This week’s Torah portion is a special one for the Shabbat that falls during the week of Sukkot. We leave Deuteronomy with just one Torah portion left to go and go back to Exodus Chapter 33. On Sunday night for Simchas Torah, we will finish up Deuteronomy and then start the Torah again with Genesis.
But today we read a portion from Exodus – a greatest hits Torah portion of sorts. In these few passages we have all of the following:
- Moses asks God to let him see God’s face. God says to Moses, “that would kill you but I can let you see my back as my presence passes by you”
- God writes the commandments on the second set of tablets.
- God proclaims his covenant with us saying “I hereby make a covenant”
- We get the quote (see if you recognize this from our liturgy) – “the Lord is a compassionate God, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the 1000th generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin” and the rest of the statement which is not included in our liturgy – “Yet He does not remit all punishment but visits the iniquity of the fathers upon children and children’s children upon the 3rd and 4th generation”
Also in this portion…
- We are commanded not to worship any other gods or make molten gods for ourselves.
- We are told to keep the Sabbath, ceasing from labor even at plowing time and harvest time (ie, those times when we are the busiest)
- And the last sentence states “you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” which is where we get the idea that eating dairy and meat together is not kosher.
So like I said, greatest hits!
- But I assume the main reason we read this portion on this special Shabbat during Sukkot, is that it is in this portion that we are told to observe the 3 festivals – Passover, Shavuot and (da da da daaa) Sukkot
So let’s talk about Sukkot. Jack tells me that when he was a kid growing up at Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Grafman insisted that the parents take their children out of school and bring them to the 11:00 holiday services on Sukkot. Growing up at Touro Synagogue in New Orleans I thought a Sukkah was just a decoration for the pulpit that you hung fruit on and I believe that it was the same at Emanu-El back then whereas now we have both the decorative sukkah inside and a real sukkah outside (and so does Touro by the way). The sukkah is meant to be a temporary structure outdoors, open to the elements where we are to “dwell” for the week of Sukkot. It was not until Jack’s and my children were in elementary school that I ever remember being in a “real” sukkah outside. And now I have some great memories of the sukkah that Jack built in our backyard with an easy(ish) kit and that the girls helped to decorate. At Rabbi Miller’s suggestion we added the little white Christmas tree lights to make it really magical. We would have dinners out there the week of Sukkot when the weather and our schedules allowed. It was exciting, special and fun. Especially fun was the annual Sukkah hop that the Day School did as a field trip. I am sure it was a logistical nightmare for the school, but each class would visit 3 sukkahs of either classmates or community members. They would do an activity and enjoy a snack at each home and then load up in the cars and go to the next one. I don’t remember whether I hosted only a couple of years or many but it was fun coming up with creative 15 minute activities that my kids’ classmates would enjoy. I tend to think of Judaism as cerebral what with all the Torah study and I love that, but I also love that there is this whole experiential side to it as well. Eating in a sukkah reminds us that when we were freed from Egypt we travelled in the dessert for 40 years, living in temporary structures. Eating in a sukkah reminds us of how fragile the physical things (including us humans) can be. And mostly eating in a sukkah reminds us to enjoy nature and loved ones and life! We haven’t built our Sukkah since the kids have grown up and away – Jack’s says it is too much trouble for just the 2 of us but maybe next year I’ll pull it out of the attic myself and put it together for just the two of us – so we can be reminded.