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Parashat 10/13/2011


Submitted by Robert Rabinoff


We find two basic themes associated with the Succoth holiday. On the one hand, Succoth is called Chag HaAsif, the Harvest Festival. Harvesting is the culmination of the entire farming process – starting with plowing, planting, irrigating, and so on, until the crops are ready to be harvested.

Furthermore, harvesting thoroughly involves the natural world. All of the processes of nature must be functioning properly in order that the fruits and grains will be ripe for harvest. Succoth as the Harvest Festival symbolizes the natural world at its most cultivated and completed state.

On the other hand, Succoth is also called the Festival of Booths. Our sukkah-huts during the holiday commemorate the miraculous forty-year journey of the Israelites through the desert. During those forty years, the Jewish people were sustained by continuous supernatural phenomena: manna from heaven, Miriam’s miraculous well of water, the protective Clouds of Gd’s Presence, and so on.

Why is Succoth associated with two opposing themes: the natural order and the harvest on the one hand, and the supernatural realm of Divine providence and the miraculous trek in the wilderness on the other?

In fact, bridging these two themes is the very essence of the Succoth holiday. Succoth is a link between the physical and the metaphysical. It connects the natural world, as epitomized by the autumn harvest, with the realm of Divine intervention, unveiled with the appearance of Israel on the stage of history.

The passage of the Jewish people, from the miraculous Exodus from Egypt to the settlement and everyday life in the land of Israel, bound together the realms of the natural and the supernatural. This bridge revealed the inner connection between a Divinely-created world, designed for the elevated goal of providential justice, and a finished world bound by the fixed laws of science and nature. 

From: Silver from the Land of Israel (teachings of R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook, compiled by R. Chanan Morrison, pp101-2)

We understand from our tradition that there are two poles to existence – the absolute, infinite, unchanging pole, which is Gd, and the changing pole, the realm of action, of nature, of finite human beings.  The finite exists as more or less an appendage of the infinite, created when Gd “contracted” Himself within Himself to leave “space” for finite creatures to live, and, most important, for some of them (us!) to make moral choices and in so doing to grow and expand their awareness until it, too, is infinite and unbounded.


These two poles are found in a subtle way in the first two chapters of Parashat Bereishit, which we will read next week.  In the first chapter (“And Gd said ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light.”) the Name of Gd that is used is Elokim, which is traditionally associated with the Attribute of Judgment (midat haDin).  Note also that the numerical value of this Name is 86, which is the same as haTeva – “nature.”  The Attribute of Judgment is associated with the laws of nature – rigid and unforgiving, as anyone who has jumped off a cliff understands.


The second chapter introduces the 4-letter Name of Gd (Tetragrammaton) that is not pronounced.  This name is associated with the Attribute of Mercy (midat haRachamim).  It was using this Name that Gd took us out of Egyptian slavery, and the entire beginning of the Vayikra (Leviticus) which describes the many offerings made to Gd uses this Name.  The word for offering is korban and comes from the root “close,” because the purpose of the offerings is to bring human beings close to Gd, their Source.  The Attribute of Mercy is associated with the unifying force, the impetus for finite human beings to grow and expand and become more Gd-like, and the impetus, if we can use the expression, for Gd to reach out to us and help and encourage us in our efforts.


Of course both Attributes are necessary for the world to function.  We need the phenomenon of separation to allow there to be differences in creation – that is what creation is all about after all!  We also need the phenomenon of integration of differences to allow that creation to evolve to higher levels of richness and complexity.  When both these forces are in perfect balance, the universe can fulfill its ultimate purpose, which is to reflect Gd’s existence and majesty.


The Jewish people’s mission is nothing less than to create a situation where the two basic midot are in perfect balance – where we live naturally, all the while demonstrating that even the natural world is nothing short of miraculous.  Do we sow seeds?  Yes, that is up to us.  Do the seeds sprout, and produce plants of the same kind?  That is in Gd’s hands; anyone who has ever put in a garden or even grown a few flowers in a flowerpot know just how much control we have over the whole process.  Anyone who has borne and reared children know how dependent we are on Gd’s input to make the process successful, from the time of conception through graduation from medical school <g> and for our entire life.  By acting in accordance with Gd’s Will as He has expressed it in Torah, we open ourselves up to the maximum flow of Gd’s goodness and bounty.  We not only deserve a rich reward, but we as it were stimulate Gd to be extra generous with us.


As we sit in our sukkah this holiday season, let’s ponder our place in creation, and give thanks to Gd for all the bounty He has given us.  Let’s take the opportunity to rededicate our lives to filling the natural world with Gd’s radiance.


Chag Same’ach to all!