I hope you are having good weather for Sukkot!
This Shabbat we have a special Torah reading, because it is one of the chol hamoed (intermediate) days of the festival. The reading comes from Parasha Ki Sisa; the special portion is Exodus 33:12 to 34:26.
In this special portion, Moses is speaking to God shortly after the sin of the golden calf (the chet ha’eigel). In the verses just before the parasha begins, Moses and the Levites had punished those who worshipped the idol and Moses prayed that God would forgive the Israelites. God told Moses to take the people on to Canaan, and God – who had been guiding them directly – would send an angel to guide them because God was angry with the Israelites. When we begin the portion, Moses asks that God, not an angel, guide them, and God agrees because Moses has “found favor in My eyes, and I have known you by name.”
Moses then asks God to show Moses the Divine Glory. God replies that no one can see this, but God will let Moses see His back as He passes by. Moses ascends Mt. Sinai and brings two stone tablets to make a new set of the Ten Commandments. On the mountain, God reveals Himself to Moses, and teaches him the prayer that the Israelites can use to ask forgiveness. We say this prayer several times during the Yom Kippur services: “Hashem, Hashem, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Willful Sin and Error, and Who Cleanses.”
God then gives Moses several commandments, including a repetition of the mitzvah of Shabbat and a description of Pesach and the bringing of the Bikurim (first fruits) on Shavuot. God also commands “the Festival of the Harvest shall be at the first of the year.” This is Sukkot, which comes just two weeks after Rosh Hashonah. Thus, the portion describes all three of the Jewish holy festivals, when Jews would go to the Temple.
Some rabbis see a connection between the fact that this portion picks up with the aftermath of the chet ha’eigel and the commandments to observe the festivals. Each of the festivals is directly involved with God’s gifts to the Jewish people – the fall harvest (Sukkot), the spring harvest (Shavuot) and the Exodus from Egypt (Pesach). They are reminders that God, and not an idol, has protected us and sustained us.
Sukkot is the time to leave your house and sit in a sukkah just as God had us live in sukkot in the desert. During that time God saw to our every need instead of having us work, so that we could focus on our relationship with the God. Upon entering Israel, we became responsible for our needs, and by following His example, we were able to bring God into “our world” just as God had brought us into the world of holiness.
When you leave “your world” on Sukkot, you have the opportunity to renew and improve your relationship with God so that you will Be Prepared to bring God with you when you leave your sukkah at the end of the holiday.
Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom,
Nelson (with thanks to Jordan Block)