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Torah Sparks

October 3, 2009 – 15 Tishrei 5770

Annual: Leviticus 22:26 – 23:44 (Etz Hayim, p. 723; Hertz p. 518)
Maftir: Numbers 29:12 – 16 (Etz Hayim, p. 934; Hertz p. 697)
Haftarah: Zechariah 14:1 – 21 (Etz Hayim, p. 1253; Hertz p. 972)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

God instructs Moses to teach the people about Shabbat and the festivals – Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.

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

1. The Festival of Wholeness

On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. (Leviticus 23:40)

  1. “You shall take” – The rabbis taught: It says ulekachtem, “you shall take,” which may be seen as a combination of ulekach, “take,” and tam, “whole,” implying that the taking must be complete. Which means that if one of the four species is missing it invalidates all of them, because the bundle is incomplete. Implied also is that the four species must be perfect; if the tip of any of them is broken, all are invalidated. (Talmud Sukkah 34b)
  2. Rabbi Mani opened his discourse with the text “All my bones shall say, ‘Lord, who is like You?’” (Psalms 35:10). This verse is an allusion to the lulav. The rib of the lulav resembles the spine of a man; the myrtle resembles the eye; the willow resembles the mouth; and the etrog resembles the heart. Thus David said: There are no limbs greater than these for they equal the entire body in importance; hence, “All my bones shall say...” (Vayikra Rabbah 30:14)
  3. “The product of hadar trees” – the etrog symbolizes Israel: even as the etrog tree has edible fruit and fragrance, so Israel has people in its midst who have knowledge of Torah and the fragrance of good deeds. “Branches of palm trees” also symbolize Israel: as the palm tree has edible fruit but no fragrance, so Israel has people in its midst who have knowledge of Torah but no fragrance of good deeds. “Boughs of leafy trees” also symbolizes Israel: as the myrtle tree has fragrance but does not bear edible fruit, so Israel has people in its midst who have the fragrance of good deeds but do not have Torah. “And willows of the brook” also symbolizes Israel: even as the willow has neither edible fruit nor fragrance, so Israel has people in its midst who have neither knowledge of Torah nor the fragrance of good deeds. What does the Holy One do with the last? To destroy them is out of the question. So the Holy One says: Let all of them be joined together in one cluster, and the ones will atone for the others. If you are willing to act in this way, I will be exalted. (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12)
  4. A stolen lulav is invalid (for performance of the mitzvah). (Mishnah Sukkah 3:1)
  5. “On the first day you shall take” [Literally, “you shall take for you”] “For you” here means “what is yours.” The sages inferred from this verse that no one may fulfill his obligation on the first day of Sukkot with a lulav cluster that belongs to his fellow, unless the latter has given it to him as a gift. It once happened that Rabban Gamaliel, Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, and Rabbi Akiva were traveling on a ship, and only Rabban Gamaliel had a lulav, which he had bought for a thousand zuz. Rabban Gamaliel took it up, fulfilled his obligation with it, and gave it to Rabbi Joshua as a gift. Rabbi Joshua took it up, fulfilled his obligation with it, and gave it to Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah as a gift. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah took it up, fulfilled his obligation with it, and gave it to Rabbi Akiva as a gift. Finally, Rabbi Akiva took it up, fulfilled his obligation with it, and gave it back to Rabban Gamaliel as a gift. (Talmud Sukkah 41b)

Sparks for Discussion

Our commentators associate the arba minim (four species) with wholeness – the wholeness of the lulav and etrog, the wholeness of the human being, and the wholeness of the Jewish people. On Sukkot, we wave the lulav and etrog in all directions. How are these ideas connected? In what other ways does Sukkot suggest wholeness? Why is Sukkot in particular a festival of wholeness? Why can a person say the berakhah on the first days of Sukkot only on a lulav and etrog that he or she owns?

2. Sukkot and the Nations

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. – Seven days you shall observe a festival of the Lord. – You shall present a burnt offering, a gift of pleasing odor to the Lord: thirteen bulls of the herd... Second day: twelve bulls of the herd... Third day: eleven bulls... Fourth day: ten bulls... Fifth day: nine bulls... Sixth day: eight bulls... Seventh day: seven bulls. (Numbers 29:13-34)

  1. The Messiah is only coming to give to the nations of the world two mitzvot, namely sukkah and lulav. (Yalkut Shimoni)
  2. Rabbi Eleazar said, To what do these seventy bulls [that were offered during the seven days of the festival] correspond? To the seventy nations.... Rabbi Yohanan said, Woe to them, to the idolaters who suffered a loss and do not know what they lost. When the Temple stood the altar atoned for them, and now who will atone for them? (Talmud Sukkah 55b)
  3. All seventy bulls that Israel used to sacrifice on the festival were for the seventy nations of the world, so that they not be removed from the world, as it is said: “They answer my love with accusation, but I am all prayer” (Psalms 109:4) That is, now they are protected by prayer instead of sacrifice.” Pesikta de Rav Kahana)
  4. 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. Any of the earth’s communities that does not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to bow low to the King Lord of Hosts shall receive no rain. (Zechariah 14:16-17 [Haftarah for first day of Sukkot])

Sparks for Discussion

Why is it Sukkot that is associated with the coming of the Messiah? Why not Pesah, the festival of freedom, Shavuot, the festival of revelation, or even Rosh Hashanah, the festival of God’s sovereignty? What is it about the sukkah and the lulav that apply to all of humanity? What is the universal message of Sukkot?

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