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Sukkot 5781 — 10/03/2020

Sukkot 5781 — 10/03/2020

For the last time this cycle we return to R. Sacks. R. Sacks points out that Sukkot is the culmination of two cycles, one universal and the other particular to the Jewish people. Sukkot (along with Shemini Atzeret) is the culmination of the three Pilgrimage Festivals: Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. This cycle celebrates our birth and coming of age as a people. It is also the culmination of the cycle of holidays in the seventh month of the liturgical year, Tishri: Rosh haShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret. This cycle commemorates the creation of the universe, and is therefore universal in nature. And in fact, R. Sacks points out that the Festival of Sukkot is the most universal of the three Pilgrimage Festivals – it features offerings of seventy young bulls over the course of the seven days, corresponding to the seventy nations of the world (according to traditional Jewish reckoning, see the list of the descendants of Noach in Bereishit).

R. Sacks goes on to describe the three ways Gd relates to the world:

There are three primary voices in Tanakh. Each corresponds to a different way in which we encounter Gd, and each is embodied in a different kind of leadership role. Respectively, they are the king, the priest and the prophet, and they correspond to the three modes of Gd’s relationship with the world: creation, revelation and redemption.

The priest speaks the language of revelation, that is, Gd’s word in the form of law. The priest’s key roles are lehavdil, “to distinguish,” “to separate,” and lehorot, “to instruct,” “to give a legal ruling. ” The priest sees distinctions in the world invisible to the naked eye. They are not part of the physical world as such; they are, rather, part of the sacred ontology, the underlying divine order, of the universe. The keywords in the priest’s vocabulary are tahor and tameh, pure and impure, and kodesh and hol, holy and profane. …

The prophet hears and speaks Gd’s word, not for all time but for this time: this place, this context, this circumstance, the today that is different from yesterday and tomorrow. He or she senses the presence of Gd in history, specifically history as a journey toward redemption, that is to say, a society that honors Gd by honoring His image, humankind. While the priest looks at the sacred nature of things, the prophet is concerned with relationships between persons, and between the individual and Gd. His or her key words are tzedek, fairness, mishpat, retributive justice, chesed, covenant love, and rahamim, compassion. …

Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible is very different from the worlds of the priest and the prophet. It is almost always associated with kings and royal courts, and it is universal, not specific to Judaism. It is part of the human heritage: it is part of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of Gd. … Whereas priestly and prophetic consciousness lives in particularity, the essence of wisdom is universality.

The parallel with the three Festivals is clear: Pesach, when we were redeemed from Egypt, corresponds to redemption, and indeed, Gd redeemed us through the greatest prophet we have ever had. Shavuot, the time of the giving of the Torah, corresponds to revelation and the priesthood. Sukkot, the holiday that celebrates rain and the harvest, is the holiday of universal wisdom, and in fact, the reading from the 5 megillot on Sukkot is Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), the essential text of Jewish wisdom literature. (The reading for Pesach is Shir haShirim / Song of Songs, the beautiful allegory of separation and reunification, i.e. exile and redemption. The reading for Shavuot is Ruth, mirroring the Revelation at Mt. Sinai in the personal experience of Ruth.)

I would like to suggest that wisdom / science / knowledge of the natural world and revelation / Scriptural knowledge / knowledge of the spiritual world, are two sides of the same coin, and both lead to the same place, because they emanate from the same place.

Ordinarily, we think of science as dealing with the objective, finite world.  The inner world of the spirit and the transcendent, being non-measurable, are out of bounds for the objective scientist, because it is held to be variable, and therefore an unreliable platform with which to measure phenomena. Even so, modern physics has managed to describe all forms and phenomena in creation as the vibrations of one, underlying unified field, that itself transcends space, time and all of manifest creation. All this is on the level of “wisdom,” in its modern sense of science.

It is apparently possible for the human mind to settle down so completely that it can transcend thought (the vibrations or fluctuations of consciousness) and experience a state of pure consciousness, consciousness with no object of awareness. In this state, pure consciousness plays the role of Observer (Subject) and Observed (Object), and from this self-referential awareness or virtual duality, a flow or vibration can arise, which then systematically becomes differentiated into the forms and phenomena of creation. The difference between pure consciousness and the unified field of physics is that pure consciousness can be directly experienced in a systematic way by the individual, thus turning an experience that is akin to prophecy or revelation into a subject of systematic, scientific study, albeit using subjective means of gaining knowledge rather than objective means, which, as we have seen, is limited to the finite and cannot plumb the transcendent.

The truth is the truth, whether it comes from objective science (wisdom) or subjective science (prophecy). When we see the two as two different approaches to the one, universal truth, we will have bound the three Festivals into one great celebration of the wholeness of life.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Sukkot/Hoshanah Rabbah/Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah/V’Zot Ha Brachah.

As we approach Sukkot, Hoshannah Rabba, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, we are approaching ending our weekly reading of the Five Books of Torah and beginning another cycle. These books end with the passing of Moses, which seems to be historically about 3400 years ago. There are nineteen more books of Torah and they seem to end with Chronicles, about 2700 years ago.

Since Gd is Eternal and Torah is One with Gd, this invites us to view Torah not from the historic perspective but from the symbolic perspective: the Days of Creation, the birth of Adam, the death of Moses, the liberation of Israel by King Cyrus, can best be looked at as describing models of behavior that correspond to different levels of evolution of individual and collective consciousness.

Sukkot, the celebration of God’s protection as we dwell in fragile huts — symbolically, our human physiology — begins October 2 eve and ends, Hoshana Raba, the evening of October 9. Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah follow, and we begin anew our reading of Torah, which, Itself, is Beginningless and Endless.

On Simchat Torah, (The Joy of Guidance), our Torah reading ends with V’zot HaBerachah, “and this is the blessing.”  Moses praises Gd for His greatness, the twelve tribes of Israel for their obedience, and describes each tribe, asking Gd to bless the tribe. Gd is Joy and Gd’s Blessing brings Joy to the blessed.

Gd is the Wholeness, the tribes different qualities of Gd’s Indescribable Infinite Qualities. Our congregation services, our reading Torah and the Siddur, help us to experience a level of Consciousness on which all Gd’s qualities are unified.

On the first day of Sukkot we celebrate unity in diversity by waving the lulav — date palm frond, willow frond, myrtle frond and esrog — all bound together. These symbolize Gd expresses Himself as the diversity of creation within Gd, Gd who binding together this diversity within Gd, and Gd putting this diversity to work and play revealing the path of restoration to Oneness and helping us move smoothly along it, like waving the lulav.

On the last day of Sukkot, Simchat Torah, we also celebrate unity in diversity as Moses asks Gd to bless each of the tribes — Gd is the unity that binds together all the diverse tribes of Israel, all different types of people, into unity, a community.  The more we attune ourselves to Torah, to Gd, the deeper we experience this unity, the more we are able to “love Gd with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul” and able “to love our neighbor as ourself”, our Self.

Moses passes away in perfect health, by the Kiss of Gd, and Joshuah is filled with Gd’s Wisdom, passed to him through Moses.

“Death” is often used as a symbol of Transcendence, transcending the limits of the individual personality ; the Kiss of Gd can be interpreted as meaning an action that turns Moses’ attention away from the material world, the material Promised Land Moses so much wants to enter, and inward to a view of the material Promised Land as charming but as a distant field compared to the High Mountain experience of Consciousness that Gd gives Moses.

The Five Books of Moses end and we have not yet entered the Promised Land, physically. But Gd’s Blessing is the Promised Land in its Deepest Reality. So, as we end the Five Books and begin the cycle of reading again with Beresheit, Genesis, we are beginning with Gd’s Blessing, deeper than we experienced it before, and with the Spirit of Wisdom, deeper than we experienced It before.

A very good practice of re-cycling!

These Five Books can be compared to the 5 elements of traditional cultures: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. The elements show a progression from concrete to abstract, more fine at each level. All the more concrete levels are contained within space and express it. So, as we read through the Books we are increasingly integrating the concrete and the abstract, increasingly revealing the abstract as the stuff of which the concrete is made.

Although when we complete the reading of the Five Books of Moses, we have not yet entered the Promised Land, Torah continues with 19 more books, during which we do enter the Promised Land.

During the year, we also read the Haftarah for each section, a selection from the other 19 Books of Torah. Altogether there are 24 Books, corresponding to the 24 chromosomes in our DNA and to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet plus the long and short vowels.

On the 6th day of Sukkot, the Haftarah is: Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16 on which Gd says, “And I will make known My Holy Name in the midst of my people Israel…” (translation from

There is a view that all of Torah is a single Name of Gd, and each letter and syllable corresponds to a detail of Creation and to a detail of our human physiology.

So throughout Sukkot we are our selves and the Universe at every level: Torah enlivens us at many levels, not surprising since Torah is One with Gd.

On the seventh day of Sukkot, there is no Haftarah: Haftarah rests as Gd rests after the six days of Creation.

The six days of Sukkot and the Six Days of Creation correspond (among many correspondences) to the six layers of the cerebral cortex, the grey matter of our brain and the CEO of our brain. The seventh day corresponds to the white matter of our brain, long thought to be passive but now discovered to modulate and co-ordinate the different areas of the brain. Just so, as Sukkot progresses from the first day to the seventh,, we realize that Gd is always lively, always modulating and coordinating each detail of Gd and we find our awareness increasingly restored to the level at which we experience our individualities as expressions of Gd, within Gd, and are increasingly restored to the awareness that Gd is all there is, functioning Fully through our open hearts, minds, souls.

Baruch HaShem!

L’Shana Tovah U’Metukah.

Have a good year and a sweet one.

A lovely experience to celebrate this Sukkot!