The Torah portion this week is for Chol Hamoed Sukkot (Intermediate Day) and is from Exodus 33:12-34:26. In this passage, we go back to the aftermath of the Golden Calf when Moses is interceding with God on Mount Sinai for the Jewish people. Moses asks for favor in God’s sight and he also asks to see God’s presence. God tells him that he cannot see God and live; however, he instructs Moses to hide in the cleft of the rock while God covers him with his hand and passes before him so only his glory is seen. As God passes, He proclaims that God is gracious, good, slow to anger, abundant in kindness and faithfulness, extends kindness to a thousand generations and forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin. Moses asks God to pardon him and his people and to keep His covenant with the people–namely that He will take care of us. God agrees to do this and reminds the people to keep the covenant in return–namely to worship only God and not follow false gods and to keep Passover, Shavuot, Shabbat, and Sukkot.
Sukkot, and its culmination at Simchat Torah, is a festival of wholeness. We wave four species – palm, myrtle, and willow branches, and the etrog, a lemon-like citron fruit from Israel. We waive the lulav and etrog in all directions to show that God is everywhere and fully surrounds us. We finish a cycle of holidays and celebrate the wholeness of a new year. Yet, we dwell in a sukkah that is incomplete. The requirements of a sukkah is that it must have only three walls, not four. It must be temporary. Even the roof is incomplete; it has holes so you can see the stars. The sukkah is a reminder of the incompleteness we experience in our wilderness wanderings: in our times when we encounter the unknown, face uncertainty, or feel the pain of loss that has made our lives incomplete. We pray for a sweet, new year. We eat challah that is round and sweet. We strive for wholeness. However, as we journey through this year, we will have ups and downs, times of rejoicing, and times of incompleteness. When we wave the lulav and etrog this Sukkot, may we be reminded that God’s presence is everywhere and will fully surround us, even during times we will feel incomplete. And when our lives feel full of holes, may we remember that we are connected to the God who created the stars and will take care of us.