Contrasting Commandments

Each year the stark contrast between the inward focus of Yom Kippur and the outward thrust of Sukkot speaks to my soul in a louder voice.

Yom Kippur is all about quiet and contemplation. Sukkot is about building and action.

Yom Kippur asks us to look at ourselves. Sukkot asks us to look at the world.

Tradition teaches that after we rise from our Yom Kippur introspection and eat a bit, we should go outside and hammer the first nail in our sukkah.

The sukkah represents the frail huts where our ancestors lived on their 40-year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. They also symbolize the temporary huts that farm workers lived in while bringing in the harvest from the fields.

For us who are neither nomads nor farmers the sukkah takes on different meanings.

Sitting in a sukkah, we are at the mercy of the sun’s heat, the wind’s chill and the rain’s wetness. These are temporary conditions for us, and we can retreat to our homes if we become uncomfortable. But so many in the world live without means to escape these elements.

Our tradition demands that we help them.

Sukkot celebrates the harvest.

  • But our celebration is vain unless it sharpens our concern for those who have no harvest. In the United States one in six people faces hunger.
  • Our celebration is an abomination if we ignore the wretched conditions and wages of those who bring food from fields and factories to our tables.

Our Torah teaches we must leave the corners of our field for the poor and needy (Leviticus 19:9-10). We also learn: God commands us to “open our hands wide for… your poor and your needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)

The text does not say the poor and the needy but YOUR poor and YOUR needy. The poor and needy are OUR problem and OUR responsibility.

 Each of us has different talents and different capabilities. None of us can do everything but each of us can do something.

Contrasting Commandments

          Yom Kippur commands us to contemplate how we can make the world better.

          Sukkot commands us to do it.


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