From the Rabbi's Desk

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October 2011  

Feast or famine? Every month I try to think of an interesting topic to write about. On occasion, it is difficult thinking of one. This is one of those months in which the difficulty is deciding which subjects to ignore. There is so much going on. There are major holidays coming up, as we all know--Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succot, Sh'mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. (FYI--the latter two are not really part of the holiday of Succot.)

In the areas of Jewish Law, it doesn't get more difficult. Rosh Hashana, with the Shofar--who, what, when, how and why; Yom Kippur--so many things prohibited but so many details for those whose health is not 100%. Succot comes with its own sets of laws for the who, what, when, how and why of a Succah and the who, what, when, how and why of the Arba Minim/Four Species (Lulav, Etrog, Hadassim and Aravot). Holidays or Yomim Tovim have their own set of laws, in some ways the same as Shabbat and in many ways quite different.

Then there is one of the least known or understood times on the calendar--Chol Hamo'ed. Its literal meaning somewhat describes it: it is the "non-holy part of the Holiday "--the days between the first two days of Succot and Sh'mini Atzeret. These five days, (and the four days in the middle of Pesach), unbeknownst to many, are halachically closer to Holidays than to weekdays. In many places, people wear "Shabbos-clothes" the entire time, eat festive meals daily and take off work, especially in Israel . For those interested in learning more about all the above, we offer JLCW on Sundays at noon and Judaism 101 Mondays at 7:30 p.m.

I do want to share one thought in this column, however. According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th-century Germany ), there is an amazing message to be learned from the materials that go into making a Succah. Simply put, the walls of the Succah can be built of almost anything, from the flimsiest to the strongest materials. What makes it into a Succah is the s'chach--the material on the roof. S'chach must be something that grows, that is no longer attached to the ground and has not yet been formed into something useful by man's hands.

The lesson: the protecting roof has essentially the character of being precarious, not firm, devoid of both the powers of Nature and of Man, and, in the fundamental nature of its material, the same for all people, their socio-economic situation notwithstanding. The separating, delimiting element, the walls, may have almost any degree of solidity desired, and in the kind of material used for them, completely free choice is allowed. The s'chach represents that which gives us protection; the walls, that which ensures our social privacy, expressing the thought: however greatly we may differ in the social conditions that may separate us here below on earth, whether the space that one man calls his own is enclosed in marble walls, wooden ones, or walls that barely protect at all, in that which protects us from above we are all equal. The s'chach is the same for all; the beggar and the millionaire both are to reject both Man and Nature as the protective power of their lives. In living temporarily under s'chach, we are all to be reminded that in what protects us and in God's eyes we are all fundamentally the same.

May all the upcoming Holidays be happy and meaningful!

Rabbi Steven Axelman