On Monday activists of the Public Housing Forum were scheduled to meet in a Sukkah. However, here in Israel it rained. The halakha (Jewish law) that the skhakh (thatching) of the sukkah (frail temporary structure) we are to dwell in during the 7 day holiday must allow rain to penetrate became very relevant. My sukkah and the sukkah we were to meet in both passed the test.
In Israel we don’t have rain all year long, but only during the rainy season that could start soon, or only begin as late as January. Only on Shemini Atzeret on Thursday morning (Or Shemini Atzeret/Simkhat Torah, depending on where you live and what stream of Judaism you belong to) will we recite the prayer for rain and begin to add “mashiv haRuakh u’morid hageshem” to the Amidah prayer, praising God as the One Who causes the wind to blow and bring and the rain to fall. Shemini Atzeret is on the 22nd of Tishrei, but we will wait another two weeks until the 7th of Kheshvan to actually ask God “ten tal u’matar l’brakha,” (give dew and rain for blessing). Two thousand years ago, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, pilgrims traveling on foot wanted to get home before the rains began. To this day, we ask for “rain in its season.” As reflected in the prayer for rain, our sages recognized that, depending on its amount and timing, rain can be gesthem brakha (blessed rain) or geshem klala, (cursed rain) Victims of hurricanes certainly understand this. Here in the Land of Israel, a little and light initial rain (yoreh) right now is good, as it washes the dust off the olives soon to be picked. However, too much heavy rain can knock the olives (and other fruits) to the ground…..
Can Monday’s rain, that came a bit early and played havoc with our sukkas, be considered geshem brakha? Yes, if it reminds us to appreciate our homes, and sensitizes us to those who don’t have a dry roof over their heads, or don’t know for how long they will have a roof. I told my fellow Israeli public housing activists that it couldn’t have been more appropriate and symbolic that this rain came on the day we were meeting. It is fun to spend seven (or eight) days in the frail sukkah. We know we have homes to return to. Many of our fellow Israelis, many Palestinians, and many around the world do not.
Today, the final day of Sukkot (Shemini Atzeret/Simkhat Torah is actually a separate holiday.) is called Hoshana Rabbah, and is considered a Yom Kippur Katan, a minor Yom Kippur. While the gates of Teshuvah (Hearing God’s call, turning, and returning to our highest selves) are always open, Hoshana Raba is considered one last chance to change the Decree for the coming year that was written on Rosh Hashana and sealed on Yom Kippur. In my Kurdish neighborhood, people gather yesterday evening to read Zohar (central work of Jewish mysticism) into the night. Torat Tzedek’s intern, Micah Friedman gathered young people in the Sukkah as part of the “Global Sukkot Against Demolitions he organized, (#sukkotagainstdemolitions), with events taking place in communities around the world connecting between the values we are to learn on Sukkot, and the plight of Palestinian and Israeli Bedouin communities facing immediate threats of being wiped off the face of the earth.
Today at 11:00 we will build a symbolic sukkah in front of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv to hear from the residents of Khan Al Akhmar and Susya, and their lawyers. Defense Minister Lieberman has stated that he intends to destroy both of these communities in the coming months. On this Yom Kippur Katan, we will call on Minister Lieberman and those who work in the Ministry to repent, not to play God, and to cancel their evil decrees.
For the Shemini Atzeret/Simkhat Torah holiday, I ask that we all add the following prayer to our prayer for rain:
Our God and God of our ancestors, may it be Your Will that the rain that penetrated our Sukkah, and the rain we now ask for, also penetrate our hearts. May it wash away evil intent, hatred, discrimination, racism, aggressiveness, insensitivity, despair and passivity. May it water sensitivity, compassion, loving-kindness, sympathy, and determination to pursue justice and peace.
Just as You spread Your Protective Sukkah over us for 40 years in the desert, spread Your Sheltering Presence over Israelis in need of public housing and Palestinians whose communities are in danger, and all in need of a home. With cleansed and watered hearts and souls, may we be Your Agents in building a better world.
Khag Sameakh. May We All Dance and Become One with the Torah