D’var Torah: Rabbi David Splansky (Sukkot)

The festival of Sukkot comes all too soon after Yom Kippur, but provides a much needed contrast to the solemnity of the High Holidays. We make the adjustment.

Leviticus 23:40 instructs: “On the first day you shall take the product of the ‘hadar’ trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” The Torah, however, never includes a commandment to put those items together and wave them by hand. In fact, two verses later, Lev. 23:42, tells us to live in booths (“sukkot”), so perhaps these items from trees were actually to be used in the building of the sukkot! That seems to be precisely what a later book of the Bible confirms. “Go out to the mountains and bring leafy branches of olive trees, pine trees, myrtles, palms, and (other) leafy trees to make sukkot….So the people went out and brought them, and made themselves sukkot.” (Nehemiah 8:15-16)

The Biblical tradition, therefore, was to use these items for constructing sukkot. The post-Biblical tradition, especially the rabbinic one, was to grasp these items by hand and wave them in all directions, as we still do today.

This development-change of tradition is only one of many examples in which the ancient rabbis interpreted Biblical commandments to yield new meanings. Is that “kosher”? Of course it is. The real question is “How well do we respond to change, especially if we liked “the old way”? For that matter, how well do we respond to the new realities of how our children and grandchildren are changing as they grow?

The late Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai gave voice to this idea in part of his poem, “Open, Closed, Open”. He said his father passed on

“The Ten Commandments, not in thunder and not in fury, not in fire, and not in a cloud

But gently and with love…

…And he said: I want to add

Two to the Ten Commandments:

The eleventh commandment, ‘You shall not change,’

And the twelfth commandment, ‘Surely you shall change…’”


Rabbi Donald Splansky


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