Parshat Sukkot I: Leviticus 22:26-23:44; Numbers 29:35-30:1; Zechariah 14:1-21
In the Torah on the first day of Sukkot, on Shabbat morning, we read about sacred times and sacred actions.
In most communities, we have heard our last shofar blast at Neilah, the concluding service of Yom Kippur. A final t’kiah g’dolah — a blast pushed until one is out of breath — making the space for something new. And we said l’shanah habah bi-rushalayim, similar to the Passover seder — we are looking forward to the year ahead.
In that moment of looking ahead, we may feel very fragile or vulnerable, after fasting and repenting and doing the hard work of asking others for forgiveness. In this potentially fragile frame of mind, perhaps with a softer heart, we sit in a fragile structure, the sukkah, built just for this moment. It’s a moment of transition, caught between looking back and looking ahead, the Torah reading on Sukkot calls out to us to live with intention.
The Torah reading on the first day of Sukkot is from the Book of Leviticus. God called to Moses and the Torah calls out to each of us to find that still small voice inside, to share it with others and to listen to the voices of others.
In Vayikra 22:26-23:44 ancient Israel is called to mark sacred moments and given details for when and how to observe several Jewish holidays, including Shabbat and Sukkot. Israel is to engage with God through ritual offerings, sacrifices, of animals and grain. One could imagine in the ancient Near East what it might have meant to ask people to give up animals or grain that takes so much time and energy to raise or grow. This would not have been a simple ask, nor a simple action. Israel is asked to sacrifice something deeply personal. As my teacher in rabbinical school Dr. Job Jindo has taught me, perhaps what one sacrifices is the intention, effort and love. As we sit in our sukkot, our temporary huts, we are fragile; and we can consider what we intend to offer this year. How much of our time, our resources and our hearts will we sacrifice for others?
A central teaching from Vayikra is found just before the reading on Sukkot, Leviticus 19:18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Rabbi Aaron Bergman of Adat Shalom often says, in order to love your neighbor as yourself, you first have to love yourself. In a moment of fragility, we can find strength in knowing that sacred acts of chesed, of kindness and empathy, show honor to the Divine, to each other and this will make us stronger for the year ahead.
Rabbi Shefa Gold has written, “When we walk in connection, listen well and act in accordance with that interconnection, then the Divine Spirit moves within and between us. We come into relationship not just with the parts, but with the Whole of Creation.”
Davey Rosen is a rabbinic intern at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills and a rabbinic student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York.