Sukkot: Hope Wisely

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Sukkot

Well, it’s almost Sukkot- the holiday of “booths” which follows hot on
the heels of Yom Kippur- and the events of the season feels familiar:
the rush to get everything done, the cloudy skies over the Hudson
Valley, the upcoming baseball playoffs – which, we hope, will end up
with a Red Sox- Yankees series.

Ah, yes, the haftarot of Sukkot, which speak of the eventual triumph
of good over evil in the days to come. (No connection to the MLB
post-season is officially implied.)

Sukkot, like Pesach, has two days of Yom Tov, or full festival days,
at the beginning of the week long observance; each of those days has a
special haftarah, and the two are very different. The haftarah for the
first day of Sukkot is a prophesy of messianic redemption, in which
all nations shall be brought to account but will eventually be united
in worship in Jerusalem on Sukkot itself:

“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 Lord of
Hosts and to observe the Feast of Booths” (Zechariah 14:16)

The days of the messiah are imagined as days of both awesome and
terrible justice as well as the eventual spiritual unity of humankind-
a provocative yet hopeful imagining of the future.

The haftarah for the second day of Sukkot, however, is set in the
distant past, when King Shlomo [Solomon] constructed the Beit
HaMikdash, or Temple, in Jerusalem

“All the men of Israel gathered before King Solomon at the Feast, in
the month of Ethanim — that is, the seventh month. When all the elders
of Israel had come, the priests lifted the Ark and carried up the Ark
of the Lord. . . ” (I Kings 8:2–4)

In the text above, “the Feast” refers to Sukkot, which was a time of
great communal pilgrimage and rejoicing. Shlomo goes on to recount how
his father, King David, intended to build the Temple, but it was given
to Shlomo to complete the task- thus fulfilling a promise made to God,
as God fulfilled the promises made to David and his descendants.

Both haftarot refer to events which happen on Sukkot- although the
messianic gathering of nations hasn’t happened yet, the connection to
the holiday is clear. Yet it’s interesting to note the order in which
we read these texts: we describe our hopes for a redeemed future
before we relate our connection to the Biblical past. One could
imagine the ancient sages putting the story of King Shlomo first, thus
establishing the idea of the Temple and its connection to Sukkot,
before the Zechariah text, which describes Sukkot as the temporal
symbol of our most universal hopes.

Hirsch suggests that we put the story of the past after the story of
the future, as it were, because while we might entertain great hopes
for the future redemption, we also have to be mindful of the mistakes
of the past. We know what happened after that great moment of unity in
King Shlomo’s day- the nation of Israel tore itself apart, fell to its
enemies, and suffered defeat and exile. So yes, we believe in
redemption, but we are not naive- in fact, our faith is not a matter
of naivete, but of determination: despite the contrast between the
story of King Shlomo and the tragedies which follow, we yet believe
that the uplifting of humankind is possible. It’s been a hard struggle
at times since the days of Shlomo, but we will nevertheless rejoice
and look to a brighter day ahead. Putting the two haftarot in this
order teaches us to hope wisely, to learn from history, to temper our
messianic fervor with the acknowledgment that our work is not yet
done.

With warmest wishes for a happy and healthy holiday,

RNJL

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