The Enveloping Light of the Sukkah
The mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah is unique in sanctifying man’s daily routines. The eating and drinking, the chatting, and the sleeping which we do in the Sukkah are elevated and sanctified to the point where they are deemed mitzvoth.
It is specifically on Sukkot that we merit this, because Sukkot is Chag HaAsif (the holiday of in-gathering). This is when both the physical and spiritual in-gathering of the year are completed – the in-gathering of grain and fruit, as well as the in-gathering of all our Torah study and all of our good deeds. Thanks to the repentance and atonement that we undergo during the month of Elul and Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (the ten days of repentance), this in-gathering is innocent and pure, and we can thoroughly enjoy it.
Sukkah and the Land of Israel
In this sense, the mitzvah to live in the Sukkah and the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel are similar (Vilna Ga’on, cited in Kol HaTor 1:7). Both of these mitzvoth envelop us, and we immerse ourselves in their atmosphere of holiness. By doing so, even our mundane activities become sanctified.
By settling the Land, the Jewish people show the world that when life is illuminated by faith and Torah, everything becomes sanctified: eating, drinking, and sleeping; family life and interpersonal relationships; work and craft; business and scientific research.
The Sukkah of Peace
If we gather together all the different types and degrees of goodness, even those which seem to contradict each other, God spreads His Sukkah of peace over us, and the Jewish people stand united and with solidarity. If each positive quality stands alone, there is no unity. But on the holiday of ingathering, when all positive qualities are gathered together, unity appears. Thus our Sages state: “It is appropriate for all Jews to sit in one Sukkah” (Sukkah 27b). Similarly, taking the four species together hints at the variety of Jews who join together on Sukkot.
The Land of Israel unites the entire Jewish people, including all its groups and subgroups; the redemption depends upon this. Therefore, it comes as no great surprise that all the evil in the world has risen up against the Jewish people, which has returned to rebuild its homeland in accordance with God’s word as conveyed by His servants the prophets.
Israel and the Nations of the World
Since Sukkot reveals the sanctity of all spheres of life, the holiday is relevant to non-Jews (who are traditionally referred to as the seventy nations of the world). Accordingly, our Sages state that the seventy bulls which we offered in the Temple over the course of Sukkot were offered on behalf of the seventy nations. (See Peninei Halakha, Laws of Sukkot 1:13.)
Our relationship with non-Jews is complex. Throughout our long history, they often viciously abused us; nevertheless, our basic attitude towards them is positive.
The following two quotes from the Sages illustrate this attitude. The Talmud states, “Woe to the non-Jews, who lost something but do not know what they lost. When the Temple stood, the altar atoned for them. Now who atones for them?!” (Sukkah 55b). According to the Midrash, “The Jews said, ‘Master of the Universe, we offer seventy bulls [for the non-Jews]; they should love us, but they hate us.’ Thus we read in Tehillim 109:4: ‘They answer my love with accusation, but I am all prayer’” (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:24).
Sukkot in the Future
Because Sukkot is the holiday which expresses the connection between Jews and non-Jews, in the future it will be the litmus test for the nations of the world. All who ascend to Jerusalem on Sukkot, to bow before God and to celebrate together with the Jewish people, will merit great blessing. This accords with what Zechariah says about non-Jews: “All who survive of all those nations that came up against Jerusalem shall make a yearly pilgrimage to bow to the King, Lord of Hosts, and to observe the holiday of Sukkot. Any of the earth’s communities that do not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to bow to the King, Lord of Hosts, shall receive no rain. . . It shall be afflicted by the same plague with which the Lord will strike the other nations that do not come up to observe the holiday of Sukkot” (Zechariah 14:16-18).
Attitude Towards Philo-Semitic Christians
In modern times, we have witnessed increased support for Israel among evangelical Christians. Lord Balfour is probably the best-known among them. Thanks to his belief in the Bible, he spearheaded the British decision to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Since the foundation of the State of Israel, the numbers of philo-Semitic evangelicals have increased. They see with their own eyes how the Jewish people is returning to its land after its awful, two-thousand-year-long exile, and is creating a prosperous country. They see new settlements and vineyards flowering in the very areas described by the Bible, and they are excited by our miraculous return to Zion. They are overwhelmed by the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of the prophets of Israel.
However, Jews must deal with the question of how to relate to friendly Christians. For close to two thousand years, Christians have persecuted the Jewish people – murdering, debasing, expelling, or forcibly converting them. How is it that suddenly Christians love us? Furthermore, how do we handle the Rambam’s declaration that Christianity is idolatry?
The Attitude Towards the Jews and the Torah Is the Litmus Test
It would seem that everything depends on their attitude towards the Jewish people and the Torah. The most serious problem we have with Christianity is its denial of God’s choice of the Jewish people and of the eternal relevance of the Torah. Christians have classically believed in supersessionism, maintaining that they have replaced the Jews and that the Torah and its commandments are no longer binding. Because of these beliefs, they caused us a tremendous amount of suffering. Additionally, they did as much as they possibly could to convert Jews to Christianity.
As Rabbi Kook puts it: “The primary poison contained in belief systems which deviate from the Torah, such as Christianity and Islam, is not in their concepts of God, even though they differ from what is correct according to the fundamental light of the Torah. Rather, [the poison] is in what results from them –abrogating the practical mitzvot and extinguishing the [Jewish] nation’s hope regarding its complete renaissance” (Shemonah Kevatzim, Kovetz 1, #32).
Elsewhere, in discussing Jewish attitudes towards different religions, Rabbi Kook states that our goal is not to replace or nullify them, but rather to gradually elevate and correct them, so their dross will disappear. This will inevitably lead [the religions] to return to their Jewish source (Igrot HaRa’ayah, Vol. 1, p. 142). It seems that Christian philo-Semites are undergoing a very impressive process of elevation never previously experienced by Christianity. Therefore, with the appropriate caution, we are spiritually and ethically obligated to relate to this process very positively.
Recently, a troublemaker distributed libelous materials accusing Tommy Waller, an American Christian, of being a missionary. This despite the fact that Tommy has been actively recruiting Christian volunteers for Israel for ten years, and not a single Jew claims that Tommy or any of the thousands of people he has brought here have tried to undermine their faith. Therefore, I feel it is incumbent upon me to speak on his behalf.
Out of an abiding faith in the uniqueness of the Jewish people and in the Divine mission to settle the Land, Tommy has rallied support for Israel from American Congressmen and Senators. The head of the Shomron Regional Council, Mr. Gershon Mesika, told me that Tommy’s activities have been very influential. Each year, through the summer, he organizes groups of Christians who love Israel to volunteer here. As he is a big believer in family values, many of the volunteers come with their entire families, including the young and the elderly. In recent years, at the request of the Regional Council, the Har Bracha settlement has hosted the volunteers on a hilltop near our community. From this base, the volunteers set out to work in vineyards and orchards throughout the Shomron.
Because of our difficult history with Christians, and due to concerns about possible missionizing, I felt it necessary to meet with Tommy. I wanted to have an upfront discussion with him about precisely what his positions were. At the same time, I wanted to convey a Jewish position without kowtowing or obsequiousness.
In the course of our conversation, I asked him: “If a Jew were to come before you and ask you whether it is better to be a Jew or a Christian what would you tell him?” He responded: “I would tell him to be a Jew!” Tommy added that he had not always thought this way. Originally, like other Christians, he was interested in everyone becoming Christian, but eventually he realized that this earlier position was the result of ignorance. Now, following his exposure to the Jewish renaissance in the Land of Israel, he wishes for all Jews to observe the Torah and mitzvoth.
I asked Tommy what led him to dedicate his life to bringing Christian volunteers to Israel. He told me that he read Isaiah 61:5: “Strangers shall stand and pasture your flocks; aliens shall be your plowmen and vine-trimmers.” This greatly moved him, and he said to himself: “Maybe I can be the one who is privileged to fulfill this holy verse!” Ever since then, he has encouraged people to visit Israel and to help Jews work the land.
Every summer Tommy brings hundreds of volunteers, some for a week and some for longer periods. They bring us greetings of peace and friendship from tens of millions of Americans who love us, and when they return home they serve as loyal ambassadors for Israel.
For the Sake of Heaven
When I began to look into this issue a number of years ago, I publicly declared that I would not accept any money for myself or my yeshiva from Christian friends of Israel, so that I could research the subject without a conflict of interest. I also made a statement to that effect in my column about two years ago.
In the meantime, at the initiative of a Jewish go-between, the Har Bracha settlement received such a donation, 120,000 shekels which it used towards building a park that cost over half a million shekels. When I heard about this, I asked the secretary general of Har Bracha to do me a favor and return the money. This was not because I felt there was any halakhic problem with accepting it, but because I wanted our positive attitude towards Christian philo-Semites to be purely for the sake of heaven. The righteous secretary general apologized and said he had not thought I had included the settlement in my commitment. (In truth, while I am the rabbi of the settlement, I cannot make commitments for it.) To my delight, he nevertheless responded positively to my request and returned the entire amount.
Hopes of Redemption
Sometimes I see these honored guests walking on our roads and paths, and I am filled with great love; I am deeply moved and have to hold back tears. How beautiful are these people, who volunteer enthusiastically, crossing oceans and continents to come express their wonderful connection with us. How they shine with joy at being privileged to see the miraculous return to Zion, to walk on holy ground, and to contribute to making the desert bloom. Perhaps they are the pioneers who begin to fulfill the words of the prophecy:
In the end of days, the Mountain of the Lord’s House shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills, and all the nations shall stream towards it. Many peoples shall go and say: “Let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.” For Torah shall come forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge among the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not take up sword against nation, and they shall never again know war (Yeshayahu 2:2-4).
For related articles by Rabbi Melamed, see “Christians Who Love Israel” and “Make His Deeds Known Among the Nations.”