What is it about the holiday of Sukkot that makes it so powerful? Tradition teaches that the energy of Sukkot is so intense, so visceral and delightful, that seven mythic figures leave the Garden of Eden to join in the light of our earthly sukkot (temporary shelters). But why? What is it about the sukkah that compels even those who have tasted Paradise?
These spirit guests, known as the Ushpizin, are invited each night into our sukkot. Groupings of Ushpizin vary by community, and include biblical prophetess, revered sages and modern heroes, invoked in turn each night of Sukkot. Jewish mystical tradition suggests that each guest also serves as a reminder of an action through which the brokenness of our world is repaired.
Ever since it was given over three thousand years ago on Shavuot, the Torah has offered Jews a vision of how the world should work. I was thinking about this vision this past December when I was asked to represent HIAS (the 120-year-old Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) at a United Nations conference in Geneva dealing with the status of refugees. The UN invited faith-based organizations to reflect on, among other things, how lessons learned from their religious traditions could offer guidance to the treatment of refugees today. In preparing my opening statement for the conference, I reflected on a subject I had never previously thought about in any systematic manner but that is clearly a pressing issue in the world, as the UNHCR estimates that there are currently 15.1 million refugees worldwide.
What does the Torah tell us about refugees and how they should be treated?
A great deal, I soon learned. Let me cite four examples. Read More