Tag Archives: sukkot

The World that Doesn’t Exist

Sukkah…these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Sovereign LORD declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”
Isaiah 56:7-8

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 8:10-11

According to the prophets, the Feast of Booths celebrates a time when all nations will ascend to Jerusalem bearing tribute to King Messiah and celebrating the festival. In that day, all nations will ascend to His throne in Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Festival of Booths (Tabernacles). Obviously, this is a very important festival for disciples of Messiah today.

The Weekly eDrash
“A Tabernacle of Glory over Jerusalem”
First Fruits of Zion commentary on Sukkot

I’ve had my doubts.

No, I don’t doubt the word of God but on the other hand, given the division between different denominations of Christians and particularly between Christians and Jews, I wonder how we will all be able to sit down at the same table together “at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” and rejoice in each other and in the Messiah?

Last week I hit a speed bump in my pursuit of the Ger Toshav as a possible model for a relationship between Christians and Jews, and today I was reminded of the state of discomfort and even enmity some Jews feel toward Christians based on this “wall photo” that was shared on Facebook. Add to that some of the comments from Jewish participants about Christianity:

“Christianity has to realize its error in deviating from what the original sect taught and practices before that connection can be made, before that door can be entered through. Only then will hope be found.” –said by S

“I’m saying that Judaism shouldn’t centralize the messiah. And in my opinion when it does, it’s a mistake. Christianity and the holocaust are results of such a mistake.” –said by A

“There are 2 paths in serving Creator: 613 commandments for Jews and Noahide Laws for gentiles. Thats the ideal modality. When gentiles invent their own religions or Jews don’t follow their commandments, they keep the world from reaching perfection which is the hallmark of the Messianic Age.” –said by V

…the reason you give for Christians accept Jews is impossible. a Jew is what he is. Why should he give up to a lesser level of spirituallity?

Your reason for Jews accept Christians, isn’t exactly that, but it has a reason… a reason found in Torah. As long as a gentiles thinks that a man is God, or that there are more than 1 God, or that the Torah given BY GOD to Moshe in Sinai isn’t valid, then a Jew cannot accept it. That’s Idolatry.

I, as a Jew don’t think that gentiles are lesser human beings!!!! NOT AT ALL!!! A Jew who call himself Jew but commits lashon haRa and proclaims hate, is a lesser human being than a gentile with a good heart for humanity. –said by X

From mainstream Judaism’s point of view, it is reasonable to expect this level of response in believing that Christians have misappropriated the concept of Messiah and bent it in very non-Jewish directions. But it also precludes any possibility of a Christian entering a synagogue setting (where it is known he or she is a Christian), learning of the wisdom of the sages, and even being a tiny part of the community, when that Christian’s basic faith would be seen as an affront. Both Jews and Christians pursue God in His vast and majestic Heavens, and yet we cannot build a simple bridge between our two worlds on here on Earth.

I can truly see how Jesus could say “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

And yet the prophet says this:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” –Zechariah 8:23

The Jews rely on the promises of God that “every man will sit beneath his own vine and fig tree and none will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4) while the Christians rely on the grace of Jesus and the word of the Apostle Paul when he said, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

But each group believes God is speaking to only them and is excluding the other (and all others).

While Sukkot is a season of hope, in the present age it is also a season of despair, for while we (or at least Jews and those few Christians who will build a sukkah this year) are supposed to generously invite all guests into our sukkah for a meal and fellowship for the sake of God, how many people and groups will not be on the “approved” list?

JonahLike Jonah, we know the word and the will of God and yet we still seek to run away because it is against our human will to fulfill that word. God turned Jonah away from his mistaken path and delivered him to the great city to complete the job God gave to him, but how will God do that with us? It could begin with a single invitation into our homes and lives of someone we would otherwise not have considered letting in. It could begin with a Christian family accepting a single Jew into fellowship and the breaking of bread. It could begin with a Jewish family inviting a single Christian into their sukkah to enjoy a meal and the prayers. The question is, can it begin now, or must we wait for the Messiah to come (for the Jews) and come again (for the Christians)?

I’m not writing this for you who are “already onboard” with seeking a unity between Christians and Jews, but to those who seek to shelter themselves within their own groups and push away the rest of the world and the rest of the people God created. Is there a delight in committing one act of friendship and graciousness; an act of pure and simple love, not for your sake or mine, but for the sake of God?

G-d has many delights:

The delight that comes from a pure and simple act of love.

Greater than that, the delight that comes from an act of beauty sparkling in the darkness.

Greater than that, the delight when a child who has run away returns with all her heart.

Delight lies at the essence of all that is.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

The Rabbi describes a world of people and ideals that does not exist, at least not yet. The hope that we all have in the Messiah is that one day, we will all be able to live in this world and be at peace with God, with all our neighbors, and most of all, be at peace within our own hearts. We will see that peace someday. But we have a very long way to go until “someday” gets here.


Ending and Beginning“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him,

‘I saw the Lord always in my presence;
For He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken.
‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted;
Moreover my flesh also will live in hope;
Because You will not abandon my soul to She’ol,
nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
‘You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’

“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to his seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to She’ol, nor did his flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:

‘The Lord said to my Lord
“Sit at My right hand,
until I make your enemies a footstool at your feet.”’

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Acts 2:22-42 (NASB)

I have a personal tradition of reading this passage from the Book of Acts on Yom Kippur every year along with the other Yom Kippur readings. It is a reminder that people can be confronted with the truth and by the Spirit of God, change at the core and become new again in Him. These words provide hope and a certain warmth in my heart along with the Yom Kippur Haftarah portion:

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
From pursuing your affairs on My holy day;
If call the sabbath “delight,”
The Lord’s holy day “honored”;
And if you honor it and go not your ways
Nor look to yours affairs, nor strike bargains —
Then you can seek the favor of the Lord.
I will set you astride the heights of the earth,
And let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob —
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. –Isaiah 59:13-14 (JPS Tanakh)

For another year, Jews all over the world feel a lightening in their souls as they approach the world and a new year with much excess baggage lifted from them. For Christians, there is no analogous time on our calendar in which we specifically approach the Throne of God in humility and perhaps in shame, and beg our Creator to make everything clean between us again. We can approach God through Jesus Christ on a daily basis, so there’s no need for a “Christian Yom Kippur”, right? Believe it or not, Jews think this way about Yom Kippur too and ask:

Question: Regarding Yom Kippur, why is there a necessity in Judaism to designate a particular day for atonement when one could atone any minute of the day as he or she chooses? Isn’t G-d listening all the time? Why designate a day that could potentially encourage sinful behavior during the year only to repent on Yom Kippur?

Answer: Maimonides addresses both your questions in his “Laws of Repentance”. In Chapter 2 he states,

Even though repentance is always good, during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it is more desirable, and is accepted [by G-d] immediately… Yom Kippur is the time for repentance for the individual and community, and it is the end time of forgiveness and atonement for Israel. Therefore everyone is obligated to repent at this time…

During the year, a person has the option. At this time it is obligatory, and easier to accomplish. Consider the difference between flicking a bug off the table, and pushing a tiger off the table.

In Chapter 4 he says that one who sins with the intent of obtaining forgiveness on Yom Kippur is held back from repenting. We all know, the guy who says, “my diet starts tomorrow” never loses weight.

Best Wishes,
Shlomo Soroka

Inner lightAre there times of year when God is closer and repentence is more at hand? Remember, traditionally Jews prepare for the Days of Awe for over a month prior to the actual Day of Atonement. I hardly think the intent and anguish built up over that period of time in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can be compared to asking for God’s forgiveness in your prayers each morning (but who am I to know).

Rabbi Mordechai Dixler, Program Director at Project Genesis – Torah.org puts it this way:

Many have had the experience of offering an apology, only to be told that “sorry isn’t good enough.” It’s fundamental to Judaism that G-d always accepts a sincere apology, is always ready to welcome us back. There are, however, times that a person can commit such a breach that the relationship with G-d needs major repairs, where a simple apology is not enough by itself.

On Yom Kippur this all changes. The Nesivos Shalom writes (based on the Zohar) that Kol Nidrei‘s annulment of vows erases all spiritual decrees. Major repairs are no longer needed. The opportunity to approach G-d and ask forgiveness for the past and make a commitment for the future is suddenly open to everyone. That is why on Yom Kippur, a simple apology is indeed all it takes. As all obstacles vanish, all hearts and souls open up.

You may not see any validity in Jewish mystic teachings, but if your faith is a Jewish faith, then the entrance to the gates of Heaven are open a bit wider at a certain time of year than at other times. Even without a Jewish faith, in preparing yourself over the course of time to stand and face God as the person you are, you can only be assumed to have a greater readiness to pour your soul out like a drink offering at His feet in this most holy of encounters. We can see God’s desire for this, not only in the Yom Kippur service, and not only in Kaballah, but in Christianity’s own mystic writings:

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. –Revelation 21:5-7 (NASB)

In Yom Kippur, we can see the imagery of “He who overcomes” and at the breaking of the fast, as “one who thirsts” we can receive “the spring of the water of life without cost.”

But the day after Yom Kippur is also like another day we have yet to see.

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it… –Revelation 21:10-12; 22-26 (NASB)

Throughout the Bible, the chronicle of God’s interaction with human beings, we see an unbroken thread of God’s intent to live with us, from Eden, to the Mishkan in the desert, to the Temple in Holy Jerusalem, to the Spirit which has always lived in the heart of the faithful, and finally to a New Jerusalem descending from Heaven, with God and the Lamb as its Temple. Here, both Christianity and Judaism have a tradition of the Song of the Lamb (Revelation 15:2-3) and the Song of the Messiah representing “a new song, shir chadash”; a “universal vision of complete redemption and the perfection of the world” as a “promise of a glorious future for all humanity” and “one of Judaism’s greatest gifts to the world.”

The Lord is with youChristians tend to create a dichotomy between the secular and the holy, between man and God. We also see some of this symbolism of division in how Judaism presents the Shabbat in opposition to the rest of the week. We strive for God in His Heaven above while we struggle with our mortality and humanity on the earth below. Christians talk about “going to Heaven” to be with God when they die, but we see in the vision of Eden and New Jerusalem that in the end, we do not go to God; God comes to us…as it was in the beginning.

The teachings of the Rebbe are not just a collection of advice and nice thoughts —just as a year is more than the sum of 365 days. The teachings of the Rebbe make up one simple whole. All revolve around the same essential concept: The fusion of the loftiest spiritual heights with the most mundane physicality. In the Rebbe’s words, “the highest with the lowest”.

The concept is not only radical but powerful: It means I can be myself, living a “down to earth” existence, and yet fulfilling a transcendental goal. It means that there is nothing we are trying to escape – other than the notion that we must escape something. We don’t run away from this world to join a higher one, instead we work to fuse the two. We aren’t in the business of “making it to heaven” – we’re busy bringing heaven down to earth.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

It’s no coincidence that the expression of God’s desire to live among men comes right before the Festival of Sukkot which will be upon us in just a few days. We will pitch our tents in our backyards and at the synagogues and invite all His holy ones to dwell with us in an imperfect container, with God providing the sheltering roof over us, making the incomplete, complete.

May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, HASHEM, my Rock and my Redeemer. –Psalm 19:14

God is with us.

The Face in the Mirror

Mirror“Rabbi Mendel of Kotsk was told of a great saint who lived in his time who claimed that during the seven days of the Feast of Booths his eyes would see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David come to the booth. Said Rabbi Mendel: “I do not see the heavenly guests; I only have faith that they are present in the booth, and to have faith is greater than to see.” (page 118)

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”John 20:29

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 8:10-11

In the early morning when I drive to the gym for my workout, the sun is not yet risen. There is no cold bite in the air, but I can still tell that the days of summer are all but exhausted and that autumn is finally approaching. We are in the month of Elul which precedes the High Holy Days and after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, comes Sukkot or the Festival of Booths.

Although I cherish all of God’s appointed times, I must confess that Sukkot is one of my favorites. I enjoy the process of building a temporary structure that can potentially shelter the guests of Heaven, but more tangibly, that will allow my family to pray, take meals, together, and celebrate God’s provision among us. It is a custom in Judaism to invite the poor to share a meal in your sukkah and in my imagination, I picture all of us, rich and poor, great and small, sitting and eating as the Master prophesied, with “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” during Sukkot.

During Passover, it is customary to set a place at the meal for Elijah the Prophet and, at one point in the haggadah, a child is sent to the door to see if Elijah is there, for if he is, then the Messiah is coming. During Sukkot, we can set a place for anyone, “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David”, both in the hope that they may come and share a meal with us, and in anticipation of the time when (again, as the Master teaches) we will all be together as a community of God, sharing and talking and eating and teaching, and everyone “will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid…” (Micah 4:4).

However, before our eyes are allowed to witness such a wonderful and miraculous “Sukkot” feast, we must learn to see with the eyes of Rabbi Mendel and the eyes of the Baal Shem Tov.

Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place –Pirkei Avot 2:4

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (the “Besht,” founder of the chassidic movement) taught: “Your fellow is your mirror. If your own face is clean, the image you perceive will also be flawless. But should you look upon your fellow man and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are encountering—you are being shown what it is that you must correct within yourself.”

Quoted from Ethics of Our Fathers commentary:
“The Mirror”
Elul 9, 5771 * September 8, 2011

The eyes of faith see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sitting in our Sukkah sharing a meal with our family. How do the eyes of faith see your neighbors and friends? How do you see those people around you, particularly if you view them with annoyance or scorn?

A few days ago, I wrote a morning meditation about how our thoughts and words affect our relationship with other people and with God. I hadn’t really intended to write a “sequel”, but that’s how it worked out. But if we claim to see the wonders of God through the lens of faith, yet fail to use that same lens when looking at our fellow human being, what “faith” are we really professing?

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. –James 3:9-12

SuccothI could hardly write these words with any sort of sincerity if I continued to use my own eyes to view my brothers and sisters in a less than complementary light. We are completely perfect but made in God’s image. We are only mortal, but we are capable of touching the infinite. As Rabbi Heschel writes (page 118):

This, indeed, is the greatness of man; to be able to have faith. For faith is an act of freedom, of independence of our own limited faculties, whether of reason or sense-perception. It is an act of spiritual ecstasy, of rising above our own wisdom.

To have faith is not to capitulate but to rise to a higher plane of thinking. To have faith is not to defy human reason but rather to share divine wisdom…Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these.

And from the Psalms:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth. –Psalm 121:1-2

Heschel states that, “…our faith in Him conveys to us more understanding of Him than either reason or perception is able to grasp”, but what good does that do us if we refuse to even try to see people around us as God sees them; as God sees us all? We may believe we are adoring and serving God but we have failed Him completely if we cannot adore and serve people as well.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” –Mark 12:28-34

As the commentary on Pirkei Avot states:

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, taught: “Your fellow is your mirror. If your own face is clean, the image you encounter in your fellow will also be flawless. Should you gaze into this `mirror’ and see a blemish, it is your own imperfections that you are seeing.”

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. –Matthew 7:3-5

If looking in the mirror which is your brother’s face, you see only imperfection and error, how will you ever see the face of Abraham or the face of Jesus in your Sukkah?

Who is the light in your reflection?