a Special Nation - Courtesy of R. Yisrael Sharir - The works of Rav Yisraeli zt”l
Sukkot is a holiday of the land and the workers of the land. Its commandments are connected to the land. The four species grow from the ground. The s’chach grows from the ground and is described as being the leftover of the threshing floor and the winepress. The season is “when you gather – the holiday that comes at the time that you harvest” (Rosh Hashanah 13a). This holiday should have ostensibly symbolized the connections to the land and, thus, permanence. How surprising it is to find out that the holiday symbolizes disconnectedness and the temporary. As our Rabbis tell us, “go out from your permanent dwelling and sit in a temporary dwelling.”
In fact, we do celebrate permanence and connectedness to the land, but we do so in a way that is appropriate for our unique nation with a unique approach to the land and a life of work. Our concept of working the land and to the land itself is different from the concept that other nations have. The essence of our life finds expression to the extent that we serve as a “vehicle for the kingdom of Heaven.” The root and content of our connection to the land and our political and national lives are to use the entire governmental, national apparatus in order to fulfill the ideals of kindness, goodness, putting down of tyranny, and invoking justice in the world.
At the same time we see that for every nation and culture, even the best among them who can grasp a lofty ideal conceptually, when the matter comes down to action, everything falls apart. When the people who declare the highest ideals reach positions of power, they recoil and retreat from them, for in the positions of power evil must rule, and they do not bring their good thoughts to fruition. For us, the main desire for power is for the lofty goal, and without it, there is no need at all for power. “He shall hit the land with the staff of his mouth and with the wind of his lips he will put the evil to death” (Yeshaya 14:1). Therefore, at the time of rejoicing (such as Sukkot) it says “you and the Levite and the newcomer in your midst” (Devarim 26:11), thus stressing social compassion. We are also concerned at this time for the entire world, and therefore we offer 70 special sacrifices corresponding to the nations of the world.
Hillel said at the Sukkot celebrations: “If I am here, everything is here” (Sukka 53a). The idea is that the revelation of the “I” is not in order to exclude someone else but in order that everyone and everything can live in co-existence. That is the difference between the Jewish “You have chosen us” and the “you have chosen us” of the beasts of the “higher race,” which found expression in gas chambers and places of torture. We need to take the grain and grapes and view them as the leftover. We need to turn the bread we eat into a means, not an end to which all of man’s talents are focused. The physical is the leftover; the main focus is that “on that which comes from the Mouth of Hashem shall man live.”
The permanence in Jewish life and the connection to the land and the state finds expression specifically in “leave the permanent dwelling” and by stressing the idea of unity of humanity after national unity. If I am here, everything is here. The main ideal is “no nation shall lift a sword against another nation, and they shall no longer learn war.” Knowledge and skills will be utilized to improve, to banish tyranny, remove evil and allow the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven to rule in the world.
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