True Victory – Hol HaMo’ed Sukkot 5782


The midrash (Pesiqta d’Rav Kahana, ed. Mandelbaum, Vol. II, p. 406) identifies seven specific commandments related to the celebration of Sukkot: the taking of the lulav, etrog, myrtles, and willows, the building of the sukkah, and the joyful celebration of the festival (Lev. 23:40) through two special sacrifices (see Tosefta Hagigah, ed. Lieberman, p.1277). The unavoidable question is: why the need for two sacrifices? Rabbi Avin suggests a parable. Two litigants enter a court for judgment. No one knows what the outcome will be. But after the fact, observers may judge by the actions of the litigants who won and who lost. Applied to Sukkot, the lesson is that everybody – including non-Jews – stands in judgment before God on Rosh Hashanah and no one can discern the outcome. However, Jews alone go on to observe the festival of Sukkot. God sees the people Israel with their lulavim and etrogim in hand as a victory celebration.


Fascinating is the fact that the midrash imagines gentiles standing before God in judgment on Rosh Hashanah: a fact that gentiles themselves would hardly acknowledge. But the deeper problem with this midrash is how the question posed is not answered – at least not directly. Remember: the question is why two sacrifices are commanded for the festival? Rabbi Bernard Mandelbaum offers an interpretation. One sacrifice is for the celebration of the festival itself. The second sacrifice is in joyful celebration of the “victory.” Here, the victory is successfully emerging from judgment after being found “not guilty.” Still, a question remains: how do we Jews know that we have been found “not guilty.” It is more a wish and a hope than a discernable fact.


Perhaps a better way to look at it is as follows. Whether or not we are found innocent or guilty, we Jews proceed to celebrate Sukkot because the performance of the commandment itself is worthwhile. We should not allow our behavior to be contingent on approval, even by God. We should never wait for some confirmation that our past actions are validated since that confirmation may not be forthcoming let alone known. The real victory comes by way of the steadfast fulfillment of religious obligations independent of any approbation.



Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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