Parashah Ponderings

Dwelling in the Sukkah of Peace begins with Smashing the Idols that Block our Way

Sukkot Shabbat Chol ha-Moed – סוכות שבת חול המועד
Torah Portion: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

On this, Shabbat Chol ha-Moed Sukkot, the intermediate Shabbat of Sukkot, the joy we are commanded to feel is tempered. How can we fully rejoice on Z’man Simchateinu – the time of our Rejoicing – knowing that only 130 miles from the synagogue I serve in Oregon nine lives have been snuffed out by a madman with a gun? How can we dwell in the sukkat shalom – the tabernacle of peace – knowing that in Israel a settler couple was shot dead in front of their young children? Where are the angels of peace bringing Israelis and Palestinians together? Where are the voices of reason who understand that common-sense legislation controlling the sale, ownership and use of guns in our country doesn’t mean denying responsible, law-abiding, people of sound mind the right to sell, own or use a gun? Is our Constitution so fragile that it can’t withstand limitations in the interest of safety?

How ironic, though, to be embroiled in old debates on this very Shabbat. After all, Sukkot is the great equalizing holiday. The Torah commands the sacrifice of 70 bulls during Sukkot, more than on any other festival. The bulls are a thanksgiving offering to God for all the nations of the world, which our ancestors imagined were 70 in number. This is the festival that celebrates God’s bounty, which is there for all humanity if only we would use our resources wisely. This is the festival that celebrates that period of Israel’s history when no one person was greater than another. No-one owned land. We were all nomads. We were all Children of God wandering through the wilderness. It is on this, the most universal of all Jewish festivals, that we should be celebrating that which unites all of us, Jew and gentile. Instead, gun shots have drowned out the sounds of rejoicing around the world and stopped us in our tracks.

In the Torah reading this week, we find these words: You must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, and cut down their sacred posts; for you must not worship any other god, because the Lord, whose name is Impassioned, is an impassioned God (Exodus 34:13-14). It seems to me that it’s about time we face up to those things in our society that we worship as our “sacred posts,” see them as the idols they are, and tear them down. Life is too precious to give ourselves over to greed and possessiveness. There are Rights and there are rights. No right entitles anyone to deny the innocent of their most essential Rights – the Right live with dignity — whether we’re talking guns or land or power. These are among the sacred posts here, in the Holy Land, and just about everywhere.

God is an Impassioned God. To be a Jew means to see ourselves as created in God’s image, to “walk in God’s ways.” We do this when we become as impassioned as we imagine God would be for what matters most in our world: human life and dignity. I pray for the day when our passion for our children outweighs our passion the idols whose worship imperils our very existence. On that day we will sit together in the sukkat shalom and take in the sounds of rejoicing. May it be so!

Wishing for peace and happiness this Shabbat,
Rabbi Dan

Parashah Ponderings

The End of Sukkot. The Beginnings of Creation.

Parashat Bereshit / פרשת בראשית
Torah Portion: Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

This week we celebrate the holy day of Shemini Atzeret, the biblically ordained “eighth day of assembly” that comes immediately on the heals of the Sukkot, the “festival of booths.” In Israel and in Reform and Reconstructionist communities in the diaspora (outside of Israel), Shemini Atzeret and the rabbinic holiday of Simchat Torah are celebrated concurrently. In Conservative and Orthodox communities in the diaspora, Shemini Atzeret is celebrated on Thursday this year, and Simchat Torah is celebrated on Friday. Learn more about Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah at

Also this week, we read the very first parasha (Torah portion) of the Torah – Genesis or Bereishit. My Hebrew teacher in rabbinical school, Dr. David Golomb, once suggested that we read the word bereishit not as “in the beginning” but as “beginning-ly.” I’ve always found this reading of bereishit to be especially meaningful. To me it suggests that the act of creation was something that God intended to be an ongoing process, a process in which humanity would participate once the basics of creation were already in place. God started us off and continues to be involved in creation, but God did not complete the task. God toiled, the Torah teaches, for six days and rested on the seventh. On the next day, though, we got in on the action as God’s agents in the world, working with the forces of nature that were the fruits of God’s earlier labors in order to be good stewards of the natural world and to make the world a peaceful place for all — humans and non-humans — to inhabit. I think we still have quite a bit of work to do!

There is much to learn in Parashat Bereishit. To find out what our sages have been saying throughout the millennia, check out

Chag Sameach. Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Dan