Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot 5778
“Sukkot and its universal meaning”
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
This week we are celebrating the Festival of Sukkot. The sages give to Sukkot and the Sukkah different kinds of meanings. Here I would like to highlight the universal meaning of the Festival of Sukkot.
In the Torah, in the Book of B’midvar (chapter 29), you can find a description of all the offerings that the people of Israel had to bring every day during Sukkot. A total of 70 bullocks were offered to God. Why were 70 offerings brought?
It is written in the Talmud Babli, Masechet Sukkah 55b: “Rabbi Eliezer said, ‘Why are 70 offerings brought on Sukkot? For the merit of the 70 nations of the world.”
In this passage we can find a universal application. During this festival, people dedicated the offerings in honor of all the nations.
Rashi explains this directive by saying that the goal for these offerings is to bring forgiveness for the 70 nations, which comprised the all of humankind, so that rain shall fall all over the earth. Rashi connects the 70 offerings to the falling of the rains. Why? Because it is written in the Mishnah: “On Sukkot the World is judged for Water” (Mishnah Masechet Rosh Hashana 1:2).
In other words, during this festival, God decides how much rain we will have this year according to the deeds of all the nations of the world. Thus, according to Rashi, the people of Israel wanted to give offerings on behalf of other nations in order to be sure that all of us get rain.
One of the things that all human beings need to live is water. It is something that unites and concerns all of us.
Regarding this topic, there is a very nice story in Midrash Rabbah 13:6:
“A certain gentile asked Rabbi Joshua, observing to him: ‘you have festivals and we have festivals; we do not rejoice when you do and you do not rejoice when we do. When then do we both rejoice together? When the rain descends.’”
I think it is a very interesting story that has a deep message. Maybe it is the key for success of interreligious meetings. Every faith has its values, customs, practices, holidays, etc. However, what unites all of us are the basic things that contribute to the welfare of society.
We should respect each other’s’ beliefs and practices and be able to sit together and talk about the things and concerns that we have in common as human beings.
“When then do we both rejoice together? When the rain descends.”
All human beings depend on water. This is a universal need that we have, including during Sukkot. Without a doubt, the equal distribution of water to all the inhabitants of this planet is a very important concern in our time.
Some scholars say that in the future there will be wars between the countries in order to get water. It is such a basic need. We should prepare and take actions to avoid this problematic situation that people are predicting. We need to sit together and work out the things we have in common.
Of course, regarding water, one practical thing that we should do is try not to waste the water we have. We must be aware of the importance of water, protecting it and understanding that needing it unites us with all the people in the world.
Another reason that we can affirm that Sukkot has a universal meaning is that the sukkah is portrayed in the liturgy as a symbol of peace, known in Hebrew as sukkat shalom.
For instance, in the prayer Hashkeevaynu, which is the second blessing after Shema Israel that we pray during evening Shabbat or Holiday services, we pray that God will “Ufros aleinu sukkat shloemcha,” “spread over us the shelter of Your peace.”
Here the word “sukkah” means protection and peace, and the sukkah’s doors are always open, showing that we love to welcome everybody in peace.
In the book of the prophet Zechariah, you can find the message that, in the future, all the nations will go to Jerusalem to celebrate sukkot (Zechariah 14:16).
Therefore, the festival of Sukkot, with its universal meanings, teaches us that all humanity should live in peace, sharing water and all natural resources together, respecting each other’s differences, under the same roof of God’s protection.
May the festival of Sukkot enable us to reflect upon the universal aspect of this festival and to search for ways to create better relationships with other faiths and groups.