As I have suggested, from time to time, Judaism is riddled with paradox. For example, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in our prayers, we will address God as ”our Father / Parent, and our King / Ruler”. That suggests that God is, at once, as closely connected as a parent in the home and as distant and remote as a world leader. The paradox: God is singularly both, in the same instant.
The paradox I want to address, here, pertains to the Days of Awe and Sukkot, our thanksgiving harvest holiday that awaits our celebration five days after Yom Kippur. We could say that, apart from Passover, these holidays are the ones we know best and, especially Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, mean the most. Yet, unlike Passover, they are not Jewishly focused. Rosh Hashanah is technically our version of the world new year, in contrast to Passover, which commemorates Jewish beginnings and is a more genuine expression of the Jewish new year. According to Jewish tradition, it marks the sixth day of Creation, the birth of humanity, not the Jewish people. Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, addresses, not Jewish failings and shortcomings, but the failures of all humankind. The Jewish community devotes a 25 hour day of fasting to address issues pertaining to all humanity. Doing so, as Jews, is a reminder that God’s care extends to everyone, not just one group or people. That is why the Torah opens with the Creation of the universe and relates stories and teachings that predate Abraham and the start of what would become Judaism.
Five days after Yom Kippur comes the eight day thanksgiving harvest holiday of Sukkot, again a Jewish celebration of more than Jewish life. In Temple times the Kohanim, the priests, offered 70 sacrifices, many more than any other time of year. Why that large number? According to tradition, there were, at that time, seventy nations in the world, and they were all included in our petition for God’s blessings upon the people.
Only on the last day, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah (which we will celebrate with dancing and festivity on Tuesday October 21 at 6:30 PM..don’t miss it!) was a single sacrifice offered, acknowledging a particularly Jewish focus, thanking God for the gift of Torah, which we end and begin again. It is how we express thanks for a system that teaches that the most effective and meaningful way to be citizens of the world is to have and honor a unique and particularistic path that teaches such caring. That is why we devote a twenty-three day period of intensive Jewish celebration, from Rosh Hashanah until Simchat Torah, whose larger agenda is about the blessings for all humanity, and what we human beings must do to vouchsafe our future.
It all starts with being secure in who you are, and the people with whom you share your values.
I wish you, your dear ones, and all who affirm life in this world, the blessings of good health, wellbeing and a year of kindness, caring and Shalom.