Parashat Sukkot VI – Erev Shabbat Chol HaMoed 18 October 2019
Week of 13-19 October 2019
Torah Portion: Exodus 33:12-34:26 Haftarah: Ezek. 38:18-39:16
Theme: Joy in renewing our covenant with God
Sukkot is one of the festivals and religious obligations stated in today’s Torah portion (Ex 34:22). This year, it begins at sundown on Sunday, October 13 and lasts until sundown on Sunday, October 20. Also known as the Festival of Tabernacles and the Feast of Booths, it is named after the booths or huts (sukkot in Hebrew) in which Jews are supposed to dwell during this week-long celebration.
According to rabbinic tradition, these flimsy sukkot represent the huts in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt. In Jewish liturgy today, Sukkot is referred to as “the time of our joy” (z’man simchateinu). It is a great holiday to serve everyone’s favorite foods, wear new clothes and even exchange some presents with family and friends.
Today’s Torah portion, however, tells us of a time when joy for God’s protection and blessings was put on hold or was at risk. The people angered God in the golden calf incident for worshipping an idol. According to the Torah, this apostasy is one of the two grievous sins during the wilderness period (the other one is the faithlessness of the scouts in Num 13:1-15:41). It is only in connection with these two sins that God threatened to annihilate Israel and not fulfill the promises made to Moses (Ex 31:10; Num 14:12).
Moses himself got mad when he saw the calf and the dancing that he hurled the tablets (with the ten commandments written on them) and shattered them at the foot of the mountains. In ancient Near East legal terminology, “to break the tablet” means to invalidate or repudiate a document or agreement.
But in the Torah portion we are told how Moses (after he had presumably calmed down), petitioned for God’s mercy and asked for God’s continued presence on behalf of “stiff-necked people” as he asked pardon for their sin and “to take us for your inheritance.” It’s a long dialogue but we learn that the Lord told Moses to prepare new tablets to replace the broken ones and he wrote on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets (Ex 34:1). And the Lord made a new covenant: “Before all your people, I will perform miracles, such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation”. He promised “an awesome thing that I will do with you” (Ex 34:10).
With the renewal comes the command for authentic worship which includes the observance of the Shabbat, of festivals like Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot and other related religious obligations (Ex 34:18-26). The restatement of legitimate festivals is done to differentiate them from the golden calf incident which was proclaimed a “festival of the Lord.”
The new set of tablets reminds us of God’s mercy for sinners and of our God who gives us second chances. We affirm our belief in this every time we pray the Our Father as we ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
From today’s Torah reading, we can see that Sukkot is not only a time of joy for God’s blessings. It is a time to affirm our belief in one true God. Catholics don’t celebrate Sukkot but we have our version of the shaking of the four plants (lulav, etrog, hadass and aravah) during Sukkot. On Palm Sunday, we shake palms to remember Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and into our lives as our savior and our one God.
For Reflection and Discussion:  What is your favorite festival/celebration to honor our one true God? Why is this your favorite?  What are ways to make us constantly renewed in our belief in one God?