Truth, Understanding, Insight

Christians & Muslims experience an unexpected Sukkot

2nd October 2009, hej


Just as Jewish families are each building their sukkah, many thousand families in the Asia-Pacific region will be similarly dwelling in temporary shelter, in some cases made of whatever they can find.

The strong earthquakes, tsunami and floods of recent days mean that many people have no home. There was a symmetry, if anyone noticed. The devout and mostly protestant Christian population of Samoa experienced an earthquake and a a deluge of water. Then soon after, the no less devout, modernist mostly Sunni Islam population of Padang, Sumatra in Indonesia experienced, not just one, but, two earthquakes. There is also a connection. The American President once lived in Indonesia and American Samoa is an 'occupied' territory.

One news report struck me as the person interviewed spoke of their thankfulness for their deliverance from death.

Which reminds us of the central part of Sukkot, which is a memorial of a time of deliverance,

“You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” Leviticus 23:42-43 (JPS translation)

When Israel came out of Egypt, they had nothing but what they could carry.

Back then they were not building a reasonably comfortable structure near a solid, and, in some cases today, substantial house. They were survivors having fled from from systematic oppression and the disasters brought on Egypt.

You may say that there is nothing in common with the rejoicing of the yield of the land of Sukkot and the experience of those living in booth-like structures who are affected by earthquake.

The difference is that Jews rejoice at Sukkot, whereas in the earthquake affected areas many mourn. Underneath this difference there is a point of similarity. In remembering when God made his people dwell in booths, there is also the memory of a generation who died in the wilderness. While the ancestors of the Jewish people were roaming the wilderness and dwelling in booths, everyone, except two, over the age of twenty at the time of the exodus had died by the time they entered the land. Many died in the judgements, including a few plagues, and war.

There is a juxtaposition. On one hand the memory of the sorrow of the nation dwelling in booths, of the deliverance from slavery and destruction in Egypt and on the other we are asked to bring the yield of the promised land that is given to us, and rejoice.

Can we feel a great joy at deliverance, if we don't know by experience what annihilation might be? Many of those who refuse to waste their lives have been close to death.

While God made his people to go into Egypt and madethem dwell in booths, the Israelites mourned for the good things of their lost life in Egypt. In the recent earthquake and Tsunami, it is said many people have lost everything. But let us re-think this. Many have lost those they loved. That is a loss. But we must rightly see our material possessions.

This is the fundamental lesson of Sukkot. We must leave the house, as if it is not ours, and dwell in a sukkah and rejoice. In addition we are to offer of the produce of the land, our food, that is given us. Everything is God's and we have nothing, just a booth that God has made us dwell in and the blessing of the gift of the produce of the holy land. In that we rejoice.

Each year while in diaspora there was only dwelling in booths and the hope of the produce of the land. Those who have made aliyah still have no temple to make the required sacrifices.

Sukkot is about all the nations of the world keeping Sukkot. As Zechariah wrote,

All who survive of those nations that come 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 14:14 (JPS translation)

This is all nations, coming as Israel did, to the temple, as Zechariah adds,

The metal pots in the House of the LORD shall be like basins before the altar...And those who sacrifice shall come and take of these to boil in: in that day there shall be no more traders in the House of the LORD of Hosts” Zechariah 14:21 (JPS translation)

The people of the nations that oppose Israel, (read United States and the Islamic world), shall dwell in booths. They shall remember when they dwelt in booths.

We are not told this directly but Zechariah before he speaks of all nations going yearly to the temple, speaks of a great earthquake.

Then the LORD will come forth and make war on those nations ..On that day. He will set his feet on the Mount of Olives, near Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall split across from east to west, and one part of the mount shall shift to the north and the other to the south, a huge gorge. ..” Zechariah 14:3-4 (JPS translation)

As the earthquake in the days of Uzziah. But much bigger. For the 2004 Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, researchers estimate 1,600km of faultline, where the India Plate slides under the Burma plate, moved 10m sideways and lifted up 4–5m. The Earth wobbled by 2.5cm on its axis. The reverberations lasted a week triggering other quakes as far away as Alaska. What will happen when the earth is ruptured to form a gorge not 10m but at least a 1,000m?

An earthquake caused by God. An earthquake that may not leave many buildings standing. No-one designs buildings for a 10 on the Richter scale. All the people of the nations who oppose Jerusalem will dwell in booths. Just like the those in American Samoa and those in Islamic Sumatra are doing now.

From the news reports the impression is that these devout people do not doubt that those that died fulfilled God's will. One Samoan said their “time was up”. That God causes earthquakes may not be an absurd belief to hold. The text set down by the Sages for Sukkot supports that belief.

God may cause an earthquake and tsunami but he did not make us build on low land or make poorly reinforced multi-story buildings. In fact when people did build a tower with bricks God wasn't happy at all, and confused their language to stop them doing it.

And just at this time of year Jews remember when the nation was made to dwell in booths, in the wilderness. Having nothing but the materials to build a tabernacle and the hope of a life in the land promised to the Fathers.

In fact all humanity, if they would but realise it, dwell in booths. The Sages point us to Ecclesiastes.

My thoughts turned to all the fortune my hands had built up- and oh, it was all futile and the pursuit of wind...I have observed all the business that God gave man to be concerned with;He brings everything to pass precisely at its time; He also puts eternity in their mind but without man ever guessing, from first to last all the things that God brings to pass. Thus I realised the only worthwhile thing there is for them is to enjoy themselves and do what is good in their lifetime, also, whatever a man does eat and drink and get enjoyment out of all his wealth. It is a gift of God.
...As he came out of his mothers womb, so must he depart at last, naked as he came.... In a time of good fortune enjoy the good fortune, and in a time of missfortune, reflect: The one no less than the other was God's doing; consequently, man may find no fault with him. The sum of the matter..:Revere God and observe his commandments! For this applies to all mankind. Ecclesiastes 2:11, 3:10-13, 5:14, 7:14,12:14 (JPS translation)

The Sages in selecting this portion were pointing out that life under the sun was living in a sukkah. Our rejoicing is the gift of a good harvest, and the hope of possession of the good land promised to the fathers.


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