Home>Jewish Living

Torah Sparks

October 18, 2008 – 19 Tishrei 5769

Annual: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 538; Hertz p. 362)
Maftir: Numbers 29:23 – 28 (Etz Hayim, p. 935; Hertz p. 697)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 1260; Hertz p. 979)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

After the sin of the Golden Calf, God tells Moses to lead the people to the land He has promised, but that God Himself no longer will be in their midst. Moses once again steps forward on behalf of the people and God relents. Moses asks to see God, but God refuses, saying, “man may not see Me and live.” Moses ascends Mount Sinai and receives the revelation of God’s Thirteen Attributes.

God tells Moses that He will drive the Canaanites out of the land He has promised to Israel. For their part, the Israelites must destroy the Canaanite holy places and shun idolatry.

God speaks to Moses about Shabbat and the three pilgrimage festivals, including “the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.”

After 40 days, Moses descends the mountain with the second set of tablets.

The maftir reading describes the offerings that were to be brought to the Temple on Sukkot.

1. A Temporary Dwelling

You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths. (Vayikra 23:42)

  1. Throughout the seven days a person must make his sukkah his principal abode and his house a temporary dwelling. (Mishnah Sukkah 2:9)
  2. Another reason may be that it should remind us of our forefathers’ long wanderings in the depths of the desert, when at every halting-place they spent many a year in tents. And indeed it is well in wealth to remember your poverty, in distinction your insignificance, in high offices your position as a commoner, in peace your dangers in war, on land the storms on sea, in cities the life of loneliness. For there is no pleasure greater than in high prosperity to call to mind old misfortunes. But besides giving pleasure, it is a considerable help to the practice of virtue. For people who, having had both good and ill before their eyes, have rejected the ill and are enjoying the good necessarily fall into a grateful frame of mind and are urged to piety by the fear of a change to the reverse, and also therefore in thankfulness for their present blessings they honor God with songs and words of praise and beseech Him and propitiate Him with supplications that they may never repeat the experience of such evils. (Philo of Alexandria, 20 BCE-50 CE, Egypt)
  3. Why do I command you to do this?... Do not say in your hearts, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth” (Devarim 8:17-18). Therefore, the people leave houses filled with good at the harvest season and they dwell in sukkot as a reminder that they had no property in the desert or homes to inhabit. This is why God designated Sukkot at the harvest season, so that a person’s heart should not grow haughty because of houses filled with everything good, lest they say: “Our hands made all of this wealth for us.” (Rashbam [Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, 1080-1158, France, grandson of Rashi])
  4. When the sages said in the tractate of Sukkah: “Go out from your permanent dwellings and live in a temporary dwelling,” they meant that the commandment to dwell in the sukkah teaches us that a man must not put his trust in the size or strength or conveniences of his house, even though it be filled with the best of everything; nor should he rely upon the help of any man, even though he be the lord of the land. But let him put his trust in Him whose word called the universe into being, for He alone is mighty and faithful, and He does not retract what He promises. (Menorat Hama’or [Rabbi Isaac Aboab, 14th century, Spain])

Sparks for Discussion

What do you experience when sitting in the sukkah – vulnerability, gratitude, humility, faith? Why? Does it make you more conscious of those who are less fortunate? Does it increase your concern for the environment? How might the experience of Sukkot spur people to action?


You shall rejoice in your festival... you shall have nothing but joy. (Devarim 16:14-15)

  1. The expression of rejoicing occurs three times in connection with Sukkot: “You shall rejoice in your festival” (Devarim 16:14), “you shall have nothing but joy” (Devarim 16:15), and “you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Vayikra 23:40). But no such expression occurs even once regarding Pesah. This is because the fate of man’s crops is still in the balance on Pesah, and he does not know whether there will be a yield or not. Similarly, on Shavuot, only one expression of rejoicing is mentioned... This is because the grain has already been harvested and gathered in the barn. Two expressions of rejoicing are not mentioned because the fruit of the trees has not yet been picked and their fate is still in the balance. On Sukkot, however... when both the grain and fruit are already stored inside, three expressions of rejoicing are justified. (Yalkut Shimoni)
  2. Another interpretation of akh sameah [“nothing but joy,” understood as a limitation]: A person rejoices in this world. The festival comes, and he takes himself meat to cook in his home, to rejoice on the holiday. No sooner has he done so, he sits down to eat and begins serving each person, when one of his sons says, “My brother received a bigger portion than I,” and he finds himself saddened even in the midst of his rejoicing. But in the World to Come, the food will cook in the pots and people will see it and their souls will rejoice. (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana)
  3. Why do we read Kohelet on Sukkot? Because it is “the season of our rejoicing.” Perhaps you will say that rejoicing means meat and wine; therefore we read Kohelet who says “utter futility” to all the pleasures of this world. We find that the essence of this rejoicing is that we know that the concerns of this world are “utter futility.” (Rabbi Hanoch of Aleksander, 1798-1870, Poland)
  4. “On the 15th day of the seventh month” (Vayikra 23:34), of just this month, the first day of which was a Day of Loud Blasts, a day of shatteringly shaking us up out of ways of life displeasing to God, and whose 10th day made us appear before God, “poor” in every justification for further living and working, the 15th of just this month brings to us, as the fruit of the atonement obtained on the 10th, the Festival of the building of our homes on earth in full trust in God, and the “taking” of the produce of the earth to gain the joy of living and working in happiness before God. Our past has made us lose the right to “living and doing,” Yom Kippur has eradicated this past, Sukkot sets us up afresh in living and doing on earth to achieve the highest earthly possession: joy and happiness before God.

    One day for the Teru’ah (loud blasts) mood, one day for the atonement fasting, but seven days, a whole cycle of days, for the joyful building of our huts and for enjoying our possessions before God. This is what is most characteristic of the Jewish Torah of Truth, which teaches that the normal mood of one’s life to be not the bowed-down broken feeling, but the erect happy joy of life that runs equally throughout the year of a life faithfully devoted to duty. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)

Sparks for Discussion

Sukkot is a time for rejoicing. Why? Is the source of our joy material, spiritual, or both? Rabbi Hirsch says that the Torah teaches us that joy should be “the normal mood of one’s life.” Do you agree? How do we learn to live a life of normal joy?

Find a Kehilla USY Conservative Yeshiva Donate Careers Contact us
Copyright © 2017
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
All rights reserved.
120 Broadway, Suite 1540
New York, NY 10271-0016