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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Are you a caveman?

Sukkah 43

The latest Pew study is bleak indeed.  We are dwindling as a people as we become less and less interested in connecting religiously.  How do we stop the bleeding?

Many who are religiously inspired feel that they really can’t do anything about it.  “I just do my thing and hope for the best with the rest of the Jewish people,” a congregant said to me after the study was released, “what more can I do?”

“In sukkot you shall dwell for seven days.”  Does that mean 24/7 or just daytime?

In an attempt to decipher the meaning of the word ‘days’, the Talmud offers two other occasions in the Torah where the word is used: the mitzvah of lulav and the priestly inauguration.  While the lulav is only blessed during the daytime, the priestly inauguration was over an entire 24/7 week-long period.   The Talmud then endeavours to determine which of these two mitzvot are more comparable to the mitzvah of sukkah.

On the one hand, sukkah is more comparable to the priestly inauguration, since both were effective all day long, while the mitzvah of lulav is a one-shot deal – you bless and wave the lulav and you are done for the day.  On the other hand, the mitzvah of sukkah is more comparable to the mitzvah of lulav, since both are obligations for all generations, whereas the priestly inauguration only happened once in history.

In the end, the Talmud concludes that we derive the obligation to dwell 24/7 in the sukkah from the same wording that is employed “they shall dwell” regarding both the priestly blessing and the mitzvah of sukkah.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Talmud first attempts to demonstrate the similarities between sukkah and lulav shows that there is more to their relationship than the obvious fact that they are both part of the same festival.

The Talmud teaches two key facts regarding the lulav – you bless it just once a day and it is a mitzvah for all generations.   The former seems to be a negative attribute while the latter is a positive characteristic of the mitzvah, i.e. if you would bless it more than once, it would be more comparable to the mitzvah of sukkah.  Is it possible to bless the lulav more than once each day?

Certainly!  Instead of leaving the lulav at the synagogue after morning prayers, you could take it home for other family members to make the blessing.  You could then take it into work to share with colleagues who did not do the mitzvah.  Maybe there’s someone on the train who’s looking at you funny for holding a palm branch and yet deep down you know that their soul is yearning for an opportunity to make the blessing.

If you treat the mitzvah of lulav as a one shot mitzvah, then you haven’t fulfilled the dictum of the festival, “in order that your generations shall know.”  But if you find opportunities to multiply the lulav blessings throughout the day, you have made it into a mitzvah for all generations by spreading its light and warmth throughout our people. 

Of course this attitude doesn’t only apply to lulav.  There are many mitzvos you can do on your own and be finished with them for the day.  But when you choose instead to share your experience with others, you make the mitzvah – and ultimately, our people – sustainable for all generations.

If the room is cold, you have two choices: either put on a coat or bring in a heater.  The former will warm you up; the latter will warm everyone up.  If you are doing mitzvos, you may be warm, but that isn’t enough.  Cavemen don fur coats, human beings share the love!  We are enjoined to positively affect the entire room – everyone should feel the warmth!

Do your mitzvah today!  And then multiply it by sharing the merit with those around you!  Don’t just be a “righteous individual in a warm coat!”  You have the power to sustain our people for generations!

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