The Torah reading for the Shabbat of Sukkot is drawn from Exodus 32:12-34:26. It is a recitation of holidays, including Sukkot. It also contains this famous incident in which Moses pleads to see God. He has just experienced the Golden Calf moment, is frustrated and is in need, perhaps, of reassurance. The voice of God tells Moses to go to a cleft in a rock. Moses cannot see the “face” of God, as no one can. So in 33:22,23 we read that Moses is sheltered in the rock and is shielded by God’s hand as God’s Presence passes so that “you will see my Back; but My face must not be seen”.
This passage is filled with pathos and drama. Moses’s own faith is tested. He questions his leadership.. He seeks proof that there is a reason and purpose that he has been “called”. What is this all for, he seems to be asking himself, it is, or seems to be an empty striving.
It is this challenge that we continue to confront in this festival. The drama of the High Holidays is over. We are, as symbolized by the Sukkah, daily reminded of life’s fragile nature. The temporal is captured again in the assigned scroll for this festival: Ecclesiastes, a book whose theme seems to be that life itself is an empty striving, and a vain pursuit that is a striving after wind.
But, there is hidden in this , a profound message for us. We often see people who continue to search for what life means. They seek that proof that there is some meaning or purpose to existence. They exist! Let me suggest that a message that we, of our age, can take from the festival and from these readings is that this is an empty search. What the Sukkah and the Torah and Ecclesiastes may be saying is that we need to live life. Too many people of our age simply exist. So few “live”. If we have learned anything from this pandemic it is that we cannot control the time we have so we can choose to exist, or we can choose to celebrate this life and live it.
Let me suggest that as we move to the festival’s conclusion and the celebration of Simchat Torah, we consider celebrating this blessing called life. Let us not hide in the cleft of life waiting for God to show up; rather, let us have the courage to live our own life, the engage the world, to dream and in doing so, we may find our own sense of purpose.
Chag Sameach Sukkot and Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.