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Sukkot 5778: The temporary dwellings of the world

1 Comment 01 October 2017

As Sukkot approaches, Rabbi Peretz Rodman reminds us of the universalistic nature of the festival. Sukkot reminds us of our own redemption from slavery and oppression, and whispers to us of a time when all humans on earth will be united together under God.

Kutupalong Refugee Camp for Rohingya people in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.By Foreign and Commonwealth Office - Flickr, OGL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61832175

Kutupalong Refugee Camp for Rohingya people in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.By Foreign and Commonwealth Office – Flickr, OGL

By Rabbi Peretz Rodman

Isn’t it remarkable how often we come across a Jew who chooses to observe very few traditional practices, but who nevertheless has a mezuzah by his or her door? It is not at all uncommon to see supposedly “non-religious” (that is, non-Orthodox) Jews raise a hand to touch the mezuzah, then kiss that hand, as they pass in or out of a doorway. The attraction of this symbolic invocation of the “Guardian of Israel’s doors” is greater than we have rational reason to expect.

All the more remarkable, then, is the realization that there is a time when all Jews are supposed to live someplace without a mezuzah. At Sukkot, we are bidden by the Torah to exit from the much-vaunted Jewish home and to live among those whose dwellings leave them exposed to the wider world and its elements. The sukkah is a temporary dwelling, and it would be inaccurate and inappropriate to distinguish it from the temporary dwellings of any other people by placing a mezuzah on the doorpost at its entrance.

That touch of universality in the distinctly Jewish practice of living in a sukkah should come as no surprise. In our hosha‘not prayers, we beseech God to protect the entire earth and all who dwell on earth, not just our own people and the swatches of territory on which they live: “Save man and beast; renew the earth and bless its produce…. Help us now!” The large number of animals sacrificed on Sukkot, too, including seventy bulls over the course of seven days, was also understood as an expression of concern and goodwill for all humankind: “Rabbi Ele‘azar said, ‘To what do those seventy bulls correspond? To the seventy nations’” (b. Suk. 52b.) The haftarah on the first day of Sukkot, from Zechariah, relates that after the battles at the end of days, the Lord will be acknowledged as sovereign by all the nations, and all peoples will then be invited to celebrate the festival of Sukkot in Jerusalem: “All who survive of all those nations that came up against Jerusalem shall make a pilgrimage year by year to bow low to the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to observe the Feast of Sukkot” (Zech. 14:16).

Sukkot is, of course, a festival that recalls the Israelite nation’s life in the aftermath of being rescued from slavery. The capstone of that redemption, though, is not Israel’s new life in Canaan alone. The holiday also points us further forward to a time when all the inhabitants of the earth will be united in recognition of the one true God.

African asylum seekers in Israel

African asylum seekers in Israel

This year, then, during this week of our world-embracing festival, as we enter our sukkot and leave them without finding a mezuzah at the doorway, let us bring to mind the millions of refugees crowding right now into temporary dwellings around the world: Syrians in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, Rohingya in Bangladesh, and Africans in Europe and in our own Israeli cities as well. On Sukkot, our caring gaze must extend to the wider world and all its inhabitants.

Rabbi Peretz Rodman is a member of Rabbis for Human Rights and is currently presiding over the Bet Din LeGiyur (religious court for conversion) for the Masorti movement in Israel.

Your Comments

1 comment

  1. Philip McFedries says:

    “The holiday also points us further forward to a time when all the inhabitants of the earth will be united in recognition of the one true God.” Amen, let be Lord God.


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