Hol HaMoed Sukkot (Shemot 33:12-34:26)
Summary: The Torah portion on Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot is from Parshat Ki Tisa – just after the Golden Calf incident. In the first aliyah Moshe beseeches the Almighty for Bnei Yisrael to continue to find favour in G-d’s eyes. The second and third aliyot express Moshe’s request to see G-d and the compromise to allow Moshe to see ‘My glory in retrospect’.
The fourth and fifth aliyot record Moshe’s second journey up Mt Sinai with freshly carved tablets. As G-d descended again onto the mountain, Moshe read-out the 13 Attributes asking G-d to forgive the peoples’ sin. G-d responded with the offer of a new covenant. The sixth and seventh aliyot expound the terms of that new covenant, reiterating the command to observe the foot-festivals.
Maftir is from Parshat Pinhas Numbers 29. The Haftarah, from Ezekiel 38, is appropriately, the end-of-days cataclysmic War of Gog & Magog.
Comment: In the first chapter of the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 5) we are told the minimum height of a Sukkah is 10 tefahim (hand-breadths) or roughly 80cms. Curiously, the Rabbis discuss whether the Divine Presence ever descended to Earth and whether Moshe ever ascended into Heaven. Quoting a verse (And G-d descended onto Mt Sinai … and Moshe ascended.’ Shemot 19:20), they assert that G-d never descended below, nor did Moshe rise above 10 tefahim – a liminal measurement for experiencing the Divine Presence (Shehinah).
The significance of this in the context of a discussion of the minimum measurement of a Sukkah may offer insight into a simple spiritual principle. The Sukkah is our effort to put into practice all the recent promises of fidelity, loyalty and allegiance made during Rosh Hashana and Kippur. Dwelling in a Sukkah represents Divine protection in the Sinai desert via the Clouds of Glory. A Sukkah exposes us to potentially harsh elements in nature, bringing us to recognise our dependence on the Almighty for shelter and protection – our vulnerability.
The Rabbinic argument that the Almighty descends not to man’s level but to a height just above 10 tefahim, informs us that if we want G-d to dwell (leShakhen) among us especially in the Sukkah – we must reach up beyond our comfort zone to initiate contact. One best way to do so is by ‘extending’ ourselves to those who are also vulnerable.
For a brilliantly stirring 6-minute animation ‘Why I Am a Jew’ from Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks click here.