Sukkot Drash

Sukkot 5770 October 3 – October 9, 2009

“Celebrating True Peace”
by Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, PhD
President, Academy for Jewish Religion, CA

Sukkot is the Holiday that symbolizes peace in our tradition. Our Rabbis teach that discord is created by an emphasis on materialistic values, which inevitably create competitiveness and hostility due to limited resources on our planet. On Sukkot we leave our stable homes and dwell in a temporary abode, a Sukkah, to say that it is not the material world that is our utmost value, but we have faith in G-d as our protector and hence affirming spiritual values leads us to peace. We do not need to make luxuries into needs, but are satisfied with our lot. We take the four species on Sukkot as well, in order to symbolize peace. Four different types of fruits are united together at services to symbolize acceptance of difference and diversity in our community. This creates true harmony as opposed to the expectation of uniformity in our community. These are the ideas, but to create true peace we must work at it. We must truly shift our values, and be welcoming to all members of our community.

Rabbi Moshe Leib Sassov told his followers: “I learned what true love is from a conversation I overheard between two drunk peasants. One asked the other, “Tell me, friend, do you love me or not?” The other replied, “I love you very much.” “Then tell me what I am lacking,” retorted the first. “How can I know what you are lacking?” asked he second. “If you can’t feel what I am lacking, how can you say that you love me?” remonstrated the first.

“That,” said the Sassover Rebbe, “is true love; to realize what others are lacking and to feel their suffering.” So we must take the time to truly be curious about our fellow communal members, take the time to truly listen, if we are to create a harmonious community. I always think of four expressions that should be natural, constant sincere expressions in our interactions with those who we interact. “How are you, do you need anything, thank you, and I love you.”

It is truly a challenge to transform ourselves from an audience of Jews to a ‘Jewish Community.’ For an assembly of Jews is not necessarily a Jewish ‘Community.’ A community is made up of people who share experiences and values and transcend their private perceptions. An audience is comprised of separate egos who have come together for reasons of their own and dissolve into distinct bodies after the event is over. Which will it be for us? Can we manage to find the common ground, that unites us into creating a community that meets our existential needs for meaning and fellowship, that leaves us eagerly looking forward to the next week that brings us together, and where we find part of ourselves emerging as a result of the encounter? If we feel it important enough to invest the time and energy into this endeavor, we will create something very special in which we will benefit far more than we can imagine.

This achievement is not easily won in our modern world. Indeed, one of the most characteristic aspects of modern life is a sense of fragmentation. Where traditional societies emphasized community, modern society extols the value of individuality. And despite the many advantages of freedom, something has been lost in the process. There is a profound sense of loneliness out there. The authentic Jewish ‘Community’ is one of the few places in which a sense of belonging can replace the void of modern individualism.

So let this holiday of Sukkot, the holiday where the fragrance of the Etrog, and the branches of the Sukkah, the dwelling under the sky in moist evening, all bring us closer to nature, to the Creator of nature, and to each other. Let us invite our friends into the Sukkah, rub shoulders with them, huddle close against the cool night air, eat hot noodle soup, chicken and kugel and carrots, and invite in our ancestors from Jerusalem to continue the dialogue, the conversation of the generations which promotes community.

We really do not need the beautiful solid structures that shut us out from nature and are often created through the sweat of such enmity and competition that we no longer have time to remember who we truly are as members of the Jewish nation, as children of G-d. For Sukkot is also known as the holiday of peace and joy because we leave our homes, and go out and live in a Sukkah, a structure that brings us into closer contact with nature, and makes us all equal- the stars covering us, the birds and crickets singing to us, the grass and trees treating us to their aromas. We are brought into “Jewish calendar time,” into a new space of memory, joining our souls to our ancestors who dreamed of a better world, where the whole earth could dwell under the Sukkah of the Lord of peace. Indeed, the holiday of Sukkot is a celebratory experience capable of satisfying the deepest hungers of the human soul to dwell in peace, united with our fellows and the entire cosmos. May it be a celebratory experience for each member of our community, and may we share our stories with each other as we return after the holidays. G-d Bless!