CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 5
Chol HaMo-eid Sukkot
HaChag, “THE Holiday.” We all know that,
historically, the first Chanukah was a belatedly
celebrated Sukkot. But more than two
thousand years later, there are additional
reasons I think that Sukkot can be “the Jewish
Christmas,” the antidote to Christmas-envy.
The primary reason is gashmiyut, “physicality.”
Sukkot provides us with so much to do
physically. As a child, I was envious not only
of the gifts of Christmas, but of the trees,
ornaments, miniature creches, lights, and
decorations. We humans like to do physical
things, especially after all the introversion
and soul-searching of the Ten Days. As an
adult, I can indulge my desire for gashmiyut
Imagine the mass commercialization of
Sukkot! I buy great sukkah decorations such
as glittery plastic wheat sheaves and acorns
at craft and hobby stores. I adorn my sukkah
with Christmas lights. But I can imagine far
more: decorations produced specifically for
Sukkot, heirloom sukkah decorations that
are passed from generation to generation.
(Imagine the adorable possibilities for “Baby’s
The religious themes of Sukkot are rich and
deep, but too few Jews even acknowledge the
existence of this, one of my favorite holidays.
Perhaps no more than a fantasy, but imagine
millions of gentiles setting up sukkot (and
keeping up with the Joneses); Jews would
follow suit. The larger market will make it
economically more viable to produce fabulous
Hillel’s humility is legendary, a model for all
generations to come. It is surprising, then, to
read a saying attributed to him in the Talmud
that, on the surface, sounds the antithesis.
Each year, Jews from throughout the nation
assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot.
On the final day of the festival, Sh’mini
Atzeret, they performed Simchat Beit
HaSho-eivah, the water-drawing ceremony.
Mishnah Sukkah makes the bold claim that
one who has not seen the rejoicing of the
water-drawing ceremony has never seen
rejoicing in his life. So many lamps were
lit in the courtyard of the Temple that all of
Jerusalem was illuminated. Dancing, singing,
musical instruments, dancing, juggling, and
shofarot blasting. Then water libations were
poured on the altar. By all accounts, it was a
spectacle of peerless joy.
The Talmud also tells us (BT Sukkot 53) that
during the ceremony, Hillel would declare, “If
I am here, everyone is here!” On the surface,
the statement seems far from the humility
of Hillel. In fact, it sounds vain, egotistical,
conceited. But understood in context,
something rather different emerges.
In contrast to our modern culture
of consumption, acquisition, and
entertainment, Hillel was concerned that all
the “I’s” (i.e., every individual) attend. With
everyone present, he invested himself—his
time, his effort, his essence—in the festivities
of Sukkot, into creating a celebration in
response to the mitzvah of God to rejoice.
As a result, his joy was complete—nothing
was lacking, no one was missing.
One of the lessons that we all have to learn
in life is that nothing is perfect. That may
seem like a human dilemma, but it is also
God’s. Having made a world that was meant
to be good, at the end of our parashah we
read that Adonai regretted having created
a human on the earth and was saddened
R. Berechia said that it is like a prince who
engages an architect to design a palace
for him. When he sees it, he doesn’t like it.
Who can he be angry with if not with the
architect? That is why God was saddened
(B’reishit Rabbah 8:3). The world is an
imperfect place. Indeed, R. Avahu tells us
in the same midrash (9:2) that God created
many worlds and destroyed them.
While our world was meant to be tov m’od,
one of the interpretations of those two
seemingly harmless words is tov mot. The
world can be a good place, but death is also
part of the package.
And what brought Cain to murder Abel?
One explanation attributes his action to
envy. Cain and Abel tried to divide up the
world between them, with Cain taking
possession of the land and Abel of the
movable chattel. However, Cain was never
satisfied with what he had and sought to
drive Abel out of the world.
There is enough in this parashah—as indeed
in this world—to make one despair. And yet
its concluding words give us cause to believe
that not all is lost. But Noah found favor with
God (Genesis 6:8). Even when today seems
hopeless, there is always a tomorrow when
the sun of righteousness will rise with healing
in its wings (Malachi 3:20).
The rainbow represents God’s promise to never
again destroy all of humankind. But does that
mean that humankind will never be destroyed?
My ten-year-old fears black holes. I can’t
seem to convince her that black holes pose
no danger to us. She also worries about the
eventual death of our sun.
What are the ramifications, philosophically,
of recognizing that humanity might end some
day? If we gain immortality through the good
deeds we do, what if no one is left to remember
or benefit from those deeds?
How do we live our lives in the face of eventual,
possible oblivion? Or does the rainbow promise
mean we will never be utterly wiped out?
(Continued on page 6)
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 1
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 2
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 3
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 4
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 5
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 6
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 7
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 8
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 9
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 10
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 11
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 12