United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO 63141 | 314-469-0700

October 2, 2020 – Sukkot

Shabbat Message from Cantor Ron Eichaker

Just five days after Yom Kippur we begin our celebration of Sukkot. At sundown tonight, we will usher in a time for gratitude, sustainability, environmental awareness, charity, community, and peace.

The Torah reading this Shabbat is taken from the Book of Leviticus 22:26 – 23:44 and the Haftarah is taken from the Book of Zechariah 14:1 – 21

This section of the Torah begins with the time span a newborn ox, sheep or goat was to stay with its mother (7 days) before it can be acceptable as an offering to God as a sacrifice. The section goes on to establish “fixed times” which will be designated sacred occasions. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are mentioned followed by Sukkot. One of the important rules God establishes is found in sentence 30 where God says that anyone who does not observe will be “cut off” from the community. While this seems drastic, I find it interesting that, if the person chooses not to observe the Holy Days and festival of Sukkot, haven’t they already chosen to cut themselves off from their community? Why does God have to ratify this action with this statement? Notice in this section that there is not context. What if the person is not able to observe the Holy Days and Sukkot that year for whatever reason? Is this person still cut off? Rabbinic commentaries provide the answer just as rabbinic commentaries provide an answer for the failure to observe Sukkot. To find one answer, we need only look to Chanukah. Yes, Chanukah. Many scholars assert that the eight days of Chanukah go back to the time when we Jews were denied the opportunity to observe Sukkot in the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Temple was reconsecrated the first ritual performed was the ritual of thanksgiving and the Sukkot ceremonies were instituted.

Today, we are a fragmented people, living on all continents (even Antarctica) and in various communities. Circumstances can preclude even the most intentional of Jews to be unable to observe our ritual customs. It, then, becomes incumbent upon those of us who can, to represent our community as a whole and keep the doors open and the flames lit for the time when everyone is able to rejoin their People in totality.

I feel that one of the most important attributes of a person living a Jewish life is that of gratitude. If we cannot thank ourselves (self-gratitude is not self-aggrandizement rather a positive self-awareness) first how, then, can we thank others or nature for all the things that either allow us or help us to live a full life. Sustainable gratitude is when we can surround ourselves with a positive self-awareness, radiate this outward and invite others into your life with a grateful presence.

Sukkot also formalizes a time when we must be aware of our environment. Whether created or exacerbated by humanity, or the randomness of the earth’s life cycle our climate hence weather has undergone measurable changes (mostly to our current detriment). These changes are not subject to interpretation as the facts are real, stark, and not disputed by reputable climatologists or other experts in the environmental sciences. While competing theories as to the cause of these changes are welcome and, in my opinion, necessary for the broadest possible understanding, the undeniable affects of extreme weather patterns has caused us to react and respond. Sukkot is a time when we can heighten our awareness of such patterns and causes and do what Jews do: solve problems and help others. Take this time to either make yourself deeply aware of the facts of the delicate nature of our climate, its impact on the earth and what we can help do to ensure this planet can repair itself for the benefit of all living creatures.

Charity and community go hand in hand. Without our hand in the continuous mission of ensuring housing and food security for all people, we become complicit in the erosion of family structures and place an unwelcome burden on our government and communal organizations to do our work for us. Subcontracting a mitzvah is the least one can do, but if its all we can do, then look to Operation Food Search, the Harvey Kornblum Food Pantry or other community service, non-profit organizations who have the expertise in identifying at risk individuals and families. You can welcome the stranger without even opening your doors! A contribution of food or money can be just as welcoming to those in serious need. You can fulfill the mitzvah of the Ushpizin (look it up if you do not know this Sukkot mitzvah) as a proxy donor to such organizations. If you are still not certain where to offer your support, look no further than our own UH home. We have a myriad of outlets to help members and our community. From name funds, to the clergy discretionary funds, we have a broad array of outlets to help heal or improve the world.

All these aspects of Sukkot observance and Jewish life help us find peace within ourselves and our community. Peace comes in various forms and presentations and the paths to peace are as varied as those in pursuit of it. To find true peace, one must plant the seeds of peace within one’s self, cultivate it through awareness and actions and share the harvest with others. Peace, therefore, is not transactional. Peace is the product of many pursuits (choices) brought together in a Godly shelter and open to all who search for the peace that dwells within them.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach L’Sukkot