The first and second Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashanah remind us that the month of Tishrei is the new year as it relates to land and food. The next Mishnah teaches that on the holiday of Sukkot the world water balance is determined.
וּבֶחָג נִדּוֹנִין עַל הַמָּיִם
"And on Sukkot, we are judged by water" (1:2).
Sukkot is at once a celebration of the Fall harvest and the time in which we pray for the winter rains, so that the wheat and barley we are planting will grow throughout the winter and be ready for their spring harvests. Sukkot is fundamentally a communal rain dance. We can hear in the echoes of the lulav the sounds of rain. And rain is no small thing. In a world of rising waters, melting ice caps, and toxic drinking waters, we know that our lives rest in the balance of water. We learn elsewhere in the Talmud, that a day of rain is greater than the giving of Torah (B.T. Taanit 7a). As we have learned over and over again from indigenous communities, water is life.
In the Jewish mystical imagination, water is associated with the quality of hesed. It is that which flows between us, that which nourishes and sustains us. This Sukkot, I invite us to imagine that we will be judged not by how productive we are, or even how much we have changed from one year to the next, but by our capacity for kindness. In this threadbare, broken world, I keep coming back to the words of Naomi Shihab Nye, "Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore." This is emerging as my motto for 5780. May it be what nourishes and sustains us as we begin this next journey around the sun.
Shabbat shalom and Moadim L'Simcha,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.