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Sukkot II 5771

Haftarah Sukkot 2nd Day (in the Diaspora)
(1 Kings 8:2-21)
September 24, 2010
16 Tishre 5771

Haftarah Commentary for The Second Day of Sukkot (1 Kings 8:2-21)

Sukkot falls just at the time when the seasons are changing. Even in Eretz Yisrael, there is potential for varying weather. It is during this season that we are commanded to dwell in sukkot (booths) which have roofs made of thatch (skakh) where we are fully aware and susceptible to the elements. Sukkot is also the holiday where we read the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), the book of the Bible most concerned with human vulnerability and the search for meaning under such circumstances.

The sages in the Talmud debated over the significance of the sukkah. Each of the other pilgrimage festivals was linked to a specific event in the desert: Pesach – the redemption from Egypt; Shavuot – the giving of the Torah; but what about Sukkot – what does it commemorate? According to Rabbi Eliezer, the sukkah represents the \”clouds of glory\” which covered the children of Israel during their sojourn in the desert. Rabbi Akiva avers that when we sit in a sukkah, we are doing what our ancestors did in the desert, i.e. sitting in an actual booth (sukkah mamash). (See Sukkah 11b)

These two sages talk about different kinds of \”God\” experiences. Rabbi Eliezer speaks of the security of miraculous divine protection. Rabbi Akiva\’s comment shows an awareness of human vulnerability before his Maker.

This same dynamic exists in the haftarah as well. King Solomon is about to dedicate the Temple – God\’s permanent \”dwelling place\” in Jerusalem. Before this time the Holy Ark had been moved from one temporary dwelling place to another. This auspicious event probably made Solomon quite anxious. Were his deeds acceptable to God or not? The answer was soon to come: \”When the priests came out of the sanctuary – for the cloud had filled the House of the Lord and the priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, for the Presence of the Lord filled the House of the Lord. The Solomon declared: \’The Lord has chosen to abide in a thick cloud: I have built for You a stately House, a place where You may dwell forever.\’\” (1 Kings 8:10-13)

Solomon\’s anxiety is Koheleth\’s anxiety and is ours as well. We joyously celebrate this religious angst on Sukkot, for despite our vulnerability it is a joyous blessing to be alive.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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