Pirke Avot 4:2—Ben Azzai said: Run to perform even a minor mitzvah and flee from sin, for one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah, and one sin leads to another sin; for the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah and the ‘reward’ of a sin is a sin.
September 21, 2018
12 Tishri 5779
Shabbat Ha’azinu Deuteronomy 32:1-32-52
Right now, in Jewish life, we are in the “in between.” This is not a “Stranger Things” reference, but the fact that the Yamim Noraim or High Holy Days are concluded and on Sunday evening we begin the festival of Sukkot. Sukkot is a wonderful and easy Jewish holiday. You put up a sukkah. Decorate it. Eat your meals inside of this temporary structure. Some Jews even sleep inside of their sukkah during the week of the holiday. We shake the lulav and, in our home, smell the etrog with a bit of scratch and sniff. At the end, we celebrate Simchat Torah and start reading the Torah all over again. After the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is nice to celebrate the beauty and ease of Sukkot. Like Pesach and Chanukah, it is nice to celebrate at home.
This holy day/week was once the pinnacle of our three chagim which include Pesach and Shavuot. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Jews from across the land would make their way up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot. Temporary booths would be set up. Bonfires would rage. Dancing would take place. Our ancestors would bring the fruits of their harvest as sacrificial offerings to the Temple. The would give thanks and praise to God. After a week they would return to their homes and prepare for the winter rains.
The festival holds twin meanings. Coming as the third of the three chagim or pilgrimage festivals it celebrates and remembers our time wandering in the desert as we made our journey from Sinai to Canaan. And, as I mentioned above, Sukkot celebrates the harvest which is why we decorate a sukkah with fruits. (We use fake fruit so as not to encourage the bees to be part of our celebration.) We give thanks and blessing for the harvest and we give thanks and blessing that we reached the promised land safely.
Giving thanks for the bounty and beauty of our lives is a wonderful thing. I think I can speak for Sandy that there is no question that there is blessing in our lives. We have our wonderful, growing family surrounding us. We feel blessed to have such wonderful and supportive friends in our life from here in Canton to the other places we’ve lived. We are looking forward to the next phase of our lives as this one slowly winds down. Life is not without challenges, but they are easier to face with loved ones and friends who are right there with you.
I want to thank all those who helped make this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur so special from those who sat on the bimah—leaders in our community—to those who read Torah or Haftarah, to those who ushered, to Alex, Daveed, and our incredible choir whose music lifts up the soul, and to every one of you who came to one or more of the services. Thank you to all those who stayed to the end of Neilah and listened one last time to The Donkey Story. Remember that life sometimes pours dirt on you. Just shake it off and keep on going. Most of all thank you to Sandy who has supported me for decades during these holy days by making the holy day meals and being present right down front so when I need a bit of strength I can just look at her. (I have to add it wasn’t too shabby seeing all of my family including Liam sitting together on Rosh Hashanah morning—at least for a little bit.)
When you light your Shabbat candles this evening, light one for the blessings in your life and remember to give thanks. Light the other candle and let its light guide you down the path of study, worship and Tikkun Olam. The Jewish world stands on these three things and so may your Jewish life as well.
Rabbi Jon Adland