Chol Ha’moed Sukkot – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

We are now part way through Sukkot also known as Chag HaAsif (the Festival of Ingathering). Sukkot is also called “The Chag” stressing its importance: being one of the 3 pilgrim festivals (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot). The present day Sukkah developed in its present form after the loss of the Temple and the loss of those joyous celebrations based in Jerusalem.

In the Sedra this week we read the events at Sinai where we were instructed

And you shall make for yourself a Festival of Weeks, the first of the wheat harvest, and the festival of the ingathering, at the turn of the year

Sukkot ties us tightly to the land wherever we may have settled. It reminds us of our dependence on the seasons. The Lulav, the Etrog and the plea for rain remind us of those joys and our continuing relationship to the Land of Israel. Living in a Sukkah reminds us of impermanence and fragility in our lives wherever we are.

We read Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), one of the 5 Megillot read on Festival holidays. (We read Esther on Purim, Eichah on Tish B’Av, Shir Ha Shirim at Pesach and Ruth on Shavuot). There is no formal obligation to read Kohelet but by the 13th century CE it was in the liturgy in Provence. Rashi took the view that Kohelet referred to Solomon and the Hakhel (reading the Torah every seven years).

Rabbis argued over the Book and its philosophy but the power of the words remain. Most of us will have heard and remembered passages from Kohelet; each in his or her own way

To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven

Vanity of Vanities - all is vanity

The dust shall return to the Earth

There is nothing new under the sun.

We are about to recommence the re-reading of the Torah but there will be something new. Our own perceptions will have changed from last year. Each of us will be reading with new eyes based on our ongoing experiences. We will, each in his or her own way, react accordingly.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pointed out

No small people are more diverse, ethnically, culturally, attitudinally and religiously than the Jews – and the more religious, the more diverse.

However we change, whatever direction we follow, the last words of Kohelet still stand

Fear God and keep his commandments - for this is the whole duty of man
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