Last Chance for Atonement

We are a little more than midway through Sukkot. Tomorrow evening, Thursday evening begins the holy day of Hoshanah Rabbah, the last day of Sukkot. Lighting candles, enjoying wine or grape juice and challah is traditional. While there are no super special foods many will prepare meals with fall squashes. Tzimmes and lentil soup are also favorites.

We learn from a Midrash that God told Abraham: “If atonement is not granted to your children on Rosh Hashanah, I will grant it on Yom Kippur; if they do not attain atonement on Yom Kippur, it will be given on Hoshana Rabbah.” So, Hoshana Rabbah is like a Yom Kippur final opportunity to plead for forgiveness, a kind of Yom Kippur makeup day. A practice that I’ve experienced many times is the taking of willow branches and beating them against the floor, watching the leaves drop off like the sins of the past year. The custom is also associated with blessing the earth to be open to our prayers for “the winds to blow and the rains to fall” in the coming winter months. Reb Moshe Levin from San Francisco, recently, pointed out that the sound of the shaking of the lulav is like the sound of wind and rain. Our actions are necessary for the earth and for social healing.

There is so much healing to do. Reverend Barber, in the Post, this morning wrote about how we are to pray for our enemies, quoting from the New Testament, the teachings to “love our enemies.” While not exactly the same, we find similar teachings in the Hebrew Bible, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him” from Exodus 23. Our sages also teach us that the Creator provides rain for both the righteous and the evil doers.” Even our enemies are created “in the image of the Divine.” To love our enemy is to pray for their healing of mind, body and spirit.

The Book of Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, read on Sukkot, is a hard read on such a Festival of Joy. “All is vanity… there is nothing new under the sun..”. A member of Am Kolel, Zach Rothschild, took a closer look at Kohelet. Here are some of his findings:

Zach asks: Should we despair, then, over our own incapacities? No, for…

Kohelet writes: (9:11)I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Zach writes: So, victory and defeat travel with all of us — even the greatest among us. We recognize all are humbled in the end, with every end the same. The book suggests, I think, that no one can truly know the full extent of one’s deeds — much like the example you gave of the Brazilian butterfly’s effect on global weather. So we trust our impact will find its place in the world, for “God shall bring every work into judgment concerning every hidden thing…(12:14).”

Zach writes: Which is why we are then told “The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep The commandments; for this is the whole person…” (12:18)

This Friday evening, we light Yiskor candles before Shabbat. Saturday night we begin the festival of Simchat Torah. How can we dance with Torah scrolls and each other this year? Talmud Babli contains a further passage allowing us to compare on the same footing the Sefer Torah to a living person. Each person represents a letter of a Sefer. A person giving their last breath is likened to a Torah going up in flames. A rise to honor the Torah as we do a sage of royal figure. We bury a scroll as we do a human. Each of us is a living Torah. We can dance in our home, we can dance with others on Zoom and we can dance with our ancestors.   Khag Sameyakh!  Reb David

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