By Rabbi Ariel Abel
The reading for the first day of Succot is about the offerings brought to the sanctuary and the Temple, in honour of the festivals. Unlike Pesach, which is the festival commemorating only national deliverance, the Succot festival reaches out to the other nations of the world.
The total number of offerings are 70, indicating that we tie our fate to that of the rest of the world. The prophetic readings following tell of what will happen on the day of reckoning. Relating an apocalypse, the prophet Zechariah foretells that all the enemies of Jerusalem will suffer a horrific end, their flesh sliding off their bodies, something similar to a Hiroshima-style disaster.
He also says that those nations who boycott pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the Succot festival will suffer the prospect of no rainfall in their land. Agitators against us abound: Countries have clamoured for Israel to be put on trial for war crimes simply for defending its own right to exist peacefully. Yet now there is a new military operation in Iraq, which will cost huge sums of money and incur the inevitable toll of innocent lives.
If Jerusalem, as well as Baghdad, had received the support of the nations to unite under the banner of democracy, there would be a far more stable hub for the Middle East. The prophet also foresaw a time when people would voluntarily dedicate their wealth in Jerusalem to honour God and there would be no need for traffickers to capitalise on making business out of sacred things.
This, too, is very reminiscent of one of the greatest internal blights of organised religion: men wielding religious powers to generate for themselves millions of dollars. Some of their followers see no contradiction between the purported saintliness of such rabbis and the acts of a charlatan taking money for empty promises.
Zechariah sees in the redemptive stage of our people a need to leave this image behind. Succot is a perfect opportunity to share a positive image of our people with the rest of the world. The succah, the hut covered with cut foliage in which we take our meals, is called Succat Shalom – a dwelling which augurs peace for all of humanity. May this festival of Succot bring peace and harmony to all the dwellers of our beloved land and State of Israel.
• Rabbi Abel is consultant to the For Life Projects, a community ethics programme