Tag Archives: sukkot

Is There a Sukkah for Christians?

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)

That having been said, Sukkot is coming up, and you should probably give some consideration to how much you are willing to pursue practical enactments of the anticipated messianic era in which Zachariah envisioned the requirement for gentiles to celebrate Sukkot and the aspects of it that imply redemption for the nations. The above essay seems to indicate that you’ve pulled away too far, and perhaps that you’ve begun to acknowledge it.

-from ProclaimLiberty’s recent comment

I used to think that in Messianic Days, we so-called “Messianic Gentiles” would all have an open invitation to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot in Jerusalem, basking in the glory of our King and having a terrific time “partying”. However, a slightly more careful reading of the Zechariah passage illustrates that it’s actually a punishment for the people of the nations who all attacked Israel during that final war when God and Israel win.

If the nations that went up against Israel don’t send representatives to Jerusalem for Sukkot, they get no rain that year. It’s not a party, it’s a command performance, an admission of guilt, an act of contrition.

Nevertheless, PL’s above-quoted statement is a strong suggestion that it is appropriate for all we non-Jews to return to God on Sukkot, and I responded by crafting my own little missive stating that it’s a good time for me to return as well. But as I’m about to relate, the connection between Gentiles and Sukkot may not be what we’ve been told it is.

Now that Yom Kippur is over, I feel the beginning of Sukkot rapidly approaching. I am aware of how much stuff I’ll need to dig through in our storage room to get to our wee Sukkah kit, how I’ll need to drag is out of the garage and around the side of the house, so I can put it together on our back patio this coming weekend.

I build a sukkah each year primarily for one reason: my wife is Jewish and as the husband in the family, it’s my job to build stuff, in this case, a sukkah.

So aside from Gentiles being associated with Sukkot as a matter of consequence for having the audacity to go to war against God’s holy people and His most treasured nation, can I, as a non-Jew (albeit one married to a Jew) get anything out of Sukkot beyond the awareness that I’m a Gentile citizen of one of the nations that will (in all likelihood) attack Israel?

There are a plethora of online articles about Jewish observance of Sukkot (of course) such as The ABCs of Sukkot, Sukkot: Transforming Trash Into Love, A Sukkah Grows in Brooklyn, and Finding Shelter in a Transient World.

Except possibly for the last article in that list, none of them do me any good at all. They’re all written by and for Jews. Naturally, they have nothing to do with me or with any non-Jew.

That’s why I was surprised to find a Chabad article on the web called How a Gentile Celebrates Sukkot written by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky.

The Haftarah for the first day of Sukkot is the prophecy of Zecharya concerning the war of Gog and Magog, which will climax with the final redemption and acknowledgment by the nations that Hashem alone is the King, and that Israel is His people. This realization will be celebrated on Sukkot, for, according to the prophecy, the surviving nations will join the Jewish people every year in celebrating the Sukkot festival. In his prophecy Zecharya declares, “And if the family of Egypt will not ascend and will not come…They will suffer the plague with which Hashem will afflict the nations, because they will not have ascended to celebrate the festival of Sukkot. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that will not ascend to celebrate the festival of Sukkot.”

As interesting as this may sound; it is difficult to imagine that in the future the nations of the world will be obligated to sit in a Sukkah and celebrate together with the Jews, and be punished for it if they don’t!

Sukkah in the rainBoth Rabbi Bogomilsky and Sara Debbie Gutfreund, who authored Finding Shelter in a Transient World, mention that, among other things, Sukkot is a time of unity and connection.

Ms. Gutfreund states:

Bring friends and family into your sukkah. Learn from others and share what you have learned. Build and nurture the connections that you have with others in your life. Feel the embrace of the chain of kindness that redeems so much darkness; be another link in that chain.

And Rabbi Bogomilsky tells us:

The common factor in these two mitzvot is achdut — unity.

That the mitzvah of sukkah represents unity is obvious from the fact that many families may eat together in the same sukkah. In fact, the Gemara (Sukkah 27b) says that, “re’uyim kol Yisrael leisheiv besukkah achat” — “All of Israel are fit to sit in one sukkah” — which means that unlike other mitzvot (e.g. four species) where each one must have his own object, one can build a sukkah and let everyone use it to properly fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah. Thus, sukkah is a mitzvah through which Klal Yisrael becomes united.

Putting all this together, we see a hint of a common connection between Jews and non-Jews all sharing the Sukkot celebration together, sharing meals in Sukkot in Jerusalem, and maybe all over the Land of Israel, symbolizing God’s and Israel’s forgiveness of the people of the nations for our sins against them, and a forging of a bond of togetherness under the reign of King Messiah.

But in the paragraphs from which I’ve quoted so far, they are talking exclusively about Sukkot and the Jewish people. What about the Gentiles?

Rabbi Bogomilsky answers that question.

Zecharya’s reference to the sukkah is an allegory. He does not mean that in Messianic times the gentile will be obligated to eat in the sukkah together with the Jew, and be punished if he does not fulfill the mitzvah. He means that the gentile world will be expected to practice the lesson conveyed by the mitzvot of the festival of Sukkot. They must forsake their striving for selfish gain and replace it with a sense of responsibility and sharing of privileges with all of humanity. Hence, Zecharya’s words, “Lo ya’alu lachog et chag haSukkot” — “They have refused to go up to celebrate the festival of Sukkot” — can be explained to mean that they have refused to elevate themselves spiritually and realize the message that Sukkot teaches humanity.

Oh. Well so much for the idea of togetherness, forgiveness, and unity in Messiah. R. Bogomilsky ends his article on an uplifting note, but it rings hollow after his previous block of text:

Let us hope and pray that, speedily in our times, we merit the revelation of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the “sukkah of David” which has fallen — the Beit Hamikdash — (see Amos, 9:10, Sanhedrin 96b), and then all of mankind will enjoy the ultimate of harmony, peace, and tranquility.

According to this source, there will be harmony and peace between Gentile and Jew, enjoyed by all humanity, but as I wrote the better part of two months ago, that peace, for the Jew, will be in their nation, in Israel, and the people of the nations will enjoy that peace in each of their (our) nations.

No vacations for Gentiles to Jerusalem during Sukkot.

I suppose this is more in line with the traditional Christian view of whether or not believers should celebrate Jewish holidays:

4th century theologian John Chrysostom said, “The festivals of the pitiful and miserable Jews are soon to march upon us one after the other and in quick succession: the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts. There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now.”

Such a strong expression of this view, especially if associated with Anti-Judaism, is not common in the contemporary church. However, it is an exaggeration to claim that Christians in general tend to adopt and adapt Jewish festivals.

-from “Criticism of Christian Observance of Jewish Holidays”
Wikipedia

sukkot jerusalem
Sukkot in Jerusalem

To be fair, there are Christian rebuttals to that criticism:

The Book of Zechariah chapter 14 verse 16 speaks of Gentile nations remaining after the “Lord is king over all the earth”: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.” In both Jewish and Christian eschatology, this scripture refers to a time when the Messiah will come to physically rule in Jerusalem. This reference gives confirmation that future Gentiles are required by the Lord to keep at least an additional feast to Passover and Pentecost: the Feast of Tabernacles.

Christian scholars such as Chuck Missler, Mark Davidson, Steve Cioccolanti and Perry Stone argue that the first four feasts have been fulfilled by Christ’s first coming, therefore the final three feasts will also be fulfilled around the time of Christ’s second coming. The Biblical holidays find their meaning in Messiah, and either commemorates what He has done or what He will do. They are therefore eternal holidays for believers.

You can see why I generally don’t turn to Christian sources regarding Gentile participation in Messianic Times.

I can’t speak to the validity of the information offered by the website for an organization called Light to the Nations, but according to a 1999 article hosted there called Sukkot: A Unique Connection to the Gentiles written by Rabbi Chaim Richman (presumably, the article’s author and the Rabbi Richman associated with the Temple Institute are the same person)…

This Friday evening, we begin to observe the Festival of Sukkot. Of all the sacred seasons that G-d commanded Israel to observe, this festival, also known as the Festival of Tabernacles has the strongest implications for the nations of the world. Even today, vast numbers of Gentiles identify with the holiday of Sukkot, and converge on Jerusalem just to be in the holy city at this time of year. It is as if their heartstrings are pulled by some invisible magnet, the source of which they know not. Some force draws them to connect between Sukkot and the location of the Holy Temple.

In the Written Torah and the Oral Tradition

This is well understood, for it is a connection emphasized by both the written Scriptures and the Oral Tradition. The relationship between the nations and the holiday of Sukkot dates back to ancient times, and arcs through our own period as well…to form a bridge into that future, rectified world that we all yearn and long for, Jew and Gentile alike…the day when “the L-rd and His name will be One” (Zechariah 14:9).

The Sacrifice of Seventy Bulls

During Sukkot in the time of the Holy Temple, a unique sacrifice was offered on the altar…with a unique intention.

In chapter 29 of the book of Numbers, the Bible outlines the sacrifices that are to be offered over the span of the holiday. Counting the number of bulls that are offered over the seven-day period, we find that the total number was seventy. And in chapter 10 of the book of Genesis, there are seventy nations mentioned. These are the primordial nations, sometimes referred to as the “seventy languages,” which represent all humanity. The Talmud (BT Sukkah 55:B) teaches that the seventy bulls that were offered in the Holy Temple served as atonement for the seventy nations of the world. Truly, as the rabbis observed, “if the nations of the world had only known how much they needed the Temple, they would have surrounded it with armed fortresses to protect it” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1, 3).

Here we can already sense that inherent within the very nature of the holiday, an inexorable bond-as expressed through its sacrificial requirements-links it to the earth’s peoples. Sukkot was mandated by the Creator Himself to be a holiday for all the world.

Rabbi Chaim Richman
Rabbi Chaim Richman

Rabbi Richman does go on to quote from relevant portions of Zechariah, but he stops short of stating that Gentiles would actually be involved in celebrating Sukkot with Jews in Jerusalem. “Jerusalem will dwell in security,” but it doesn’t seem that Jewish sources expect Gentiles to dwell or even sojourn with the Jewish people in Jerusalem on Sukkot, in spite of the fact that in the modern world, many, many Christians visit the Holy City during the holiday of the Festival of Booths.

All of this begs the question about whether or not it is appropriate for Gentiles, especially exclusively Gentile groups, to build a kosher (or even non-kosher) Sukkah and to celebrate Sukkot in a traditionally Jewish manner.

As I previously mentioned, even given all that I’ve said, at it’s most elementary level, I build a sukkah every year because my wife is Jewish and I’m her husband. Technically, at least according the Jewish sources I’ve cited, I do not now nor will I have in the future, any duty to actually eat, sleep, or otherwise spend any of my time inside the Sukkah for the full duration of the festival or any bit of it.

Additionally, traditional Christian sources would probably agree with that assessment as well, though for different reasons (“Jesus fulfilled,” and so on, and so forth).

What would seem to be incumbent upon the Gentile is to practice peace by “forsaking our striving for selfish gain and replacing it with a sense of responsibility and sharing of privileges with all of humanity.”

But we don’t have to build, eat, and dwell in a sukkah to do that.

However, I have been trying to write about how the believing Gentile, even one “stranded” on a metaphorical deserted island and isolated from Gentile and Jewish community, still has a relationship with God, a relationship that indeed is desired by God.

So let’s have a short look at the sorts of “shelter” Sara Debbie Gutfreund says a Jew can expect to find in a Sukkah.

  1. The shelter of faith
  2. The shelter of gratitude
  3. The shelter of connection
  4. The shelter of authenticity
  5. The shelter of prayer
  6. The shelter of awe

Let’s take the obviously easy points in the list first. I don’t think anyone, Christian or Jew, can say that it is inappropriate for the Gentile turning to God to experience faith, gratitude, and awe, and to respond with prayer.

If you deny the Gentile the ability to have faith in God, you deny God to the Gentile. And experiencing God to any degree should inspire awe in the spiritually aware person, Gentile as well as Jew. Naturally, realizing that God extended His plan for the redemption of Israel even to the nations of the world should be our inspiration for feeling grateful, and to humbly thank and praise Hashem in prayer.

What about connection?

For a Jew, unity and connection is all about being united and connected with other Jews. As we’ve seen above, that’s (apparently) never extended to Gentiles. Ms Gutfreund says that connection is created by bringing “family and friends” into your Sukkah, but presumably, she’s talking about Jewish family and friends (although with more liberal branches of Judaism and certainly if there are intermarried Jewish members of the family, then you might see Gentiles in some Sukkot).

So who do we get connected to? Even if we don’t build our own Sukkot, I suppose we can still unite with like-minded Gentiles at this time of year, celebrating, in our own fashion, our anticipation of the ultimate age of peace and tranquility.

For the Gentile on the metaphorical deserted island, alone with his/her Bible and prayers, there is still the ability to forge a connection with God. We can still invite Him into our house, even if that house is only our heart and being.

Authenticity? Ms. Gutfreund describes this as:

Close the gap between who you are and how you appear to the world around you. Don’t be afraid to change in order to be truly aligned with your authentic values. Use the space of the sukkah to open the space within that wants to be free.

That doesn’t sound specific to Sukkot necessarily. I think we have a standing directive to re-order our lives to be more in line with God, to draw closer to Him, to conform our lives to His desires increasingly across the passage of time.

I can’t tell you, as a non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua (Jesus) whether you should or shouldn’t build a sukkah or to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot one way or another, or to just ignore it completely.

temple of messiahI can’t tell you in absolute terms if or how the people of the nations of the world will be involved in Sukkot in the Messianic Era. I can relate what I understand of the Jewish and Christian traditions on the matter, but I can’t tell you what God has in mind. For all I know (and in spite of Jewish and Christian traditional interpretations), God really will require Gentile representatives from each of the nations that went to war against Israel to go to Jerusalem, pay homage to King Messiah, and celebrate Sukkot by eating and drinking with Jewish people in Sukkot.

And for all I know, God wouldn’t mind Gentile families booking their vacations in Jerusalem during the Sukkot festival just because it would be an incredible way to experience our participation in the reign of peace and justice brought forth by Israel’s King and ours.

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Returning to God in Time for Sukkot

If Yom Kippur can also be a time of repentance and mourning for non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus), then I suppose I’m late.

On the other hand, as PL recently commented:

That having been said, Sukkot is coming up, and you should probably give some consideration to how much you are willing to pursue practical enactments of the anticipated messianic era in which Zachariah envisioned the requirement for gentiles to celebrate Sukkot and the aspects of it that imply redemption for the nations. The above essay seems to indicate that you’ve pulled away too far, and perhaps that you’ve begun to acknowledge it.

I heard somewhere (I can’t recall the source thanks to my leaky memory) that if Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can mark a season of repentance and renewal for the Jewish people, then maybe Sukkot serves that purpose for the nations.

No, I’m not attempting to reintroduce myself into Jewish space, but I can’t ignore the (Biblical) fact that God also wants to include the Gentiles in the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, the Messianic Kingdom of redemption of the world. And while we are not nor shall we ever be Israel, there has to be a way to return to God that is appropriate for the non-Jew and that doesn’t involve directly (or maybe even indirectly, if such a thing is possible) using any form of Judaism as the Gentile’s conduit to repentance and reconciliation with God.

But where to begin?

Actually, I did begin and then stopped. I thought about looking at the practices of Yeshua and how he related to the Father as well as what Paul taught the Gentiles of his day, thinking this could provide some sort of baseline for the 21st century non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua.

followBut while more traditional Christians have no trouble conceptualizing how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the fact remains that the Master almost never interacted with non-Jews and when he did, he wasn’t always civil about it. Yeshua was (and is) a Jewish teacher who gathered a Jewish following in the first century of the common era, in the then Roman-occupied Holy Land. He came, at that place and time, for the lost sheep of Israel, not the lost sheep of the nations.

For the nations, Yeshua never came directly. For us, he sent Paul instead (Acts 9).

So what did Paul teach? The answer to that question would fill a book, probably many books, and many books have been written with Paul as their subject, some complementary (Christian) and some with disdain (Jewish). And almost certainly, the vast majority of those books got Paul and how he related to Jewish people, Judaism, and his Gentile pupils all wrong.

Probably one of the very few books that may have gotten Paul right, or at least come as close as we can given the Apostle lived and died nearly two-thousand years ago, was the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul Within Judaism (and I still owe Mark Nanos a book review on Amazon).

Don’t think that my returning here to write, even occasionally, means that I think myself worthy of being read. It absolutely doesn’t mean I think myself a teacher. But PL is right. In pulling away from the inevitable strife caused by the presence of a non-Jew (and particularly me) in Jewish space, specifically Messianic Jewish space, I’ve also pulled away from paying much attention to God.

In attempting to hack my 61-year-old body to perform younger at the gym and in more practical physical applications, I’ve used that effort to insulate me from “hacking” my relationship with God, particularly continual repentance and reconciliation.

At this late date in the Jewish High Holidays, there’s no way I can even beg the forgiveness of all those I’ve upset and offended online and in person, but I’ll take this opportunity to humble myself before all of you anyway.

I’m still covered in “filthy rags” as it were. Still in need of a lot of work. I’ve always known that, but the issues over a busted computer (long story) and various other stressors this weekend have brought that realization to the forefront.

I know now that as flawed and imperfect as I am, what kept me moving forward or at least prevented me from moving backward, was writing this blog. Even as I kept falling on my face time after time, each new blog post was my effort to pull myself back up and keep on running the race (with apologies to the writer of Hebrews 12:1-3).

unworthySo I’m telling you that I’m not a better person, at least not better than I was a month, two months, or six months ago. I’ve taken some steps to cull a few of the more negative influences I’ve encountered in the blogosphere and in social media, if for no other reason, than to reduce the level of conflict I experience, but I don’t think I’ve benefited significantly from that as yet.

So where does that leave me?

Non-Jewish disciples of Jesus find their home (this is a generalization, not an absolute statement) in more or less one of two places: Most of them find a home in some sort of Christian church. No surprise there. A significant minority find their home in either an expression of Messianic Judaism or in some version of Hebrew Roots.

None of that helps me.

What’s left?

Well, even if I found myself on a deserted island somewhere thousands of miles from anyone else, there would still be God.

Assuming in a communal and spiritual sense, that’s actually my situation, what’s to be done?

The answer returns me to the Apostle Paul and what he taught. If Jewish avenues of connection aren’t available to me in forging a relationship with God, then Paul certainly must have taught his Gentile students how they could turn to Hashem.

How did they?

Here’s what little I have so far. I put this together a few months ago:

What Did Paul Teach?

What we do/don’t do:

  • Gentiles weren’t to be circumcised.
  • Gentiles weren’t to convert to Judaism.
  • Cornelius prayed at the set times of prayer.
  • Cornelius gave charity to the Jewish people.
  • Paul preached that the Gentiles owed charity to the poor of Israel.
  • Pray for Jerusalem.
  • The Jewish PaulExamples 1 Cor 5:11 and 13. Purge evil from among you and no slander or backbiting.
  • Practice repairing the world a little every day.
  • Restore Jesus and Paul and their teachings to their original Jewish context.
  • Teach the centrality of Israel in the restoration of the world.

Who we are:

  • Gentiles can call Abraham their Father (Rom. 4:11).
  • [Many of the contributors of the Nanos/Zetterholm volume say that Gentile believers had an “anomalous identity” and “occupied a social and religious no-man’s land”. Gentile identity defies classification.]
  • Gentile believers are neither proselytes nor God-fearers.
  • Like converts, we make an exclusive commitment to the God of Israel, but unlike converts, we do not take on Jewish ancestral practices (kosher food, shabbat, circumcision, and so on).
  • While we retain our native ethnic identities, we no longer worship our native gods.
  • Paul saw us as part of Abraham’s seed (Gen. 17:4-5, Gal. 3:29, Rom. 4:13-18), and yet Israel is also Abraham’s seed.
  • Nanos says we are not guests nor proselytes but full members alongside the Jews (members in what…the Kingdom of Heaven probably).

All this is pretty disorganized and needs a lots of fleshing out.

While I’ve missed the boat as far as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are concerned, it’s still not too late to at least get back on the road in time for Sukkot (what most Christians think of as the “Festival of Booths”).

I apologize for involving Jewish online resources, but in a lot of cases, I have no choice since Paul operated on this calendar and, as PL pointed out in the above-quoted statement, even we Gentiles will be operating within such a calendar or observance in Messianic Days.

walking outPreviously, I’ve drawn some ire, both in blog comments and via email, by citing or quoting from specific Messianic Jewish resources that were written for a non-Jewish audience in mind, so I’m going to do my best to avoid mentioning them as I chronicle my journey of return.

That’s regrettable, since a lot of how I understand my relationship with God, Paul, Yeshua, and the centrality of Israel (and not the Church) in national Israel’s redemption and the redemption of the world through her, is from those resources.

But one of my goals for this blog (it always has been actually) is to not promote conflict. Sometimes the only way to avoid conflict is to avoid interacting with some people and groups who, unfortunately, I have a tendency to irritate and provoke (and I apologize and ask forgiveness of all those folks too, but even if they forgive me, repentance and forgiveness don’t automatically mean reconciliation…sometimes, you just can’t go home).

I don’t want “morning meditations” to be like so many other blogs in the online religious space that go out of their way to generate conflict, disagreement, and even raw hostility.

I’m not teaching, declaring, or demanding. I’m just sharing my personal and spiritual experiences (such as they are) day by day (or perhaps more periodically).

What did Paul teach his Gentile disciples and how can I apply (if it’s possible) that to my own life? What can I learn from those few other non-Jews, such as Cornelius, who worshiped God outside of Judaism and within their own non-Jewish households?

Since the Jewish Messiah and becoming his disciple (through the teachings of Paul) is at the core of this exploration, I don’t know that any examples of non-Jews we see in the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament) are relevant or even appropriate.

NoahOne notable example might be Noah, since he preceded any notion of Judaism and was considered “a righteous man, blameless in his time,” and “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 NASB).

Noah prayed to God, God spoke with Noah, Noah obeyed God, and Noah sacrificed to God, so what he did (apart from building an Ark and gathering a bunch of animals together) isn’t entirely out of the ballpark.

But for the most part, I’ll be spending my time in the Apostolic Scriptures, hoping some vestige of these ancient trails can point me to my way home as well.

In the Merit of Jewish Torah Observance Revisited

Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz used to comment on this that just as those who support Torah study financially have the merit of the Torah study of those they support, so too anyone who influences another person to study Torah shares in the merit of that person…

…Parents who influence and enable their children to study Torah have this merit, as do wives who enable their husbands to study Torah.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Influence others to study Torah,” p. 309
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar
Growth Through Torah

NOTE: It was brought to my attention that the previous incarnation of this blog post contained erroneous information. I have re-edited the text, images, and links to remove those errors.

Yes, I know this is midrash. I have an interesting relationship with midrash. I think of it as not so much literal fact or even a hidden spiritual truth, but rather as metaphor, a way to communicate something about people and their relationship to each other and to God.

As I write this, it’s Sunday morning and the first full day of Shavuot. Yesterday, my wife went to synagogue for Shabbat services and last night she returned for a study on the Book of Ruth, which is a traditional study for Jews on Shavuot. Not long from now, she’s leaving for shul again to help with the food preparations for the Shavuot gathering (all this will be over by the time you read these words).

As I mentioned a few days ago as well as on other occasions including this one, it is not only important to me as a general principle to encourage Jewish return to Torah study and observance, it’s important to me personally as a husband.

Rabbi Pliskin, citing Rabbi Shmuelevitz, commented that parents who encourage their children to study Torah, and wives who encourage their husbands to study Torah receive the merit of studying Torah themselves, even if they never actually do so in any regard.

in the merit of our forefathersYes, that’s midrash. We don’t really know through Biblical exegesis (at least those of us who lack a traditional religious Jewish education) how God views these “merits,” or if they represent some objective reality. However, I prefer to take this metaphor as an encouragement.

Of course, Rabbi Pliskin is writing to a Jewish audience and is not presupposing a non-Jewish husband married to a Jewish wife, but I believe there is some merit, even if it only exists inside my heart, in me encouraging and supporting my wife in Torah study and observance, even in the smallest degree. No, it’s not that God expects or requires me to observe Torah in the manner of the Jewish people, but I do think He expects and requires all non-Jewish disciples of the Master to recognize that we only receive the blessings of the New Covenant, such as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection, through the merit of Israel. After all, the New Covenant was made only with Israel and it is only through the mercy of God and the faithfulness of Messiah that we Gentiles can receive any of those blessings at all.

In return, what shall we do? Claim the Torah for ourselves as if we too stood at Sinai (which we didn’t)? Only the Jewish people can make that assertion. However, we can do the next best thing. We can encourage, support, and promote the Jewish return to Torah study and observance since it is the Jewish heritage and inheritance.

For nearly twenty centuries, Christianity has made a concerted effort to separate Jews from Torah, Talmud, and synagogue. Today, even the most enlightened churches continue to believe that the only way to “save” a Jew (or anyone else) is to have them exit Judaism and surrender any vestige of Torah study and observance, and instead to take on the traditions of the Gentile Christian Church.

But the Biblical record is clear that God has repeatedly urged the Jewish people, from Moses to Paul and beyond, to observe and obey His Torah, and when they don’t, the consequence is exile or worse.

burning talmudMistakenly, for the past two-thousand years, the Church has promoted and encouraged the Jewish people to disobey God, further exacerbating Jewish exile. By God’s grace, He has overridden our futile efforts to further damage the Jewish people and Judaism by re-establishing national Israel and beginning to return His people to their Land, all in preparation for the time of the Messiah and the completion of the New Covenant promises.

He has also drawn some few of we Gentiles to a greater knowledge of the Torah and specifically our esteemed and valued role as supporters of the Jewish people and their return to the mitzvot.

Hashem said to Moses, “Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their clothing. Let them be prepared for the third day, for on the third day Hashem shall descend in the sight of the entire people on Mount Sinai.”

Shemos (Exodus) 19:10-11 (The Kestenbaum Edition Tikkun)

As Moses obeyed Hashem in directing the nation of Israel to be sanctified before God in preparation to receive the Torah, we Gentiles can take our cue from this lesson and, not direct, but rather clear the path for Jewish return to the Torah.

I’m in a rather unique position as a Yeshua-believing Gentile husband being married to a non-believing Jewish wife. I have a built-in opportunity to support her involvement in Jewish community and in Torah study and observance. Many of you don’t have that specific opportunity, but I believe many of you have others of which you can take advantage.

One of these things is not like the othersI believe that individual Christians and the Church as a whole has the opportunity to change its narrative from being anti-Torah and anti-Judaism to just the opposite. No, I’m not encouraging Gentile believers to take up the Torah as such, but they/you/we can start preaching and teaching the extreme value of Jewish Torah observance in God’s plan of global redemption. We’ve tried to take God’s gift of the Torah away from the Jewish people for untold centuries. It’s time we repented of this sin and made amends. It’s time we got out of Judaism’s way, including Messianic Judaism.

Without the Jewish Messiah King and without a Torah observant Israel, there are no blessings to radiate out to the nations. Ironically and tragically, by Christianity’s efforts to separate the Jewish people from Torah, we have been cutting ourselves off from the Savior of the World, the Church’s beloved Jesus.

According to Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman, it was on the festival of Sukkot each year when seventy oxen were sacrificed for the sake of the seventy nations of the world, that is, the global population of non-Jews:

Thus our Sages taught, “You find that during the Festival [Succot], Israel offers seventy oxen for the seventy nations. Israel says: Master of the Universe, behold we offer You seventy oxen in their behalf, and they should have loved us. Instead, in the place of my love, they hate me (Psalms 109).” Further, they remarked: “If the nations of the world would have known the value of the Temple for them, they would have surrounded it with a fortress in order to protect it. For it was of greater value to them than for Israel [instead, they destroyed it]” (Bamidbar Rabba 1).

If it is true that the ancient Roman armies, in destroying the Temple, were destroying Israel’s ability to offer atonement for the Gentiles before God, how much more so has the Christian Church, in striving to separate the Jewish people from Torah, been destroying the New Covenant salvation offered to us by Messiah, by Christ?

We can change this. There’s still time. Do what I do for I believe what I’m doing is right. If nothing else, at least get out of the way of Jewish people, both those in Messiah and otherwise, in returning to the Torah. If you have Jews in your church, encourage them to light the Shabbos candles, listen to podcasts on Torah study, read fine commentaries on Torah such as those published by Rabbi Pliskin. Encourage them to become more observant as Jews.

sefer torahMost importantly, if they are willing, encourage them in learning of how Jewish Torah observance and devotion to Messiah not only go hand in hand, but are absolutely necessary to fulfill and complete the redemptive plan of God for all Israel, and through Israel, the entire world. Then we Gentiles may be able to say that we have earned, however metaphorically, the merit of Torah study and observance, not by doing so ourselves, but by being part of the Messianic plan to return the Jewish people to their Torah and their Land.

Who is Honored on Sukkot?

Epicurus used to say, “Were the gods to answer the people’s prayers, people would deteriorate and die, for so multitudinous are the tribulations which each one wishes upon his fellow.”

Epicurus may be right as regards the prayers of the nations, but not as regards our prayers. We well know “This is the book of the generations of man,” and every year we begin our supplications with “And now, Lord our God, place Your awe upon all whom You have made, Your dread upon all whom You have created…”

-Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel
Chapter 13: The First Man and the Jewish Nation, p.75
Translated by Kadish Goldberg
Jews, Judaism, & Genesis: Living in His Image According to the Torah

Last week, I spent some time writing about those things that make Jewish people unique and distinct from the people of all the other nations, including Gentile Christians, in three blog posts: Upon Reading a Rant About “Messianic Jewishism”, Diminishing the Moon and Israel, and Are Messianic Jews Not Expected to Practice Judaism?. I suppose I could be accused of fomenting discord between Jewish and Gentile members of the ekklesia of Messiah, or to put it in more Christian-friendly terms, the members of the “body of Christ”.

In the spirit of unity which is aptly expressed during this time of Sukkot, I thought I’d take a different tack.

As we discussed last year, the fruit symbolizes the Torah inside a person, while the fragrance represents the Mitzvos, the deeds a person does which affect those around him or her. The four species represent those who have both Torah and good deeds, those who have one but not the other, and even those who have neither.

And what are we told to do? We bind them together! Every Jew is a unique and essential part of our nation.

from “Note from the Director”
News from Project Genesis and Torah.org for Sukkot
Torah.org

Unfortunately, I can’t find this note from Rabbi Yaakov Menken on the Project Genesis website which would allow you to read all of the Rabbi’s comment, but as you might imagine, he is specifically addressing unity among Jewish people and not including non-Jewish believers in Jesus (Yeshua). However, giving Rabbi Menken’s words a “Messianic spin,” I think we can include the entire population within the ekklesia of Messiah, the Jews and the Gentiles, at least for the sake of my example. While unity doesn’t require uniformity, we still are united with each other by love of the Moshiach, may he come swiftly and in our day.

Earlier in his email newsletter, the Rabbi wrote:

The Torah tells us to take four species: the Esrog, a citrus fruit with a pleasant taste and smell; the Lulav from a Date Palm which produces fruit but is not fragrant; Hadasim, myrtle branches which are aromatic but does not provide edible fruit; and aravos, from the willow, which has neither taste nor smell.

Consider the differences and the distinctions involved in each of the four species. What does a citrus fruit, a lulav, myrtle branches, and aravos from a willow have in common?

Not much apparently.

And yet all four of these highly different items are absolutely required for the observance of Sukkot as it is written:

Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.

Leviticus 23:40 (NASB)

four species
Photo by Gili Cohen Magen

Those distinctively different objects are required to be bound together and, in essence, to “work together,” in order for Sukkot to be observed properly. While it’s impossible to offer the appropriate sacrifices related to Sukkot today due to a lack of the Temple and the Priesthood, the celebration is nevertheless observed by religious Jews and not a few believing Gentiles as well.

In a recent comment on one of my blog posts and then again in commenting on a different blog post, I said:

According to Jewish tradition, on the first seven of the eight days of the festival, we are to extend a special invitation to a specific guest in this order:

  1. Abraham, who represents love and kindness
  2. Isaac, who represents restraint and personal strength
  3. Jacob, who represents beauty and truth
  4. Moses, who represents eternality and dominance through Torah
  5. Aaron, who represents empathy and receptivity to divine splendor
  6. Joseph, who represents holiness and the spiritual foundation
  7. David, who represents the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven on Earth

Now before you think I’ve flipped for considering something so far-fetched, look at this:

“I say to you that many (Gentiles) will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (meaning the Messianic Kingdom here on Earth established by Jesus upon his return)…”

Matthew 8:11

This at least suggests a sort of feast occurring during Sukkot in which we non-Jewish disciples of Christ will join the Jewish disciples in participating in the Sukkot festival with the greatest prophets, priests, and kings in the Bible, all in honor of King Messiah.

While I crafted the above quoted-statement to be easier for a traditional Christian to comprehend, I want all of us to understand that Jews and Gentiles will be together at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and perhaps Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David) to give glory and honor to King Messiah upon the establishment of his Kingdom. Maybe this will even happen on Sukkot, although of course, I can say that for sure.

Certainly the Prophets, Priests, and Kings represented by the Seven Ushpizin guests are not exactly alike, and although they exist within the unity of the Jewish people, they are not identical in type or function. So too it can be said that even though Jew and Gentile in the ekklesia of Messiah and as citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven have unity within that assembly, they also are not identical in type and function.

sukkotBut you won’t see Abraham, Moses, and David arguing about it, so why should we?

About twelve years ago, Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman wrote a Sukkot commentary called “Shaking Up Our Priorities” which you can find at Torah.org. It’s worth the read and won’t take much of your time, but I’d like to quote just a part of it here:

One year, as he always did before Sukkos, R’ Yitzchak gathered his belongings, including all the rubles that he had put aside, and left home to travel to a nearby town where the Four Species could be bought. Travelling along the roadside, he stopped suddenly when he heard the sound of someone crying. Indeed, a Jewish man sat in a nearby field, head in his knees, crying and moaning bitterly. R’ Yitzchak approached him. “Reb Yid, what’s the matter?”

“Don’t even ask,” the Jew said, “a bittere pekel tzures – what a bitter portion the Almighty has dealt me! Woe is to me. I had one horse. That might not seem like much, but it was enough to support my family. It was a good horse. I rode it from town to town, delivering people’s mail, parcels – whatever they needed. I didn’t make a fortune, but we had what to eat, and we were happy. But today I awoke, and – woe is me – I found her dead. She must have passed away overnight. As it is, we live from hand to mouth. If I have to deliver by foot, I don’t stand a chance of making a living. Woe is me!”

“Tell me,” asked R’ Yitzchak, “what would a new horse cost you. I’m sure she was a good horse, but there are other horses out there.”

“Of course there are other horses, for someone who has 300 rubles to spend! It would take me almost a year to earn that kind of money! So you see, all is lost!”

Without further ado, R’ Yitzchak took out his wallet and counted out 300 rubles, leaving for himself only the smallest sum from all the money he had so carefully put aside. He placed it in the pocket of the forlorn Jew, who had all the while never taken his head out from between his knees. Sticking his hand into his pocket, he was flabbergasted to find the entire sum he needed to buy himself a new horse. “What… What have you done. I… I never expected.” Completely choked up with emotion, he barely managed to thank R’ Yitzchak for his magnanimity. Little did he know, R’ Yitzchak himself was not a rich man, and that he had just parted with the lion’s share of his own savings.

That year R’ Yitzchak had to settle for the plainest of Esrogim, much to the surprise and wonder of his friends and family. Despite their best attempts to find out, he told no one of what had come of his plans to purchase the most beautiful Esrog, nor of his savings, except to say, cryptically, that “the money was not lost – in fact it had just galloped off and was being put to very good use.”

If you are a (non-Jewish) Christian or otherwise are a person who does not observe Sukkot (or who does so in a rather casual manner), you won’t understand the tremendous significance involved in R’ Yitzchak’s generosity. In a sense, he had before him two apparently conflicting mitzvot. He could do as he had done every year and dedicate the more than 300 rubles it had taken him all year to save for the purchase of the most beautiful Esrog he could find in honor of the festival and God, or he could alleviate the sorrow of a Jew even poorer than he was by freely handing over his money for the purchase of a horse, and settle for the plainest Esrog he could still afford.

Again, from a Christian point of view (and probably the viewpoint of most people), the decision to help his fellow Jew seems clear, but remember, what is at stake is the honor of both God and of human beings at this Holy time of year.

Perhaps, even after performing tzedakah (charity) by giving up his Esrog money, R’ Yitzchak was still unsure that he did the right thing, for we find:

During Chol Ha-Moed (the Intermediate Days of Sukkos), R’ Yitzchak travelled to Lublin to visit his Rebbe, the famed Choize (Seer) of Lublin. At the festive Yom Tov meal, the Choize remarked to his disciples, “The mitzvah of Arba Minim must be performed with great joy. We must thank Hashem that we all managed to perform the mitzvah of waving the Lulav and Esrog. When we wave the mitzvos, all the Heavenly spheres and realms are awakened, and much joy and goodness permeate the upper realms, ultimately reflecting that joy and goodness back down to this world where we can reap its benefits. We all shook the Lulav and Esrog, but, R’ Yitzchak,” he said, turing as he did so to face him, “to wave a horse – now that is a truly original and exceptional way to perform a mitzvah!”

davening_morningChristians, most other non-Jews, and even some Jewish people often think of the Rabbinic Sages as inflexible, rule-bound, and even “anti-Bible” in considering halachah and Talmud as having any sort of authority when compared to the commandments clearly written in the Bible, but here we see that kindness, mercy, and “waving a horse” for Sukkot are not only original and exceptional ways to perform a mitzvah,” but deserving of special honor as expressing the heart of God.

In one of the commentaries for Tractate Yevamos 5 as collected and distributed in the Daf Yomi Digest by the Chicago Center for Torah & Chesed, we find the following based on “Each person shall fear his mother and father, and guard my Shabboses…”:

On today’s daf, we find that the Beraisa proposes that were it not for the verse, one might think that honoring parents overrides the Shabbos!

The famous Yehudi HaKadosh, zt”l, would deliver a regular Gemara shiur to his students that explored the commentary of Tosfos. One of his students was an extremely talented local boy who was unfortunately orphaned of his father. Once, the Rebbe interrupted their learning so that he could concentrate deeply on a certain subject. His young student knew well that such a break could last an hour or more, so he took advantage of the pause to go home and eat.

The boy ate a quick meal and hurried out back to his Rebbe’s home, but his mother called out after him that she wanted him to go up to the attic and bring something down for her. In his rush to return to study, he ignored her call, but half-way back the boy had second thoughts. “Isn’t the whole purpose of study to fulfill the mitzvos? Shouldn’t I honor my mother instead?” he asked himself. So he ran home and did as he was bid.

Afterward he returned to his studies, and as he opened the door to the Rebbe’s house, the Yehudi HaKadosh snapped out of his reverie and rose to his full height as a sign of respect. Beaming, the Yehudi HaKadosh asked, “What mitzvah have you just performed, because it has brought the spirit of the great Amorah Abaye with you into my house.”

The student told his story, and the Rebbe explained to the rest of the students: “It is well known that Abaye was an orphan—his name is an acronym of the verse, ‘For in You does the orphan find mercy.’ This is why his spirit accompanies a person who fulfills the mitzvah of honoring his parents—so that he should have a part in a mitzvah that was denied to him. You want to know why am I smiling? Because Abaye came and answered my question on the Tosafos!”

Again, this may not resonate with most people, including many Jews, but we see a comparison between the authority of a Rebbe over his young students and the mitzvah of honoring parents. It is said that a Rebbe is to be considered greater than one’s own father, so you can see that the young student put himself in a bind by going home to eat and then having to decide between his mother’s request and his obligation to promptly return to the Rebbe’s home.

MidrashIn choosing to honor his mother, he not only did the right thing from a human point of view, but he achieved a certain amount of respect from his Rebbe. Did “the spirit of the great Amorah Abaye” really accompany the boy to the Rebbe’s house and answer the Rebbe’s question on the Tosafos he had been pondering?

There’s no way to know for sure and probably no way to know if any of these events ever actually occurred. But whether or not they did, there’s a principle being taught here, the same principle as was taught in the previous Rabbinic story.

Even if we know nothing of the Torah, the mitzvot, or anything else, we know, or we should know as disciples of Rav Yeshua, our Rebbe, that extending mercy, kindness, compassion, and respect are the greater and loftier mitzvot, the acts of obedience and response to God that, even in moments of doubt, cannot fail.

I said in a comment last week that “if I’m going to err, I’d rather err on the side of humility”. I also quoted one of the Master’s parables:

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11

When we finally attend the “feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and it will be a massive affair no doubt, I suppose seating arrangements will be a big problem. What are you going to do with all of the people who show up from all over the world to honor King Messiah and to actually recline at the table with men like Jacob and Joseph? Where should we sit?

In retrospect, and considering the example the Master laid out for us, the answer should be obvious. We should consider ourselves as having no honor of our own, but only seek to honor the King and those Seven Ushpizin guests who represent the Prophets, Priests, and Kings of Israel, and indeed, all the Jewish people. If we mistakenly think we are greater than they, won’t our host, Yeshua, be forced to embarrass us by asking us to take the last place at the table?

Ben Zoma says: Who is honored? The one who gives honor to others…

(Talmud – Avot 4:1)

As non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah King, if we seek to honor him and believe we are worthy of honor, respect, equality, and inclusion within the ekklesia, then both the teachings of the Master and of the great Sages are clear that to be honored, we must honor others, and not deliberately strive to honor ourselves.

UnityThe Master also teaches:

Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God'”

John 8:54

If our Rebbe and Master did not glorify himself, should we not follow his example? Will he not take the different “species” within the body and unite us, regardless of our extreme differences…or perhaps because of them, and in our honoring him, won’t he honor us?

Chag Sameach Sukkot.

The Boy in the Sukkah

Sukkah in the rainIn a sense, Sukkos itself is about getting our priorities straight. Here we just finished with the Days of Judgement, hopefully with Hashem’s blessings for a year of prosperity and success. Yet the first thing we do with our new-found blessings is to leave our comfortable homes for the temporary shade of the Sukkah. We thereby acknowledge that there can be no greater “success” in life that to do what Hashem really desires, even when it’s not what’s most comfortable. Sometimes we shake with the Esrog and sometimes we shake with the horse – the main thing is to strive to understand what Hashem wants of us in a given situation, not what we want or what makes us feel good. As the pasuk says (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:6), “In all your ways know Him; He will straighten your paths.”

-Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman
“Sukkos: Shaking Up Our Priorities”
Torah.org

My four-and-a-half year old grandson keeps calling me from my Sukkah. Actually, he keeps phoning me from my Sukkah, calling me at work. OK, he’s only done it twice, and he had Bubbe’s (my wife’s) help doing it.

The first time was actually a day or so before the festival began. He and Bubbe were lunching in the Sukkah and he called me to invite me over. Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave my job right then, but agreed to join him later that afternoon. The second time was a few days later, still at the same time of day. He wanted to know why “Uncle Mikey” (one of my sons) wasn’t answering his phone. I explained that “Uncle Mikey” was probably in school (university) and couldn’t answer the phone.

The kid really wants more company in my Sukkah. And that’s a good thing.

This is the season of joy for Jewish people. The days of judgment have passed and there is great celebration in or rather outside many Jewish homes, eating, and singing, and dancing, all for the sake of the Torah and Hashem.

As I write this (on Friday before Shabbos), I have yet to take a meal in my own Sukkah (Note: On Shabbos I started taking my meals in the Sukkah). I almost did last night, but my wife and I had a conversation on a serious subject while making dinner and, both being distracted, we sat down at the kitchen table for our meal and were eating before I realized we’d missed eating in the Sukkah together.

I thought about breakfast or at least coffee this morning in the Sukkah, but it was still dark outside and after coming back from the gym, my son (in this case, David) and I were in a rush to get ready for work.

As Rabbi Hoffman suggests, I need to get my priorities straight. Obviously, my grandson already has his up to snuff, since he’s eating every day in the Sukkah and trying to invite others to do the same.

landonAnd I’m pretty sure that at his age, he doesn’t really grasp Sukkot yet.

But who knows?

It’s Friday before Shabbos, but you won’t read this until Monday morning (or later). I’m hoping I can get all the kids over on Sunday for a meal. Everyone has different schedules so it isn’t easy to gather together in our home regularly. But just once this week, it would be nice to eat with the family in the Sukkah (Note: As it turned out, everyone had plans away from our home on Sunday, including my wife…ah, maybe next year).

It is said in Machzor of Succos, “I welcome to my table the saintly guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.” It is said in the Siddur, “I am hereby ready and prepared to fulfill the positive commandment…” It is said in Isaiah 11:6 “And a little boy will lead them.”

And so, we should follow.

The Sukkot Season of Joy

have-sukkah-will-travelSeven days shall you dwell in booths (Leviticus 23:42) … and you shall only be rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16:15).

Succos is the festival designated as the season of our gladness. Yet the commentaries state that one of the symbolisms of the succah, a temporary hut, is that we dwell in it for seven days to symbolize man’s temporary sojourn on earth for his average life span of seven decades (Psalms 90:10).

Human mortality is a rather sobering thought; it is hardly conducive to rejoicing. Most often we do not think about our mortality, and when circumstances force us to face it, we quickly dismiss it from our minds and go on acting as though we will live forever.

How different Torah values are from secular values! The Torah teaches us that there is an eternal life, a wholly spiritual life, whose bliss is far greater than the human mind can imagine. We are placed on this planet for our ephemeral earthly existence only to give us an opportunity to prepare for the eternal life.

The Torah teaches us to enjoy life, and if it restricts some pleasures, it is because we should enjoy life in a manner that befits a human being. Furthermore, our joy of living should not be diminished by the awareness of our mortality, nor need we deny it. The succah – the symbol of our temporary stay on earth – is beautifully decorated, and we enjoy our festive meals therein. Even our temporary existence can be beautiful and happy, and our faith in the eternal life should enhance that happiness.

Today I shall …

… try to enjoy life as befits a spiritual person, knowing that the true life of man is not the fleeting one, but that of eternity.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 15”
Aish.com

I have to admit that at this time of year, sometimes I envy Jewish people. The traditions surrounding the celebration of Sukkot are so rich and full of life. Sure, I can build a sukkah and I can observe, to some degree, the same traditions, but I wonder what it must be like to have a life-long experience of such celebrations. What memories do Jewish people have of childhood, eating in a sukkah each year, “partying” with relatives and friends, singing, dancing, rejoicing?

I’ve come to the party far too late and worse, I was too late to bring my children. If I had been more timely, perhaps, my son would build a sukkah for his wife and child each year. Face it, in terms of traditions and spiritual depth, Sukkot has got Christmas beat all hollow.

I recently came across a Facebook page called Jewish People Around the World. The stories and photos of Sukkot observance are just fabulous. Certainly if, as Rabbi Twerski says, the Torah teaches us to enjoy life, then Sukkot is one of the crowning jewels of that Torah sentiment.

Rabbi Twerski also said this:

God wants us to enjoy worldly goods, but to do so in a manner that befits a spiritual people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Sukkot_Priestly_BlessingSukkot, for all its focus on being a “season of joy” does not focus on just the individual seeking his or her own joy as another of Rabbi Twerski’s commentaries notes:

Rabbi Mordechai of Nesh’chiz looked forward all year to the mitzvah of the Four Species on Succos. Since a fine esrog was costly and Rabbi Mordechai was hardly a man of means, he would accumulate small coins all year round, even depriving himself of food, in order to be able to afford an esrog.

A few days before Succos, Rabbi Mordechai joyfully took the money he had saved, and in high spirits, went off to buy the coveted esrog. On the way, he encountered a man sitting at the side of the road, weeping bitterly. He inquired as to the reason for the man’s grief, and the latter told him, “Woe is to me! I earn my living with my horse and wagon, and this morning my nag died. How am I to feed my wife and children?”

“How much do you need to buy another horse?” Rabbi Mordechai asked.

The sum that the man specified was exactly the amount that Rabbi Mordechai had laboriously saved all year long for the esrog. Without giving it another thought, he gave his purse to the man. “Here, my dear man. Go buy yourself a horse’

After the man joyfully left with the money, Rabbi Mordechai said, “Oh well. All of Israel will be fulfilling the mitzvah of the Four Species with an esrog, but I will do so with a horse.”

Rabbi Mordechai’s sacrifice of his personal comfort all year round teaches us how precious is the mitzvah of the Four Species, but his final act teaches us that the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity) is even greater.

Today I shall…

… try to realize the greatness of the commandment of charity, to make certain that another person has the means to survive.

I mentioned Christmas before, which I suppose is the closest thing in Christian tradition to Sukkot (apart from Thanksgiving, which strictly speaking, isn’t a “Christian” holiday). I think for some Christians, teaching charity and giving is the focus of that holiday, but for most people, including most Christians, all attention is drawn on buying and consuming material goods for their own sake and for ours, not for the sake of other people.

Also, as we read in the first quote from Rabbi Twerski, Sukkot teaches us the difference between temporal, material values and those for the sake of Heaven, and yet even eternal values are celebrated with the joys of our material world. Our mortal life is much like living in a sukkah, while what is beyond can be compared to basking in the glory of God on His Throne.

If it comes down to experiencing our own joy and providing joy to others in material ways that summon the eternal, I say, is it too much to ask for both?