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Thoughts on Sukkot

Sukkot is a time for Jewish unity and, in the future, for all nations of the world to come to Zion.
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The mitzvah (commandment) of sitting in the Sukkah (temporary booth in which Jews are commanded to dwell during the holiday of Tabernacles) is unique in sanctifying man’s daily routines. The eating and drinking, chatting, and sleeping which we do in the Sukkah are elevated and sanctified to the point where they are deemed mitzvoth.
It is specifically on Sukkot that we merit this, because Sukkot is Chag Ha'asif (the holiday of ingathering). This is when both the physical and spiritual ingathering of the year are completed – the ingathering of grain and fruit, as well as the ingathering of all our Torah study and all of our good deeds. Thanks to the repentance and atonement that we undergo during the month of Elul and Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (the Ten Days of Repentance), this ingathering is innocent and pure, and we can thoroughly enjoy it.

Sukkah and the Land of Israel


In this sense, the mitzvah to live in the Sukkah and the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel are similar (Vilna Ga’on, cited in Kol HaTor 1:7). Both of these mitzvoth envelop us, and we immerse ourselves in their atmosphere of holiness. By doing so, even our mundane activities become sanctified.

By settling the Land, the Jewish people show the world that when life is illuminated by faith and Torah, everything becomes sanctified: eating, drinking, and sleeping; family life and interpersonal relationships; work and craft; business and scientific research.
The Sukkah of Peace

If we gather together all the different types and degrees of goodness, even those which seem to contradict each other, God spreads His Sukkah of peace over us, and the Jewish people stand united in solidarity. If each positive quality stands alone, there is no unity.
But on the holiday of "ingathering", when all positive qualities are gathered together, unity appears. Thus our Sages state: "It is appropriate for all Jews to sit in one Sukkah" (Sukkah 27b). Similarly, taking the four species together hints at the variety of Jews who join together on Sukkot.

The Land of Israel unites the entire Jewish people, including all its groups and subgroups; the redemption depends upon this. Therefore, it comes as no great surprise that all the evil in the world has risen up against the Jewish people, which has returned to rebuild its homeland in accordance with God’s word as conveyed by His servants the prophets.

Israel and the Nations of the World


Since Sukkot reveals the sanctity of all spheres of life, the holiday is relevant to non-Jews (who are traditionally referred to as the seventy nations of the world). Accordingly, our Sages state that the seventy bulls which we offered in the Temple over the course of Sukkot were offered on behalf of the seventy nations. (See Peninei Halakha: Laws of Sukkot 1:13.)
Our relationship with non-Jews is complex. Throughout our long history, they often viciously abused us; nevertheless, our basic attitude towards them is positive.

The following two quotes from the Sages illustrate this attitude. The Talmud states, "Woe to the non-Jews, who lost something but do not know what they lost. When the Temple stood, the altar atoned for them; now who atones for them?!" (Sukkah 55b).
According to the Midrash, "The Jews said, ‘Master of the Universe, we offer seventy bulls [for the non-Jews]; they should love us, but they hate us.’ Thus we read in Tehillim (Psalms) 109:4: ‘They answer my love with accusation, but I am all prayer’" (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:24).

Sukkot in the Future


Because Sukkot is the holiday which expresses the connection between Jews and non-Jews, in the future it will be the litmus test for the nations of the world. All who ascend to Jerusalem on Sukkot after the Redemption, to bow before God and to celebrate together with the Jewish people, will merit great blessing. This is in accordance with what Zachariah says about non-Jews:

"All who survive of all those nations that came up against Jerusalem shall make a yearly pilgrimage to bow to the King, Lord of Hosts, and to observe the holiday of Sukkot. Any of the earth’s communities that do not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to bow to the King, Lord of Hosts, shall receive no rain. . . It shall be afflicted by the same plague with which the Lord will strike the other nations that do not come up to observe the holiday of Sukkot" (Zechariah 14:16-18).

Attitude towards Philo-Semitic Christians


In modern times, we have witnessed increased support for Israel among evangelical Christians. Lord Balfour is probably the best-known among them. Thanks to his belief in the Bible, he spearheaded the British decision to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.
Since the foundation of the State of Israel, the numbers of Philo-Semitic evangelicals have increased. They see with their own eyes how the Jewish people is returning to its land after its awful, two-thousand-year-long exile, and is creating a prosperous country. They see new settlements and vineyards flowering in the very areas described by the Bible, and they are excited by our miraculous return to Zion. They are overwhelmed by the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of the prophets of Israel.

However, Jews must deal with the question of how to relate to friendly Christians. For close to two thousand years, Christians have persecuted the Jewish people – murdering, debasing, expelling, or forcibly converting them. How is it that suddenly Christians love us?
Furthermore, how do we deal with the Rambam’s declaration that Christianity is idolatry?

The Attitude towards the Jews and the Torah Is the Litmus Test


It would seem that everything depends on their attitude towards the Jewish people and the Torah. The most serious problem we have with Christianity is its denial of God’s choice of the Jewish people and of the eternal relevance of the Torah. Christians have traditionally believed in supersessionism, maintaining that they have replaced the Jews and that the Torah and its commandments are no longer binding.

Because of these beliefs, they caused us a tremendous amount of suffering. Additionally, they did as much as they possibly could to convert Jews to Christianity.
As Rav Kook expressed it: "The primary poison contained in belief systems which deviate from the Torah, such as Christianity and Islam, is not in their concepts of God, even though they differ from what is correct according to the fundamental light of the Torah. Rather, [the poison] is in what results from them –abrogating the practical mitzvoth and extinguishing the [Jewish] nation’s hope regarding its complete renaissance" (Shemonah Kevatzim, Kovetz 1, #32).

Elsewhere, in discussing Jewish attitudes towards different religions, Rav Kook states that our goal is not to replace or nullify them, but rather to gradually elevate and correct them, so their dross will disappear. This will inevitably lead [the religions] to return to their Jewish source (Igrot HaRa’ayah, Vol. 1, p. 142).
It seems that Christian Philo-Semites are undergoing a very impressive process of elevation never previously experienced by Christianity. Therefore, with the appropriate caution, we are spiritually and ethically obligated to relate to this process very positively.

This article was translated from Hebrew.
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