October 22, 2008

Simchat Torah - the end of Sukkot

So, for one week each year, Jews build and live, even if only eating suppers in it, a shaky temporary dwelling. They leave their solid homes, where warmth and comfort have been created, with spaces filled and decorated with nostalgic mementos, and reflections of our daily living. Our homes are our castle, where we can pull up the drawbridge at times of darkness, where we are in control, where we return each day to eat and sleep, to talk, to love, and to share.

The sukkah helps in realizing that there can be a kind of idolatry lurking within our homes. We would do well to have a yearly celebration as reminder to not rely solely on the works of our hands, nor trust in our home's size and strength or our possessions. And Sukkat follows Yom Kippur's once a year cleansing, a clean slate leading into a week of remembrance of God's providing in the desert and the good remembrance of God seeking us and desiring to know us. Sukkot is celebrated with lots of joy, and celebrates the end of the year with its final harvest and at the same time the beginning of a new year.
The booths are decorated with harvest produce.

Sukkah is a reminder not to become entombed in our homes, a reminder of a different kind of shelter made of openness and faith - following God wherever led, even into the desert, and learning to trust. It evokes opposing sets of images: rootlessness and home, wandering and return, exposure and shelter. God's sukkah is open to all, a house of prayer for all nations, the promised land.

In temple time, there was a daily ritual: Simhat beit ha-sho'eivah - "the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing", a water libation. Water was poured symbolizing gratitude for rain and more for the year to come. Jesus risked his life as a 'wanted man' coming into Jerusalem for this festival in John 7. It is here that he said, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, from his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water." The surrounding Jews were thinking water in relation to the festival. Jesus knew the drought of their hearts.

The last day, the eighth day, God asked that the people tarry for one more day in Jerusalem (this being the last of the three pilgrim trips to Jerusalem in the year). Simhat Torah is a day when the cycle of reading the Torah through in a year ends and begins anew. Singing and dancing, the people parade about the synagogue with the Torah scrolls. They end the year with reading Deuteronomy 33 and 34, where Moses blesses the people of Israel, reminding them who they are, before entering into the promised land. And God buries Moses, the prophet whom God knew face-to-face!

I so loved and craved that image of face-to-face with God when I fell in love with Him when I was 18. And so today, a favorite passage in scripture is II Corinthians 3:7-4:1, where I read of the living God getting rid of the veil, nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of His face!

So celebrate! Remember the stories of God-in-our-midst.

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