By Rabbi Nava Hefetz & Rabbi Tamara Schagas
After the days of Awe – the days of judgment and blot, forgiveness and repentance – come the days of celebration, the days of joy and of praise. After fasting, we rejoice in Sukkot as the Torah instructs us in Deuteronomy 16:15:
Seven days shall you keep a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord your God shall bless you in all you increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful…
The feast of Sukkot, of all our holidays, is the one is characterized by the idea of universalism. In the book of Zechariah 14; 16 we read:
…And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles…
During Sukkot, nature merges with spirituality. On one hand it is harvest time, and on the other hand it is a time of spiritual elevation for all humanity.
Sukkot also has educational and social sides to it, which seek to raise our awareness of our temporality in this world. On Sukkot we are commanded to depart from our permanent, safe, and warm homes, leaving our possessions and comforts behind in order to experience the absence of everything we are attached to in our daily lives. That means we also refrain from using our “devices”. No computers or tablets. No televisions or smart-phones. We are commanded to experience the same historic moments our ancestors had experienced in the Sinai desert and to move to a temporary residence – a booth or sukkah. We are told to inhabit a physical space that is exposed to the unpredictability of nature. During this time we experience the lack of what has become natural, our basic necessities. Although not precisely the same, because we can go back to our comforts, this temporary deficiency is the same one that the poor and the weak in our society experience day after day throughout the year. God implores us not to withhold a worker’s wages, and not to “harden our heart or shut our hand against the poor” (Deuteronomy, 15:7).
In recent times, globally and within Israel, human rights are being seriously abused. We continue to bear witness to social and economic deterioration. Far too many children go hungry, unemployment is growing, and the wages of workers are withheld. Millions of asylum seekers, refugees and displaced people are wandering the globe while our many countries continue to pass budgets of inequality. Minorities continue to face discrimination while sexual slavery and human trafficking, mostly in young girls and women, is on the rise. Migrant workers among us are exploited. There is so much more.
It therefore behooves us to us remember at this feast of Sukkot the words from Proverbs: “For riches are not for ever…” and that according to Jewish ethics, we are commanded to establish a just society or face our own extinction.
We wish you Chag Sameah as it is written in Deuteronomy 16:14:
And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates.
God will give strength to His People; God will bless his people and all humanity with peace.
Rabbi Nava Hefetz is the Educational Director at Rabbis for Human Rights.
Rabbi Tamara Schagas is the Deputy Educational Director at Rabbis for Human Rights.