REDEMPTION v SALVATION
Rabbi David Walk
O happy day! Now, that's a lyric for Sukkot. It's too bad that it was already appropriated for a famous gospel song. But I still like the sentiment for Sukkot, because it is the happiest time of the year. So, of course, we want to know: What have we got to be so happy about? The simple answer, of course, is: the harvest. But that's so agrarian society. In our modern industrialized world, it's always harvest season somewhere. If you're willing to pay the freight, you can get any produce anytime. In other words, even though we must show gratitude to God for nature's bounty, our Sukkot joy must go beyond agriculture. Which brings me to my essential point of inquiry: What are we so happy about during Sukkot?
To arrive at the point I really want to develop, I must compare Sukkot to Pesach. This includes comparing Tishre to Nissan, and, eventually, geula (redemption) to yeshua (salvation). Why shouldn't my great joy be associated with Pesach. After all that's when we became a nation, and, perhaps more importantly, began our national relationship with God. In chapter six of Exodus, God explains that the relationship with the Patriarchs is about to be updated from a personal connection to a state affiliation. That's pretty momentous, and was only achieved with a series of ten amazing miracles and capped off with (according to Nachmanides) the greatest wonder ever performed by God, the splitting of the Sea. However, the term simcha (joy) is never associated specifically with Pesach anywhere in the Torah. On the other hand, that term appears three times in conjunction with Sukkot, and, by the way, once with Shavuot, but that's for another article.
Look we have a mitzvah of simchat yom tov (holiday joy) on all of our festivals, but how come Pesach doesn't have its own special and unique requirement of simcha? I think that the answer to that question is bound up in the nature of geula. So, what is geula? And don't say 'redemption'! The concept of geula is really quite simple. It means a new beginning. Geula occurs when an old and difficult situation has been removed. It's a transition, and just like 'transition' in the birth process, it's relatively short in duration but very difficult as a process to experience. But it also entails responsibilities. Just like giving birth means you now have a baby to nurture, geula from Egypt meant we had a nation to nurture. And that was neither easy, nor quick.
And that brings us to Sukkot and its essential process. That is yeshua or salvation. Sometimes this term is translated as victory, but that's only true in the spiritual sense. A physical victory is nitzachon. The same mistake can be made when we pray ana Hashem, hoshia na (God, please, save us). That means save us spiritually. When we need a physical saving we say hatzilu. That's why a life guard is called matzil. So, what is the nature of the yeshua on Sukkot? To understand this concept, I must repeat an idea I wrote about a few years back. The prayer Ya'aleh v'yavo, which is recited on all holidays and Rosh Chodesh, was originally only connected to Rosh Hashanah. That's why the word 'remember', the theme of Rosh Hashanah, appears seven times. In this prayer there are three phrases which are so important that the community responds 'amen' when the leader recites them. Those three phrases are: 1. Remember us for goodness, 2. Visit us for blessing, and 3. Save us for life. Those three phrases refer to the three festivals of Tishre. Remember us (zachreinu) is Rosh Hashanah, visit us (pakdeinu) is Yom Kippur, and save us (hoshi'einu) is Sukkot. This phrase teaches us that there is a progression in Tishre. Yom Kippur builds on Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot builds on Yom Kippur. Pekida, which I translated as 'visit' means that after God has remembered us on Rosh Hashanah, we have had a closer encounter with God in which we were visited and assigned something by God, hopefully a role in Jewish destiny.
That brings us to Sukkot and hoshi'einu. If my logic is sound this step must be closer than previous one. First, God remembers us, then God assigns us, and now what? We usually translate hosha na as 'save us', but I'm not sure what this saving is. I think that to truly understand what's happening we must look in the Torah for the first time the root sha'a appears. That would be in the story of Cain and Abel. When Abel brought his offering to God it says God sha'a to the offering. That is often translated as 'respect' or 'regard', both of those fit the context. However, I like to translate that as 'turn to' or perhaps 'paid attention to'. That's what happens on Sukkot. God turns towards us and pays attention to us. While we sit in the sukkah, we should feel the attention of God, perhaps, even the embrace of God. That's the culminating Divine reaction to us in Tishre, and it's supposed to feel so good that we feel profound simcha.
I know that many people like to keep the teshuva process going through Sukkot until Hoshana Raba. And maybe that's good for the procrastinators among us, but I'd like to think that the fear and trepidation is over before we enter the sukka, replaced by joy.
So, geula is wonderful and miraculous, but it doesn't provide the same level of pure simcha that yeshua does. Because geula makes difficult demands upon. However, yeshua just requires sitting in the glow of Divine presence. It means that no matter what truth I revealed about myself on Yom Kippur God loves me enough to forgive. Geula is a new birth of freedom; it's fresh and novel and, sort of, unexpected. Kind of like spring. Yeshua is a culmination of a process, which we have been working towards and anticipating through the High Holidays. Kind of like the harvest. They're both amazing, but yeshua is just so joyous. Chag Sameach!!