Remember the Chabad jingle, “We Want Mashiach Now?” With the controversy that ensued over whether the Lubavitcher rebbe could be the Mashiach even after his death, we don’t hear too much of it anymore. But if the messianic idea has led some to real excesses in the past, it is also what reminds us of a more idealistic vision, something much too easily forgotten.
For after the Jew soars heavenward over the first ten days of Tishrei, he is ready once again to be reminded of what he hopes for. And this is largely the agenda of the holiday of Sukkot, to focus on our ideals, things that we would like to see happen at the “end of history.”
For the Jew, the quality that most epitomizes the messianic end of history is harmony between Jew and gentile. Not a magical disappearance of anti-Semitism or a complete victory of tolerance-education, but a universal acceptance of God’s moral and spiritual order – an order advanced by helping the Jewish people serve God with intensity and so, serve as a model for all mankind.
Until that time, it is not a wonder that non-Jews resist Jewish claims to spiritual leadership. For starters, it is natural for a person or a nation to not be eager for help from others – it is simply the way of things for all men to want independence.
But another reason that the Jews are not seen to be a spiritual vanguard today is because they don’t present themselves to be one. Part of the reason for this is that all of the terrible persecutions that we have suffered in the long years of exile have left a bad taste in our mouth. Hence it is understandable why we have become a “nation that dwells apart,” in a way that goes much further than it was originally meant. And if this is still often the wiser and more prudent course of action, it does not mean that it should allow us to forget our ideal. It should not allow us to forget that we bear a mission to seek the radical betterment of mankind and not just the Jewish people.
For most of us and certainly for the Jews as a whole, this is something we only are able to realize at Sukkot. For such a state of mind is gradually ushered in by the inspiration of Pesach, by the study of Shavuot and by the introspection and teshuva of the high holy days. In short, it is a state of mind that requires the inner work that the Jewish holidays inspire.
Duly prepared by the other holidays, Sukkot’s particular mitzvot and motifs propel us further towards a more heightened consciousness. Our tangible departure from our physical trappings when we move into the sukkah – as well as the themes of Jewish unity and human solidarity specific to this holiday – push us to transcend our limited selves.
At Sukkot, we meld into the larger reality of God and His creation, which gives us a taste of the messianic consciousness that will one day allow us to truly reach out. When we will fully see ourselves as a part of a greater whole, we will take on a persona that the rest of mankind will be able to truly appreciate, a persona that will no longer be resented. The messianic Jewish leadership will be accepted, because it will no longer come from the outside. Rather, the Jews will be accepted as an integral part of all the nations’ greater self.
Basing himself on the Midrash and on the Zohar, Rav Kook writes that the ultimate song of Israel is when “the song of the self, the song of the nation, the song of man (and) the song of the world all merge in (one) at all times, in every hour” (Orot haKodesh, vol II pp. 444-45). It is this song that we taste at Sukkot, when we metaphorically join together in one dwelling, a dwelling that is open to all of the elements surrounding it. The holy sukkah is a part of the world in a way that our sealed homes are not designed to be. Indeed, when we really reach the festival of Sukkot, we don’t want to protect ourselves under roofs and behind thick walls. Instead, we want to be at one with the rest of creation and feel its crisp winds, its warming heat and even its disturbing chill. At that point, we will feel what it will be like when all the nations will join together in holiness with each other and with all of creation.
Chag Sukkot Sameach