The holiday of Sukkot is described in our liturgy as the “season of our joy,” a time to commemorate the Israelites surviving their 40-year sojourn in the desert en route to the Promised Land. As a permanent reminder, we are told to build a purposefully fragile sukkah, whose roof must be porous enough for us to see the stars at night, recalling how our ancestors lived — protected from the elements, wildlife and lack of food and water, by a Heavenly presence, night and day.
This Sukkot has been more difficult than most to embrace the joy of the festival as we are surrounded by signs of unrest, discontent and prejudice in our society, and divisions among our people. The presidential election has become a nasty ordeal, a psychodrama to endure as political issues have given way to far more personal ones that speak to the character of the top contenders. Negativity reigns; for many Americans it’s about whom they dislike less as their choice for president.
The Jewish community is not immune from the blue state-red state schism in our country, reflected in the accusations supporters of Trump and Clinton make against each other, with the fate of Israel often a key point of contention. And Israel’s isolation in the international community was underscored in recent days with the UNESCO vote negating Jerusalem’s Jewish historical ties. (See related editorial.)
What gives us hope, and reminds us of the deep connection all Jews have, regardless of their political and religious differences, is the fact that we still have one Torah, one sacred text, that has remained with us for thousands of years. On Monday evening and Tuesday, we will celebrate Simchat Torah by reading the last chapters of Deuteronomy, describing the gentle death of Moses, and immediately renew the cycle by reading of the creation of the earth, and Adam and Eve, in the first chapters of Genesis.
It’s a powerful lesson in the eternity of the Jewish people, and one we should embrace with renewed appreciation for the ties that bind us. May we learn to recognize and appreciate the spark of the divine in each of us.