Echoes of Eden
Rabbi Ari Kahn
1. of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.
noun (plural limens or limina |ˈlimənə| ) Psychology
a threshold below which a stimulus is not perceived or is not distinguished from another.
ORIGIN -mid 17th century: from Latin, ‘threshold.’
One of the qualities of the post-modern world in which we live is the constant
state of flux: Things move rapidly. People and ideas change. Old accepted
concepts are challenged, rejected, transformed and reinterpreted. Sacred cows
are slaughtered, or perhaps set free. It is a world in which boundaries have
disappeared. Social scientists might describe our postmodern existence as a
state of constant liminality: We are consciously, constantly, on the threshold of
a new reality.
The term liminality was first used in the study of anthropology to describe
movement between stages, the crossing of a threshold (a limen). While
“preliminary” or “subliminal” have entered into popular discourse, “liminality”
remains the property of the rarefied strata of the social sciences. As boundaries
disappear, the limen changes; the constant redefinition of borders is a defining
feature of postmodernism.
What does all this have to do with our religious experience, or the experience
of the holidays? In Transforming Worship, author Timothy L. Carson includes
a chapter entitled “Betwixt and Between, Worship and Liminal Reality,” in
which he describes Yaakov’s vision of the ladder ascending to heaven as
follows (p. 61): “Jacob’s dream floats somewhere in the sacred axis between
heaven and earth.” While much of Carson’s analysis would be foreign to the
traditional Jew, his observation of the liminality of the scene in which Yaakov,
Echoes of Eden 2
in a dream state, observes a passage from earth to heaven and back again, is
an important insight. What Carson fails to observe is the decidedly non-liminal
conclusion of the scene: We as readers, and Yaakov himself, take away from
the vision a decidedly different sort of message, recasting the vision into what
can only be described as a preliminal state of consciousness.
Indeed, Yaakov/Yisrael - as the individual representative of the future nation
that will bear his name - lives in a preliminal state. The land promised to him
never quite becomes his; only in the future will his descendants inherit and
inhabit the land. The vision of the ladder, the threshold between the physical
world and the higher spiritual world, is an expression of the liminal; the lesson
he learns from it for his own life is distinctly preliminal. He understands that
the challenges he will face are precursors of a very different reality that he
himself will not experience. His task is to lay the groundwork, but he
personally will not cross the threshold.
Upon awaking from the dream state, Yaakov concludes that the ground
beneath him is holy and that on this very spot he must build a structure, one
with tangible, physical boundaries: He must build a temple.
“Let this stone that I have set up as a pillar become a temple to God. Of
all that You give me, I will set aside a tenth to You.'” (Bereishit 28:22)
As Moshe prepares to take his leave from the nation, they stand poised to cross
the threshold into a completely new reality as a nation in its own land. As they
prepare to actualize the promise made to their forefathers and to inherit the
Land of Israel, Moshe’s description of the nation, specifically as descendants
of Yaakov and in contrast to all other nations of the world, are instructive:
When the Most High gave nations their homes and set the divisions of
man, He fixed the boundaries of peoples to parallel the number of
Israel's descendants. For God’s portion is His people, Yaakov His own
allotment. He brought them into being in a desert region, in a desolate,
howling wasteland. He encompassed them and granted them wisdom,
protecting them as the pupil of His eye. (Devarim 32:8-10)
Echoes of Eden 3
While the section is highly poetic and sometimes difficult to penetrate, some
of the elements are clear: Moshe’s speech begins with what we may call
spiritual geopolitics: God created clearly defined borders for the nations of the
world, affording each its own space – but this overarching division reflects
something that is particular to the descendants of Yaakov. In Bereishit (Chapter
46), the Torah tells us that the sum total of Yaakov’s family that migrated to
Egypt during the great famine was 70. Corresponding to this number, Jewish
tradition refers to the totality of humankind as “the 70 nations of the world,”
all descended from Noah after the flood (Bereishit Chapter 11). The peoples of
the world were divided, both linguistically, culturally and geographically,
when they misused their unity to rebel against God in the aftermath of the great
We should note that the substance of that rebellion was the construction of a
tower in the valley of Shinar, with which the rebels hoped to wage a war
against the heavens. Significantly, the tower is described in terms very similar
to those used to describe the ladder in Yaakov’s vision: Its head reached the
sky (Bereishit 11:4). The tower represented a monolithic unity, a unity that did
not tolerate individuality. The descendants of Noah chose to wage a battle
against God; they sought to replace the God who had brought about
the holocaust and destruction of the flood, and they allowed no individual
dissent. In response, God dispersed them, creating obstacles that would
differentiate for all time between the various branches of the family of man.
In contrast, Moshe refers to the Jewish People as Yaakov (D’varim 32:9), and
the foundational experience of Jewish nationhood is depicted in a desolate
wilderness, a place without borders, in which they are surrounded by God
alone. The Torah describes the Jews being “encompassed,” and the
commentaries understand that this was the Divine protection afforded by the
Clouds of Glory.
In commemoration of these clouds, and of this experience of God’s protection
and the love with which he enveloped us in the wilderness, the holiday of
Sukkot was instituted. The sukkah is a modest structure, with no real
boundaries. The walls may be made of wood, fabric, or even bits of string.
The sukkah is a halachic construct, a philosophical construct, if you will;
therefore, the walls need not be “real” barriers of brick and mortar. A set of
Echoes of Eden 4
strings tied three handbreadths apart is enough to create a theoretical wall
according to halachah, and that is enough to make a sukkah “kosher.”
Perhaps the sukkah is the antithesis of the postmodern state of liminality: We
are commanded to create boundaries, to mark off both physical and
philosophical borders. There are absolutes, and we are commanded to
acknowledge and respect them. Common wisdom understands that children
need rules in order to thrive and to make sense of the world around them; this
is no less true of adults. We need borders and boundaries. Not everything is
negotiable, subject to subjective reinterpretation. Things need firmness. The
postmodern rejection of historical fact in favor of subjective narrative flies in
the face of truth, and of Torah.
How appropriate that on the holiday of Sukkot, as we celebrate the Divine
protection given to the Jewish people in the desert, we respond to God’s
kindness by not only building the sukkah, but by bringing precisely 70
sacrificial offerings – in the name of the entire family of man, the 70 nations
that were demarcated and dispersed after the failed rebellion of the tower.
While good fences make neighbors and we are commanded again and again
to be mindful of the boundaries between our nation and the nations that
surround us, we are also commanded to remember the neighbors on the other
side of the fence – as well as the brothers and sisters that share the holy space
within the fence. Yes, Jews create boundaries; yes, these boundaries can and
do lead to “otherness.” As Jews, we live in a world of absolutes, yet we are
commanded by the same Torah that creates the boundaries never to forget that
we are part of a larger world. We have Torah-mandated responsibility for those
within the camp, as well as for those who remain beyond the philosophical
and physical borders we construct.
For more see:
Echoes of Eden 5
Echoes of Eden
SUKKOT - A UNIVERSAL HOLIDAY?
Rabbi Ari Kahn
The Talmud relates that in the future, when the nations of the world will
complain about the preferential status enjoyed by the Jews, God will explain
that the Jews are the "Chosen People," because they alone are the "choosing
people," so to speak; they alone accepted the burden of
the commandments, and chose to follow God's law.
The nations will then plead, ‘Offer us the Torah anew and we will follow
it.’ ‘You foolish people,’ God will answer, ‘he who prepares on the Eve
of Shabbat can eat on Shabbat, but he who made no preparations, what
can he eat? Nevertheless, I have an easy commandment called sukkah,
go and fulfill it….’ Why is it called an easy commandment? Because it
has no expense. Immediately each one will build a sukkah on his roof
but God will cause the sun to blaze as if it were the summer solstice.
Each one will then kick his sukkah, and leave… Thereupon God will
laugh, as it is said, [Tehilim 2:4] “He that sits in heaven and laughs.”
(Talmud Bavli, Avoda Zara 3a)
Although this passage has many difficult elements, one of its main themes is of
particular interest at this time of year: Non-Jews will be unable to keep the
commandment of sukkah. This is a very strange idea, particularly because
Sukkot, the festival also known as Tabernacles, is considered the most
universal of all the holidays. The Talmud (Talmud Bavli, Sukkah 55b) teaches:
Rabbi Eliezer (another tradition reports “Elazar”) said, ‘Why are 70
offerings brought on Sukkot? For the (merit of the) 70 nations of the
Echoes of Eden 6
Rashi: To bring forgiveness for them (the 70 nations), so that rain shall
fall all over the world.
The sages stressed that Sukkot has a universal element that is glaringly absent
in the other festivals: Pesach celebrates the exodus from Egypt and the
emergence of the Jewish nation. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah,
specifically to the Jewish People. It seems paradoxical, then, to find an
expression of the inability of the nations of the world to relate to God
specifically in the context of Sukkot. We may theorize that specifically
on Sukkot, when the Jews concern themselves with the welfare of the entire
world, the other nations are expected to respond, and to relate to God directly.
There is, however, another passage which makes this approach untenable.
And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations who
came up against Jerusalem, shall go up from year to year to worship the
King, the God of Hosts, and to keep the holiday of Sukkot. And whoever
does not come… to Jerusalem, ...upon them there will be no rain.
This passage, from the prophecy of Zecharya, describes the aftermath of the
apocalyptic battles that herald the messianic age, when the vanquished nations
will celebrate Sukkot. How, then, can the Talmud suggest that the nations of
the world will be given the commandment of Sukkot, but fail to fulfill this
“easy” commandment? This Talmudic teaching seems to contradict the
prophecy of Zecharya which describes their successful adherence to this
precept in the future. While the Talmud contains many explanations of biblical
teachings, the Talmud does not, as a rule, contradict biblical prophecy. Our
question, then, is quite simple: How can the Talmud state that in the future the
nations of the world will be unable to keep Sukkot, when the Prophet Zecharya
tells us that they will, in fact, celebrate Sukkot?
In the resolution of this apparent contradiction lies the essence of Sukkot.
There are two distinct aspects to the holiday of Sukkot, represented by two
commandments in the Torah:
Echoes of Eden 7
On the 15th
of the 7th
month, when you have gathered the fruit of the
land, you shall keep a feast to the Almighty seven days… And you shall
take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a hadar (etrog), branches
of palm trees, aravot and haddasim, and you shall rejoice before your
God seven days. And you shall keep it as a holiday seven days a year, it
shall be a statute forever to celebrate. You shall sit in booths (sukkot)
seven days, every citizen of Israel shall sit in the sukkot. In order to
inform all generations that the Children of Israel dwelled in sukkot when
I liberated them from Egypt. (Vayikra 23:39-43)
In this passage, we are given two distinct commandments: We are to take the
four species and rejoice with them, and we are to sit in sukkot. The mitzvah of
the four species is linked with “gathering the fruit of the land,” while sitting in
the sukkah is a commemoration of a specific time in our national history,
during the exodus from Egypt. The four species is an expression of the
agricultural aspect of the holiday, which is universal, whereas
the sukkah expresses our own unique national history, and is therefore
particular to the Jews.
Sukkot in Jerusalem
The relationship between the gathering of the fruit and the four species seems
clear: After gathering the harvest from the fields, we collect these four species,
and use them as a visual aid for prayer over the course of the festival: We thank
God for the produce we have just harvested, and implore him to continue to
sustain us with generous rainfall and economic security over the coming year.
Rabbinic tradition teaches us that God allocates the world’s supply of water
for the coming year on Sukkot:
On Chag (Sukkot) we are judged regarding water. (Talmud Bavli, Rosh
Echoes of Eden 8
In fact, much of the celebration in Jerusalem on Sukkot was connected to
water, including the Simchat Beit HaShoeva ceremony, of which the Mishna
“Whoever did not see the Simchat Beit HaShoeva never saw real joy in
their life.” (Sukkah, 5:1)
The commandment to take the four species speaks of rejoicing before God,
referring to the Temple in Jerusalem. Sukkot was uniquely celebrated in
Jerusalem: Armed with the four species, the Jews would make a pilgrimage to
the Temple and pray for plentiful rainfall in the coming year.
Clouds or tents?
What, however, is the meaning of the other aspect of the festival, in which we
are commanded to sit in sukkot? What do these booths symbolize? The Talmud
records two opinions: According to Rabbi Eliezer, the sukkot we build are a
representation of the Clouds of Glory with which God protected the Israelites
in the wilderness. Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, was of the opinion that
when the Jews were liberated from Egypt, they dwelt in
actual sukkot, booths not unlike those we build today. Both opinions agree that
the sukkot signify the special relationship between the Jewish People and the
Almighty; the difference between the opinions lies in respect to the historical
reality. Were we protected metaphysically, by a cloud, or were we protected
by a physical construct- actual huts, sukkot?
This difference of opinion is unresolved; either way, we celebrate
the festival, and the unique, loving relationship that lies at its heart, by
building sukkot. We remember that the Jews ventured into the wilderness,
vulnerable to the elements, putting their faith in God. This is what we
commemorate today, and it is a central part of the fulfillment of the mitzvah
of sukkah to teach our children the lessons
of ahavat Hashem and emunah (love of God and faith) that this holiday
expresses. This is the essence of Sukkot: The Jew leaves the comfort of his home
Echoes of Eden 9
and turns this little hut, this makeshift dwelling, into his place of residence for
the duration of the festival. This serves as a reminder of the temporary nature
of our existence, helping us focus on the proper balance between the physical
and the spiritual aspects of our lives. Most importantly, the sukkah is an
expression of our trust in God - the trust that we had in the desert and the trust,
it is hoped, we have today.
Now, perhaps we can resolve the inconsistencies in our Talmudic passage.
There are two sides to the Festival of Sukkot: On the one hand, we pray for
physical sustenance, for the plentiful rains and bountiful harvests that are a
universal human need. Our physical needs are quite real, and nothing is as
representative of these needs as rain; in fact, the Hebrew word for rain,
“geshem,” is at the very root of the Hebrew word for physical reality,
“gashmiyut.” For this very reason, we pray for rain specifically on Sukkot:
Whereas on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we pray for life itself, on Sukkot
we pray for quality of life. We pray for the success of our economic
undertakings; we pray for rain. On the other hand, we reject our physical
comfort, and, in testimony to our special relationship of love and faith in God,
we leave our physical needs behind. We remind ourselves that the source of
our sustenance is beyond our physical realm, beyond our own human
accomplishments or capabilities. The source of rain, the source
of geshem, God Himself, is represented by the Clouds of Glory that protected
and sustained us in our early history as a nation.
With dialectical elegance, a synthesis is created: We are commanded to leave
our homes, the physical anchor of our lives, and to enter a home under the
clouds, protected by our trust in God. Our physical existence is brought into
sharp contrast with our spiritual life, and the two aspects of Sukkot co-exist.
Now we may return to our original question: Will the nations of the world be
capable of observing the holiday of Sukkot? Surely, the answer must consider
each aspect of the holiday independently. The passage in Zecharya that spoke
of observance by non-Jews of Sukkot stressed that they would do so in
Jerusalem -“before God.” The aspect of Sukkot that finds unique expression in
Echoes of Eden 10
Jerusalem is the universal aspect of thanksgiving and the prayer for rain. In fact,
the prophet Zecharya made this very clear: “And whoever does not come… to
Jerusalem ... upon them there will be no rain.” The focus of the pilgrimage to
Jerusalem and the joyous prayers there was the physical, agricultural – and
therefore universal - aspect of Sukkot, the blessing for rain. This aspect of
Sukkot surely can be fulfilled by Jews and non-Jews alike: It is pragmatic. In
essence, it is a recognition of cause and effect. The nations of the world will
have no trouble performing this type of service.
However, the other aspect of Sukkot, the building of the sukkah, what the
Talmud called a “simple Mitzvah,” is what the non-Jewish, and certainly the
pagan religious experience, finds so foreign. Here there is no pragmatism, only
trust, faith -- and love.
Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says God, I remember
in your favor the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, when you
followed me into the wilderness, into land that was not sown.’
The sukkah is testimony to that love. Simply being “with God,” quite literally
leaving our “comfort zone,” stepping away from our physical existence, even
if only to a small degree, is a concept that is foreign to the pagan mindset.
Pagan practice centers around commandments that are far more “difficult” to
fulfill - commandments that involve sacrificing something precious in order to
find favor with the gods. Conversely, the Talmudic passage with which we
began reports that God offers them “a simple mitzvah,” an “easy mitzvah.” God
asks for no sacrifice, no pain, no price to be paid. To the pagan mind, this type
of commandment is bewildering: What is a God who asks for nothing?
This same Talmudic passage points out the contrast between the Jewish and
But does not Rabba say whoever is uncomfortable is freed of the
obligation of sukkah? (Talmud Bavli, Avoda Zara 3b)
Echoes of Eden 11
A fundamental principle in the laws of sukkah is that anyone who is extremely
uncomfortable in the sukkah is exempt; therefore, the non-Jews who find
themselves in a hot Sukkah are, technically, exempt from sitting in it. This is
even more perplexing for the pagan mind: If a god asks for something difficult,
are you exempt? The response of the non-Jews is to kick down the sukkah, as
if to say, “Enough is enough. How can man be expected to relate to such a
This aspect of the festival is a uniquely Jewish experience: When we sit in
the sukkah, we are living with God, remembering the days of our youth when
we followed God like a lovesick bride - unquestioning, accepting,
trusting. This aspect of Sukkot cannot be enjoyed by the non-Jews who will,
in Messianic times, seek equal treatment; they did not take that leap of faith.
They did not make that unconditional commitment. They did not build or
maintain that unique relationship; therefore, they are spiritually incapable of
enjoying the sukkah, which is the physical manifestation of that
relationship. To our great joy and pleasure, we are invited to enjoy this unique
and exclusive relationship with God each year, on the occasion of Sukkot.
This essay is an excerpt from my book Emanations
Echoes of Eden 12
Echoes of Eden
Out of the Comfort Zone
Rabbi Ari Kahn
The month of Tishrei is best known for the High Holidays, the "Days of Awe"
characterized by extensive introspection and prayer.
There is another holiday, a more outwardly joyful occasion which follows the
more solemn Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On multiple occasions in the
Torah, this holiday enjoys the distinction of being called the archetype “time
of joy." This is the holiday of Sukkot.
What is special about this holiday? After being judged for life and death on
Yom Kippur, on Sukkot we take the four species and, holding these, we pray
for rain and the quality of life. The simple message is unmistakable – we want
our lives to be comfortable, fruitful and rich.
On the other hand, Sukkot is a time when we leave the comfort of home to go
reside in a temporary shack – a dwelling known as a sukkah. In the words of
the Talmud (Sukkah 26a), we “dwell” in this shack as if it were our home. Thus
it is Jewish practice to have one's meals in the sukkah. Those who are
particularly fastidious also read, study, entertain and even sleep in the sukkah.
The sukkah reminds us how, when the Jewish people left Egypt, we dwelled in
"You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are citizens of Israel shall
dwell in booths. So that your generations may know that I made the
children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land
of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 23:42-43)
Echoes of Eden 13
The Talmud (Sukkah 11b) explains that this verse refers not only to physical
huts, but also to the protective Clouds of Glory which God lovingly spread out
over the Israelite encampment to protect the people during their travels.
Love and Joy
This tender act can be better understood within the context of the description
of the Exodus found in the Prophets. The leaving of Egypt is described the book
of Jeremiah in romantic terms; the prophet is told by God that He recalls the
dedication of the Jews, who like a damsel in distress where saved by God in
Egypt, then as a love-sick bride the Jewish people followed God into the desert
where we lived in these tents:
"Go and call in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: Thus says God: ‘I remember
for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials; how you
went after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.’" (Jeremiah
The joy of Sukkot is to some extant a celebration of that love. We may leave
our "permanent" homes, but when we enter the sukkah we enter an abode that
is protected by God directly, and all the illusions of our man-made edifices,
which bring so many of us comfort – or angst when they are threatened – are
placed aside and put into perspective. We focus on that which really brings
stability in our lives: God.
It is a journey reminiscent of the Israelites leaving the only place they knew as
home, and then venturing into the unknown, foreboding desert. Ironically,
their former homes were a place of slavery and constriction; the Hebrew word
for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which has the root of tzar – constricted.
Nonetheless there is a high degree of comfort in a home – any home – even
one when you are being held back spiritually and abused physically. Even in
such a home people often feel comfort and find it preferential to the unknown.
Unfortunately, there are times that people do not have the inner strength to
leave these abusive relationships. With self-esteem in shatters, the victim
Echoes of Eden 14
believes that this home is theirs and their plight is deserved. Just as this can
happen to an individual, it can happen to a nation.
God took the Jews by the hand and told us that neither we, nor anyone else,
deserve such treatment. Numerous times in the Torah when treatment of the
poor, weak or disenfranchised is mentioned, the mandate is accompanied with
a frame of reference: "remember when you were slaves in Egypt."
God told us that we were desirable, that we are important, and that He wanted
us to run away with Him. The Jews took a "leap of faith" and went with God
into the unknown.
On Sukkot, the very time we pray for quality of life, rain and substance, we
balance these prayers with what looks like an illogical gesture – we leave the
very comfort we pray for and enter into a place with weak walls and a porous
roof. We enter a place where we can more acutely understand that what we
really need in life is not material possessions (as handy as they are). Tevye was
right when he said there is no sin in being rich.
But what we need is love and meaning. The sukkah reminds us that God loves
us – and that generates an incredible amount of meaning in our lives. One can
view the Sukkah as a marriage canopy, which on the one hand is a very weak
structure, but on the other hand represents one of – if not the strongest –
element in our lives.
In antiquity, the love of God toward man was felt in by the protective clouds.
Today it can be felt when we enter the sukkah. We dwell in the sukkah for
seven days and recall that love. The result is the experience of joy which is
unmatched by any other holiday. Thus, the Torah describes Sukkot purely as
the “Holiday of Joy.”
Echoes of Eden 15
Echoes of Eden
Parshat Ha’azinu- Sukkot
Rabbi Ari Kahn
While the overwhelming majority of the Torah is made up of either narrative
or law, a small percentage of the Torah is poetry or song. One such poetic
section is found in the penultimate parsha, Ha’azinu: As Moshe prepares to
take leave of his beloved nation, he breaks into song. And although the form
of Moshe's words to the nation may be less than typical, certain elements of
the content of this parsha are quite familiar, continuing themes that recur
throughout the Torah, and in the Book of Devarim in particular: Moshe gives
a very frank accounting of the shortcomings of the Children of Israel, and
tries to inspire them to follow the Word of God. He then offers a more
personal insight: As Moshe stands with the people at the verge of the Land of
Israel, from which he is personally barred, he allows his flock, and all of the
future generations of the nation, a glimpse into his inner thoughts. Despite
what others may perceive as an unjust punishment, an overly strict
punishment, Moshe declares:
He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice; a faithful
God without wrong, just and right is He. D’varim 32:4.
This, from the mouth of a man who has given his entire life in service of one
goal, only to denied the enjoyment of seeing it come to fruition!
Moshe then turns his attention to the larger picture. He addresses the nation
as a whole, and its place among the family of nations. Whereas the Book of
D'varim does not lack repeated warnings against idolatry and the dangers
presented by the undue familiarity with the surrounding cultures, Parshat
Echoes of Eden 16
Ha'azinu offers a somewhat unique perspective. Here, Moshe compares and
contrasts the Jews with the other nations of the world, and the lessons we
learn from this comparison are fascinating. First, Moshe teaches of an
intrinsic relationship between the Jewish nation and the other nations of the
()חֵלחְנַהְבְּיוֹןלֶעִםיגּוֹידוֹ ְִרפַהְבֵּינְבּםָאָדֵבצַּיֹֻלתבְגִּיםמַּעַרפְּסִמְלֵינְבּ:לֵא ָרְשִׂי
When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he
set apart the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according
to the number of the people of Israel. D’varim 32:8
This verse hearkens back to the Book of Bereishit. After the flood, in the
aftermath of the Tower of Babel debacle, seventy descendents of Noach were
dispersed throughout the world, divided into distinct nations, each with a
distinct language and culture; these seventy nations spread and multiplied,
and populated the world. 1
According to Jewish tradition, these seventy
nations represent the totality of human civilization. Thus, when the Torah
commands that seventy offerings are to be brought in the Temple on the
Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), the Talmud explains that these offerings are
brought on behalf of the seventy nations of the world, representing a
universal gesture on the part of the Jewish people.2
This is Rashi's frame of reference when elucidating the verse in Ha'azinu:
When the nations of the world rebelled against God, destruction could
have been the punishment, instead God dispersed the nations and
created borders (and therefore separate) regimes, and did not destroy
them. Rashi D’varim 32:8
See Bereishit 10:32.
See Talmud Bavli Sukkah 55b: "R. Eleazar stated, To what do those seventy bullocks [that were offered
during the seven days of the Festival] correspond? To the seventy nations."
Echoes of Eden 17
Moshe places the Jewish People within the family on nations, but goes on to
pinpoint Israel's unique position within that larger context:
For the number of the Children of Israel who would descend in the
future from Shem, and the seventy souls of the Children of Israel who
went down to Egypt, He created borders of nations of seventy
languages. Rashi D’varim 32:8
Rashi points out a parallel which might otherwise have been overlooked:
When the children of Yaakov went down to Egypt, the family numbered
seventy people. This was the beginning of our particular nation, a unique
entity within the family of nations.
)(כזֵינְבוֵּףסיוֹרֶשֲׁאַדלֻּילוִֹםי ְַרצִמְבֶשׁפֶנִםיָנְשָׁלכֶּשׁפֶנַּהֵיתבְלֹבֲקעַיָאָהבַּההָמְי ְַרצִמ:ִיםעְבִשׁפ
And the sons of Yosef, who were born to him in Egypt, were two souls;
all the souls of the House of Yaakov who came to Egypt were seventy.
The relationship goes far beyond a numerical coincidence or a scriptural
oddity; apparently, the role to be fulfilled by the Jewish Nation, the destiny of
the House of Yaakov, is somehow linked to the seventy nations. This is an
underlying principle, which Rashi emphasizes in his brief comments on our
verse: God's relationship with the Jewish People is two-tiered. On the one
hand, the Children of Israel enjoy a unique, exclusive relationship with God:
For God’s portion is His People; Yaakov is the khevel (see the
discussion below for a definition of this word) of his inheritance.
The Nation of Israel, uniquely, is called "God’s inheritance". On the other
hand, the Jews are members of the larger community – and not merely
Echoes of Eden 18
members, but members whose mandate is to repair the damage caused by
the other members, to uplift and purify what the other nations corrupted.
The word khevel has several different meanings. Based on the context of this
verse, and in light of the verse immediately preceding this one which
discussed borders, the word khevel here would mean portion, lot, or parcel
of land. Yet Rashi chooses an alternate definition of this word, which is
seemingly disconnected from the context.
ט פסוק לב פרק דברים על רש"י
Why all this? Because His share was hidden among them and destined
to emerge. And who is His share? His People. And who is His People?
Yaakov, the khevel of his possession. And he (Yaakov) is the third of the
Patriarchs who is tripled with three merits: the merit of his father's
father, the merit of his father, and his own merit. There you have three,
like this rope which is made of three strands. Rashi D’varim 32:9
In this verse, Rashi renders the word khevel as 'rope': a rope formed by
three strands, whose combined strength is not easily broken.3
of the khevel forces us to leave behind the earthly sphere, parcels of land or
inheritance. Rashi prefers a more spiritual meaning, perhaps taking his cues
from the poetic framework. With this definition of khevel, our three
Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are drawn into the verse: The
merger of the attributes of our Three Forefathers creates a spiritual bond
between the Jewish People with God. Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are
each one strand of the spiritual rope that connects us to God.
The idea appears in the Midrash, in a very significant context:
See Kohelet 4:12
ד פרק קהלת
):קֵָתנִּי ה ֵָרהְמִב ֹלא ָשׁלֻּשְׁמַה ַחוּטהְו ְדּוֹגֶנ דוְּמַעַי ִםיַנְשַּׁה ָדחֶאָה פוְֹקְִתי םִאְו (יב
Echoes of Eden 19
AND HE DREAMED, AND BEHOLD A LADDER…Shalmoni said in the
name of Resh Lakish: He showed him a throne of three legs. R. Joshua of
Siknin said in R. Levi's name: [God said to Yaakov]: You are the third
leg. That, indeed, is the view of R. Joshua (quoted) in R. Levi's name,
who said: 'For God’s portion is His People; Yaakov is the khevel of his
inheritance.' (D’varim 32:9): as a cord cannot be woven of less than three
strands [so there were not less than three Patriarchs]. Bereishit Rabba
The image of the three-corded rope is paralleled by the image of the three-
legged throne: Our spiritual stability, the durability of our relationship with
God, is impossible without the combined strengths of our three Forefathers.
Yaakov's vision of the ladder is a vision the ongoing relationship with God,
the possibility of dialogue with the Almighty – a dialogue made possible by
the combination of spiritual qualities contributed by each of the Forefathers
to the "spiritual DNA" of the Jewish People. Elsewhere, the Midrash expresses
a similar idea, using different imagery: The Avot are depicted as a merkava
(chariot), a spiritual conduit to heaven.
And God went up from him: R. Simeon b. Lakish said: The Patriarchs
are [God's] chariot, for it says, 'And God went up from upon Avraham
(Bereishit 17, 22); "And God went up from upon him"; Bereishit Rabba
While we might lose ourselves in the wealth of images and visions, Rabbi
Avraham Ben Ya’akov in his Tz'ror Hamor helps us to understand that in fact,
all of these Midrashic sources refer to the same idea, the same power to
which Rashi alludes when he defines khevel in this particular way: The rope
in Ha'azinu which describes our unique relationship with God is the same
rope of which Yaakov's ladder is made, and the images of the three-legged
Echoes of Eden 20
throne and the chariot describe this same phenomenon:4
God's love for our
three Patriarchs. The ladder, poised between heaven and earth; the fiery
merkava which enables mortal man to grasp some measure of the spiritual
world beyond; the image of the Throne of Glory – all are manifestations of
God's love for His People, and it is this love that enables man to relate to and
reach heaven. The Tzror Hamor quotes an additional verse that brings these
images into focus:
ֵילְבַחְבּםָאָדֵםכְשְׁמֶאֹתוֹת ֲבעַבָּהבֲהאֶַהיְהֶאָוֶםהָלֵימי ִרְמִכֹּל עַלעֶםהֵיחְלְאַטוָיולֵא:ִילכאוֹ
I swaddle them and draw them to me with human cords, with bands of
love; and I am to them like a parent who lifts up an infant and holds
him to the breast and patiently feeds him. Hoshea 11:4
It is precisely in this context that the Tzror HaMor places the Mishkan: It is
because of God's love for the Jewish People that He gives us the opportunity
to build a conduit, to build a ladder with its base on the ground that reaches
up to heaven. Where some commentaries see an expression of human failing,
and believe the Mishkan to be a corrective response to the sin of the Golden
, the Tzror Hamor sees an affirmation of the unique bond between God
and the Children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov: Despite the enormity of
their sin, the connection between the Jews and God is not severed. This
connection is stronger than their sin; like a three-corded rope, the
relationship is multifaceted, deeper and richer than it may appear at any
given moment in history, because it is made up of the combined strands of
spiritual greatness of our three Forefathers. The love between God and
Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov is the source of our relationship with God,
the reason God allows us to approach Him, to come ever closer to Him. This
Rav Abraham ben Rav Jacob Saba was born in Castile, Spain, ca. 1440 -1508 commentary Dvarim chapter
חבלים שלה של כחבל בזכיות משולש שהוא לפי .לו לנחלה שבחר .נחלתו חבל יעקב אבל..ישראל שאם .נחלתו חבל יעקב באומרו רמז וכן .
ב וחברם כאחד וארץ שמים וקשר .לשמים עד הארץ מן ארוך חבל לו שיש כלומר .נחלתו חבל שהוא הקטן יעקב מצד 'בה דבקים.זה חבל
שפירשתי וכמו .אהבה בעבותות אמשכם אדם בחבלי כאומרו .האבות אהבת מצד זה וכל .השמימה מגיע וראשו ארצה מוצב סולם כאומרו
מישראל יפרד שלא השם לאחוז וחבלים עבותות כמו שהם השרשרות וכענין המשכן בעבותות.
See Rashi Sh’mot 31:18
לא פרק שמות רש"י
)אל ויתן (יח'וגו משה-בתמוז עשר בשבעה שהרי ,היה רבים ימים המשכן מלאכת לצווי קודם העגל מעשה .בתורה ומאוחר מוקדם אין
:בניסן באחד והוקם המשכן בנדבת התחילו ולמחרת ,לישראל הקב"ה נתרצה הכפורים וביום ,הלוחות נשתברו
Echoes of Eden 21
love is symbolized, in Bereishit, by the ladder of Yaakov's vision, in the
visions of the Prophets by the Chariot and the Throne, and in Moshe's
farewell song of love – by the image of the khevel that connects God and His
The Mishkan and later the Beit HaMikdash were designed as ongoing,
permanent expressions of this unique bond between God and the Jewish
People. When we remind ourselves of the events leading up to the
construction of the Mishkan, this becomes more clear: At the climactic
moment of our spiritual redemption, as Moshe receives the Torah from God,
the Jewish People commit an unthinkable transgression against God. The
Tablets of the Covenant are smashed at the foot of Mount Sinai, and it
appears that all is lost. Yet God invites Moshe to ascend the mountain again,
on the 1st
of Elul. Forty days later, on a day of forgiveness, a day of love, the
people are given a new set of Tablets. This day would come to be known
throughout history as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, for on that
particular day the Jews were forgiven for their outrageous sin – the Golden
Calf. And immediately after Moshe descends with the Second Tablets, the
Jewish People are given the commandment to build the Mishkan – a physical
manifestation of the unique, eternal relationship, an apparatus to facilitate
closeness with God.
The Vilna Gaon connects the Festival of Sukkot to these same elements - the
sin of the Golden Calf, Yom Kippur, the building of the Mishkan – and the
special love that God has for the Jewish People. Specifically, the Vilna Gaon
addresses a question raised by many of our Sages: Why is Sukkot celebrated
in the fall?6
It is universally accepted that Sukkot commemorates and gives
thanks for the way God protected the Israelites when they left Egypt and
travelled in the desert – spiritual protection with Clouds of Glory, or physical
shelter, huts or booths.7
Why not celebrate this holiday during the time of
See Tur Shulchan Uruch Aruch Hayim section 625
ח אורח טורתרכה סימן סוכה הלכות יים
ניכרת היתה ולא לצל סוכה לעשות אדם כל ודרך הקיץ ימות שהוא לפי הזמן באותו סוכה לעשות צונו לא ניסן בחדש ממצרים שיצאנו ואע"פ
ול מסוכתו לצאת אדם כל ודרך הגשמים זמן שהוא השביעי בחדש שנעשה אותנו צוה ולכן יתברך הבורא במצות שהם בהם עשייתנובביתו ישב
לעשותה עלינו היא המלך שמצות לכל יראה בזה בסוכה לישב הבית מן יוצאין ואנחנו
See Talmud Bavli Sukka 11b, in other rabbinic sources the opinions are inverted.
Echoes of Eden 22
year in which it transpired – like the Exodus itself, in the spring? The Vilna
Gaon explains that the protection of the Clouds of Glory was cancelled when
the Israelites sinned with the Golden Calf. The clouds symbolized the
relationship between God and His People, and when they turned their backs
to God and worshipped the Golden Calf the clouds dissipated. When the
people actively sought out God and began building the Mishkan,
enthusiastically reconstructing their relationship and taking advantage of the
opportunity to come close to God, reaching up to take the hand God lovingly
extended to them, the Clouds returned. This is what we celebrate on Sukkot –
not the clouds themselves, which accompanied us from the start of the
Exodus in the month of Nisan, but the return of the Clouds of Glory that
began after Yom Kippur. We celebrate the healing of the relationship that had
, and rejoice in the knowledge that God's love for the
Jewish People remains.9
See Kol Eliyahu Vayikra 23:43. This idea can be found in a much earlier source, Derashot of R. Joshua Ibn
Shu'ib (1280-1340) in his drasha for the first day of Sukkot.
See the Meshech Chochma Sh’mot 23:16, for a remarkable implication of this teaching.
Echoes of Eden 23
This idea is expressed in the custom of starting to build the sukka immediately
after the completion of the Yom Kippur fast.10
who cites this
custom, explains: God displays his continued love for us by granting us
forgiveness, and we immediately reciprocate by building the sukka – a
of the Mishkan/Beit HaMikdash.13
Love does not
remain unrequited; the gestures of love are mutual. The ties between God and
the Jewish People are bonds of love, and they are mutual: In Moshe's words,
“God’s portion is His People; Yaakov is the khevel of His inheritance."
Sukkot, then, is a celebration of a unique, loving relationship that is founded
on the love between God and our three Forefathers. How appropriate, then,
that we invite our Forefathers into the sukka. The tradition known as ushpizin,
See Rama Shulchan Uruch Aruch Hayim section 624, and 625.
תרכד סימן הכפורים יום הלכות חיים אורח ערוך שולחן
מצ אל ממצוה לצאת כדי ,הסוכה בעשיית י"כ במוצאי מיד מתחילים.(מהרי"ו דברכות פ"ב והג"מ ומנהגים )מהרי"ל וה
תרכה סימן סוכה הלכות חיים אורח ערוך שולחן
.()מהרי"ל (יחמיצנה אל לידו הבאה דמצוה ,כפור יום לאחר מיד הסוכה לתקן ומצוה
See Rabbi Jacob ben Moses Moellin Liquity Maharil Sukkot
With an elegant touch the Maharil cites the practice of his teacher to mark the various walls of the sukka,
the Shla Hakodesh explained the practice -for the holiness of the east is unlike the holiness of the west – just
like the walls of the mishkan.
See Rabbi Jacob ben Moses Moellin Minhagim Maharil Sukkot, Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz Sheni Luchot
Habrit Sukka mitzva daled.
As indicated in the verse in Amos 9:11
יא פסוק ט פרק עמוס
ֹ ַנּה ִידוָדּ ַתכֻּס תֶא יםִקאָ ַהוּאה ַיּוֹםבּ:ָםלעוֹ יֵמִיכּ ָהיִִיתנְבוּ יםִקאָ יוָֹת ס ֲִרהַו ֶןהֵיצ ְִרפּ תֶא יִתּ ְרַָדגְו ֶתלֶפ
In that day I will raise up the sukkat of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches; and I will raise up his
ruins, and I will rebuild it as in the days of old;
Echoes of Eden 24
whom we invoke as we sit in the sukka, connects us back to
the wellsprings of our unique relationship with God.15
The Zohar reports that when the celestial guests are invited Rav Hamnuna would break out in joy and say
“He would then raise his hands in joy and say, Happy is our portion, happy is the portion of Israel, as it is
written, For the God’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot (rope) of his inheritance. D’varim 32:9”. See
Zohar Vayikra 103b
YE SHALL DWELL IN BOOTHS.The word succoth (booths) is written without a vau, to show that there is
one cloud to which all the others are linked. R. Eleazar cited here the verse: Thus saith the Lord, I remember
for thee the kindness of thy youth , etc. (Jer. II, 2). This verse, he said, refers to the Community of Israel at
the time when She went in the wilderness with Israel. The kindness (hesed) is the cloud of Aaron which
carried along with it five others which were linked with thee and shone for thee. The love of thine
espousals: when they adorned and perfected thee like a bird. And all this for what? That thou mightest go
after me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Observe that when a man sits in this abode of the shadow of
faith, the Shekinah spreads her wings over him from above and Abraham and five other righteous ones make
their abode with him. R. Abba said: Abraham and five righteous ones and David with them. Hence it is
written, In booths ye shall dwell seven days, as much as to say, Ye seven days shall dwell in booths, and a
man should rejoice each day of the festival with these guests who abide with him. R. Abba further pointed
out that first it says ye shall dwell and then they shall dwell. The first refers to the guests, and therefore Rab
Hamnuna the Elder, when he entered the booth, used to stand at the door inside and say, Let us invite the
guests and prepare a table, and he used to stand up and greet them, saying, In booths ye shall dwell, O
seven days. Sit, most exalted guests, sit; sit, guests of faith, sit. He would then raise his hands in joy and say,
Happy is our portion, happy is the portion of Israel, as it is written, For the portion of the Lord is his people,
and then he took his seat. The second dwell refers to human beings; for he who has a portion in the holy
land and people sits in the shadow of faith to receive the guests so as to rejoice in this world and the next.
He must also gladden the poor, because the portion of those guests whom he invites must go to the poor.
And if a man sits in the shadow of faith and invites these guests and does not give them their portion, they all
hold aloof from him, saying Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye (Prov. XXIII, 6). That table
which he prepares is his own and not God's. Alas for him when those guests leave his table. R. Abba further
said: Abraham always used to stand at the cross roads to invite guests to his table.
See Rav Tzadduk Hakohen in Pri Zaddik Dvarim Chag Sukkot section 7.
Echoes of Eden 25
From this perspective, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prepare us for the
Festival of Sukkot: in order to be worthy of this unique relationship with God,
in order to be worthy to sit in the sukka and enjoy our special closeness with
Him, we concentrate, on Rosh Hashanah, on the universal truth of God's
kingship over all of Creation. The realization and acceptance of God's sole
dominion over everything enables us to seek His forgiveness on Yom Kippur.
And when He grants forgiveness, in an act of love for which we are unworthy
as individuals but for which we merit because of our Forefathers, we reach
the ultimate stage – Sukkot. We enter the sukka; we are enveloped by God’s
Once again, we delight in heavenly protection. We leave our physical
homes and return to our spiritual home – the sukka, our own small Mishkan.
The seventy offerings brought on Sukkot express our prayer that all of the
seventy nations will find their way home as well.
See Rabbi Jacob ben Moses Moellin Liquity Maharil Sukkot
הסכות לחג דברים מהרי"ל ליקוטי