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The Time of Our Happiness

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October 3, 2012

Dear Friend of Israel,

As soon as I arrived in Chicago after returning from launching The Fellowship’s work in Korea last week, I could feel the change in the air. Seeing the students rushing off to class in these first weeks of the new school year, the yellowing leaves, and countless campaign ads reminding us of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, I knew that a change of seasons was imminent. These changes are added to the many changes we have seen on the global stage in recent months – the continued fallout of the Arab Spring, the rising death toll in Syria, the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in various parts of the Muslim world.

Change, indeed, is part of life, both on a personal and global level – and it is with this in mind that I approach the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (also known as the Feast of Tabernacles), which began this past Sunday at sundown. Appropriately enough, we build temporary structures, or sukkot, on this day and spend the following week eating, socializing, and even sleeping in them. These huts are meant to remind us of the shelters the Israelites lived in during their sojourn in the desert in biblical times. They are deliberately built to be impermanent – they have no fixed walls and their roofs are made of palm fronds or bamboo mats, so that one can see the stars while resting inside.

Usually we avoid impermanence, vulnerability, and discomfort. But during Sukkot Jews embrace these very things with a deep joy – in fact, Sukkot is known as “the time of our happiness.” This joy stems from the foundational truth Sukkot brings to mind. Living in these temporary booths reminds us that our homes, our livelihoods, our safety, our health – despite all we do to provide and safeguard them – ultimately come from God. That truth would have been clear to the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert, led and shaded by clouds during the day, warmed and lit by fire at night, sustained by manna, sleeping in makeshift huts. Their utter dependence on their Creator was self-evident.

In our modern world, on the other hand, it’s easy to delude ourselves into thinking that all we have materially and otherwise grows out of our own efforts and skills. Sukkot reminds us that it all comes from God.

While this dependency runs counter to the fierce independence so valued in our culture, it actually brings a sense of relief. Our livelihood and well-being is up to the God of the universe Who created us, sustains us, and loves us more than we can fathom. What greater comfort can there be than the knowledge that our never-changing God is with us at every moment, and that He will provide for us?

Whether you are Christian or Jewish, I pray this season of Sukkot, of harvest and chillier temperatures and leaves changing color, fills you with fresh gratitude for God’s permanence in our world that is ever-changing. And may we all pray for the time when the whole world will be able to dwell under the shelter of God’s dominion, in peace.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Chairman, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews® of Australia