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Sukkot Sermon

This Shabbat we find ourselves in the midst of the holiday of Sukkot.  This day has its origins both in the agricultural seasons and Jewish history.  In ancient times our ancestors used to build booths at their distant fields in order to make the fall harvesting easier.  Our sukkot are thus reminiscent of this attachment to the land.  Our booths also recall our wanderings through the desert, wandering from our freedom in Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  We travel between Passover and Shavuot.  Sukkot therefore marks not a destination but a journey.

Moreover the entire Torah is a record of this journey.  Like so many camping trips we were not always at our best.  As we traveled we sometimes complained.  This makes this holiday even more curious.  Here is a day that marks a journey rather than the arrival at the intended destination.  Ponder this.  Most holidays are about getting there, or getting out of there rather than traveling to there.  The message in this holiday is therefore that we are always journeying.  We are never completely there.  If you think you have arrived then your goals are too small.  That is Sukkot’s power and its message.

This brings me to recent news and the announcement that Gilad Shalit will soon be home.  What extraordinary news.  He has been held for over five years in captivity.  He has been held against all international laws.  He has been denied visitors even from the Red Cross.  His journey from captivity will soon be over.

I am proud and saddened by this moment.  Netanyahu and Israel have agreed to trade over 1,000 prisoners for one life.  I am sad that murderers will go free.  I am saddened that those who have killed will be free and that those who lost family members will see these terrorists come home to a heroes’ welcome.  That might be almost too much to bear and far too much to imagine.

Then again I am proud that Israel so values the lives of its citizens and especially its citizen soldiers that it is willing to make this extraordinarily unbalanced deal.  Yossi Klein Halevi said: “For all my anxieties about the deal, I feel no ambivalence at this moment, only gratitude and relief. Gratitude that I live in a country whose hard leaders cannot resist the emotional pressure of a soldier’s parents. And relief that I no longer have to choose between the well-being of my country and the well-being of my son.”

Come Tuesday I will rejoice with Noam and Aviva Shalit that their son is home.  I will also rejoice as I look up through the schach of my sukkah at the stars.  I will remember that we are forever journeying.  I will recall that Gilad’s return is but a way station and not the conclusion of the story.

The only destination is the messianic dream when the sukkot of earth are transformed into sukkat shalom, the sukkah of peace.  This vision is spoken about and dreamed about in our prayers and even in the Byrd’s song, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”  Until then we will be forever journeying.  Until then take heart in the command to rejoice in this holiday!

Read the full article by Yossi Klein Halevi here.