Photo Credit: Chabad.org
In addition to the regular Ushpizin that we proudly welcome each night into our Sukkah, our family has a beautiful minhag. We go around the table and I ask each person at the table to answer the following question. If you could invite anyone as your personal ushpizin, someone who is not alive anymore, from the recent past or from long ago, who would it be and why? Some mention members of their family, grandparents or great grandparents. Others share personalities from Tanach or from Shas and yet others mention heroes of modern Israel.
The answers are fascinating and offer a great insight into what people are reading, thinking about, feeling or who they are missing. This year, I want to ask it a little bit differently. Who would you invite to be your Ushpizin that thinks differently than you, that believes differently, observes differently, dresses differently? Do you have friendships, not acquaintances, but real friendships with people different than you?
שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֔ים תַּקְרִ֥יבוּ אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַה׳ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֡י מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ֩ יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֜ם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֨ם אִשֶּׁ֤ה לַֽה׳ עֲצֶ֣רֶת הִ֔וא כָּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה לֹ֥א תַעֲשֽׂוּ׃
“Seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to Hashem. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to Hashem.”
Many make a mistake of seeing Shemini Atzeres as the “last days” of Sukkos, but the truth is they are an independent holiday, Atzeres, not Sukkos. Indeed, our rabbis label them a רגל בפני עצמו, an independent holiday. The rest of Sukkos, sacrifices are brought in the merit of the nations of the world, but on Shemini Atzeres, the sacrifices are exclusively on behalf of the Jewish people, Hashem’s children.
Rashi quotes the midrash that compares it to a King who hosts all of his children for a party for several days and when the last day comes, he pleads, please stay with me one more day because קשה עלי פרידתכם. Classically this is understood to mean, it is difficult for me to separate from you.
However, the Imrei Emes has a phenomenal interpretation. What bothers Hashem is not our parting from Him; He will come with us. What bothers Him is פרידתכם, the idea that for the last month and a half we have been united, spent quality time together, worked together, celebrated together, focused on our sense of community with a shared destiny, together.
And now, the holidays will be behind us and we will go back to the usual divides, focusing on our differences instead of our commonalities, resuming the usual blame, finger pointing, name calling and hyper criticism. We will go back to local minyanim instead of gathering at the shul, will go back to our own interests, instead of focusing on community, go back to judging others based on what is on or not on their heads instead of what is in their hearts, go back to worrying about is the community going too far to the right or swinging to the left.
Hashem dreads that business as usual. The Yamim Noraim and Sukkos were so refreshing, so different, so unified, so happy. קשה עלי פרידתכם, says Hashem. Your pirud, your divisiveness, is kasheh, it is so difficult for me. Please spend one more day unified and together, transcending these differences and that nahrishkeit.
How will we spend this one last day, this regel bifnei atzmo? We will grab hands and dance in a circle, a circle that has no beginning and no end, no hierarchy or tier system, no head of the table or dais, no mizrach or lead position, just everyone dancing equally in a circle, united, together. There is not one circle for shtreimels, one for black hats and one for kippot serugot. There isn’t a circle for the old and one for the young or a circle for the republicans and a circle for the democrats.
One circle, one people, one community, one history and one destiny. That is the enduring image of this yom tov, that is the message we take with us into the dead of winter and beyond.
Don’t stop dancing even when Simchas Torah ends. Don’t go back to the usual pirud. Don’t stop holding the hands of the person on your left and your right literally, and metaphorically.
Don’t let go of the hands of your family, friends and members of the community. Don’t let go of the hands of those who are here, and don’t let go of those who are gone. Like the Ushpizin, we have felt the presence of our ancestors, our parents and grandparents over these holidays. Our homes have been filled with the aroma and taste of their recipes, we have heard the tunes they sang, and we have been observing their minhagim. They have lived with us these last few weeks and we must not let them go.
Seeing separation and division is hard for Hashem and it should be hard for you. Don’t let go of those who are gone and don’t stop holding the hands of those who are still here.