Sedra of the Week: Shabbat Chol Hamoed

Sedra of the Week: Shabbat Chol Hamoed

By Rabbi Alex ChapperSedra-of-the-week-300x208

After the spiritual drama of the High Holy Days – the majesty of Rosh Hashanah and the awesomeness of Yom Kippur – the festival of Succot might appear as somewhat of an anti-climax.

Having filled our synagogues and homes with the sublime spirit worthy of this time of year, we then leave it all behind for the succah – a simple, flimsy, seemingly undignified hut.

Is this really the most appropriate way to bring the holiday season to an end? The festival of Succot is referred to as zeman simchateinu – the season of our rejoicing and various explanations are offered for this description. It displays our joy and confidence that we have been judged favourably for the coming year; it is a symbol of the unity of the Jewish people.

However, my favourite reason is that its central observance – dwelling in the succah – is the only mitzvah that can be performed with the entire body. Other mitzvot require the use of one or more of our faculties, but the succah is unique in requiring our whole being to enter into it.

To be afforded the opportunity to connect with God at the beginning of a new year, utilising our whole self, is a source of great delight. This fact is emphasised in the Talmud, which refers to Succot simply as ha’chag – the festival – implying that it is the archetypal celebration that teaches us a fundamental lesson in the nature of our relationship with God and Judaism. If our approach to our heritage is inauthentic, half-hearted and casual, then we cannot possibly hope to be uplifted by it. It would be like arriving late, listening to an iPod and reading a magazine at a Shakespearian play.

Its genius would be lost. Only when we practice Judaism with our whole being, fully investing our energies into it, both heart and soul, do we experience the true joy that is its essence.

Therefore, there can be no better way to keep the high of the High Holy Days rolling than to totally immerse oneself into the sublime pleasure that is to be gained from absolute commitment.

• Alex Chapper is minister of Ilford Federation Synagogue and the Children’s Rabbi.

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