Sukkot is a wonderful holiday. The ancient Rabbis called it HeChag – THE holiday. In the Torah – we are commanded to rejoice on Sukkot. When we build a sukkah and share meals with family and friends – we are doing more than simply giving thanks for the bounty of God’s harvest – we are also reliving the experience of the Exodus – as the Torah teaches: "You shall live in booths (sukkot) seven days...in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 23:42-43)
But, of course, Sukkot is more than an excuse to eat and sleep outside. There are many important symbolic and overt messages that can be found in the commandment to move outside our homes for a week and reside in a rickety booth with a leaky ceiling. The experience of living in a sukkah can help us to understand the plight of those who have no place to live every day – not just for one week in the Fall. When we move outside of the comfort of our living rooms and under the leafy roof of the Sukkah, we are acknowledging our own fragility and dependence on external factors to keep us healthy and happy.
This year, on Sukkot, I can’t help but focus my thoughts on events that are taking place in Israel. From all of the news reports that I have heard, it appears that Gilad Shalit - an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped 5 years ago by Hamas may soon be freed in exchange for the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
If Gilad truly will be released – this is a time for rejoicing. I pray that he is well and that he will soon be returned to his family. Of course, Israel is undertaking great risks for the sake of his freedom. Many of the Palestinian prisoners who will be exchanged have blood on their hands. There is no doubt that not only will they rejoin the ranks of the fellow terrorists – but they also will be greeted as heroes. Israel may have to pay a high price for the release of one IDF soldier.
There are some in Israel who feel that it is a mistake to negotiate with terrorists – especially in such a lop-sided way. I just learned that, last night, the memorial to Yitchak Rabin in Tel Aviv was desecrated by what appears to be a far-right group demanding that in addition to the release of the Palestinian terrorists, Yigal Amir – Rabin’s assassin -- should also be released. Some families of terror victims are dismayed that the people who killed their relatives may soon be free to murder again.While, logically, the exchange of 1 soldier for 1,000 prisoners seems absurd - in Israel it makes perfect sense. The reality of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is that it truly is a people’s army. With few exceptions, everyone in Israel serves in the armed forces. There is not a family who does not see their own children reflected in the sad eyes of Gilad’s photograph that we have come to know so well over the past 5 years.
The other day, I was sent a D’var Torah from the New York board of Rabbis that was written by Rabbis Yaakov Kermaier and Charles Klein. In this D’var, they talked about the difference between the Lulav and the Etrog. They write:
On Succot, we place the lulav next to the etrog reminding us that the spine and heart are vital components of human life. What happens when the two symbols are in conflict with each other? – when the spine tells us one thing and the heart suggests another approach. On the one hand, there are those who lean toward the lulav approach, saying that negotiations with terrorists will lead to further terrorism and endanger the lives of other soldiers. On the other hand, the heart tells us that Gilad is a member of our extended family, and we must do everything to reunite him with his own family. Who is not moved by the pleas of his parents who have travelled worldwide to seek support for their child? The proposed exchange between murderous terrorists and Gilad Shalit demonstrates the dynamics of this human conflict.
The lulav says, “Don’t give in to human emotion.” The heart says, “Don’t be so principled that you lose touch with human pain.”
We live in an imperfect world. There are no easy answers. Ultimately, when we are faced with a difficult decision, we need to understand that, there are times when we need to look beyond the logical and feel the pain of others. Sukkot is a time for rejoicing. If and when Gilad comes home – we know that he, his family and all of us who have been praying for his safety these past five years will truly understand the meaning of this sacred time that our tradition calls: z’man simchateynu – the time of our rejoicing.
May peace soon prevail in Israel and throughout the world.