“Parsha to the Point” – Sukkot 5779

Hope and Faith

Rabbi David Stav

The holiday of Sukkot appears several times in the Torah, and is even discussed at length in Parshat Emor and in Parshat Re’eh. Surprisingly, however, our Sages instituted that the Torah reading for the Shabbat of Sukkot come from a number of verses in Parshat Ki Tisa, even though this reading contains only a scant reference to the holiday.

The reading begins with Moses asking God to directly lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel, without an intermediary. The context for this request is that the nation had left Egypt, and several weeks later, while Moses was receiving the Tablets of the Law (Luchot Habrit) on Mount Sinai, the nation transgressed by creating a golden calf, dancing around it, and performing idolatrous rites.

God seethed with anger, and proposed to destroy His people, yet Moses intervened and pleaded on behalf of the Jewish People. Ultimately, God relented, and agreed to continue, but decided that the people would be led into the land by angels, and not by God Himself.

The nation is greatly saddened by the decision. Our parsha begins with Moses’ message to God: “Look, You say to me: ‘Bring this people up!’ But You have not informed me whom You will send with me.”

God’s answer appears more than three verses later, when the Torah mentions the three pilgrimages the Jewish People must observe every year by going to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Sukkot is only mentioned in passing: “and the festival of the ingathering, at the turn of the year”.

In other words, we are to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Holiday of Matzot (Passover), to which the Torah dedicates two verses, on Shavuot, and on the Festival of the Ingathering.

But our original question remains: why did our Sages consider it fitting for us to read this parsha on the Shabbat of Sukkot, if it contains only a minimal reference to the holiday?

After all, there are other places in the Torah that discuss Sukkot, which would seemingly have been more suitable. Take, for instance, Parshat Re’eh, which elaborates on the holiday: “You shall make yourself the Festival of Sukkot for seven days, when you gather in from your threshing floor and your vat. And you shall rejoice in your Festival: you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are within your cities. Seven days you shall celebrate the Festival to the Lord, your God, in the place which the Lord shall choose, because the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your produce, and in all the work of your hands, and you will only be happy.”

We can sense the holiday to the fullest when reading these verses, but instead of having us read this excerpt, we are told to read one that barely even mentions the holiday. Why?

One central question a God-fearing individual asks, particularly after Yom Kippur, is whether repentance and atonement are truly possible. Our experiences make us rather skeptical, since people tend to be distrustful (perhaps justifiably) and cynical toward anyone who says that they have turned over a new leaf, and deserve to be trusted once again.

We can only imagine that this was exactly the situation in which our people were after the Sin of the Golden Calf, when God told Moses that He would be prepared to forgive us, but would not accompany the nation as it enters the land. A profound feeling of regret and perhaps even distrust sets in.

Is this what God calls forgiveness, when He is not even prepared to accompany His people? God even explains to Moses that he made this decision because it would be the best thing for the people.

Moses nevertheless pleads with God, who relents and agrees to accompany the nation directly. God’s decision to continue to remain connected to the people, despite the challenges involved, is the real reason for celebration. After entering the land, we will encounter God three times a year, in Jerusalem, and this reinforces the sense of reconciliation that began at the beginning of this chapter.

This is not simply one additional commandment to observe. It is about renewing the direct connection between God and humanity. This fortuitous occasion carries unique importance for us after the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

The holiday of Sukkot is the first holiday we celebrate after completing a complex process of introspection. The process could have led some of us to think that our relationship with God and His values can never be rehabilitated.

This excerpt from the chapter dealing with the Sin of the Golden Calf, which ends with the festival of Sukkot, is an absolute testament to the fact that there is hope for everyone, even for those who have faltered and failed.

This, we leave our permanent homes and spend seven days is a temporary structure made of nothing but wood and cloth, which symbolizes, above all else, the faith we have in Divine forgiveness.

By sitting in a makeshift tent after a period of Selichot, our prayers for forgiveness, we express our willingness to disconnect from the physical stability of our homes’ building materials, in favor of embracing our unshakeable faith in the Creator of the World, Who places a shelter over our heads, preserves us, loves us, and forgives us.

Shabbat Shalom 

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