The multicultural concern of Judaism on Sukkot

By Levi Brackman, 09-27-2015.

One of the things I love about Sukkot (starts tonight) is the fact that it is a holiday that is not only non ethnocentric but it highlights the multicultural concern of Judaism. It is an example of how Judaism see all of humanity as connected and precious in the eyes of the Creator.

The Torah (Number 29) tells us that over the week of Sukkot 70 bullocks are offered up as sacrifices on the altar of the Holy Temple. The Talmud (Sukkah 55b) states that the ancient Jews offered 70 bullocks over Sukkot in order to beg God to protect the 70 nations of the world - representing the entire human populations on earth besides the Jews.

In this vein, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Jochanon said that it is tragic that the gentiles destroyed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem without knowing that they themselves lost out on the deal. “When the Temple stood the altar atoned for [the sins of the nations] and now [that they have destroyed it] there is no one to atone for them” concludes Rabbi Jochanan.

A Midrash states that had the nations of the world understood the significance of the Temple for their own wellbeing they would have sent armies to protect it rather than to destroy it. History seems to attest to the nations’ awareness that Jews offered sacrifices upon the altar in their honor as well. However, they chose not to understand this fact. The Babylonians who destroyed the first Temple and the Romans who destroyed the second one ignored the win-win option for the Temple to remain in place and continue to protect them.

The prophet Hosea said, “We will render, instead of bulls [the offering of] our lips” (14:3) and the sages understood this to mean that prayers are equivalent to sacrifices (Yoma 86b).  In fact the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Elazar stated that prayer is superior to sacrifices (Berachot 32b). Thus, our prayers, which were instituted in place of sacrifices, do have influence on high. So this Sukkot let us pray not just for ourselves but for the wellbeing of all of humanity, especially for those who are suffering whoever they are and wherever they may be.

Indeed may He who makes peace on High bestow peace upon us and all of humanity, and let us say: Amen!