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  • Writer's pictureJay Schwartz

A Message for Sukkos 5775 Sukkos and the Blood Moon Tetrad

This past Yom Kippur, was noteworthy in that it was a trifecta of Shabbatot: Yom Kippur, which is called Shabbat Shabbaton (Sabbath of Sabbaths), coinciding with the weekly day of Shabbat, as well as the Sabbatical year of 5775. This extremely rare confluence of these three pinnacles of sacred time pointed to the fact that this is no ordinary year in the Jewish calendar. In fact, there has been much discussion in both religious and scientific circles about the fact that we are in the midst of an unusual astronomical 18 month journey, stretching from the onset of Pesach 5774 through Succot 5776. In this period, each of the two major Jewish festivals, Succot and Pesach, will witness a unique type of lunar eclipse known as a “blood moon,” (which will be visible in various parts of the world on the first night of Succot.) A lunar eclipse occurs whenever the Earth’s shadow blocks the sun’s light, which otherwise reflects off the moon. There are three types of lunar eclipses: partial, penumbral and total. A total lunar eclipse is the most rare to occur as the sun, moon and Earth must be perfectly lined up at a time when the moon is also full. At the peak of this particular eclipse the moon will appear blood red, making it the most breathtaking as well. Scientifically, the redness is due to the fact that while other light rays from the sun are blocked by the earth’s atmosphere, red light is able to bend around the earth’s atmosphere and create a glow around the moon’s perimeter. For four blood moons to occur on the first day of Succot and Pesach of consecutive years is very rare, in fact it has only happened 7 times in the last 2000 years, and only three times in the last 500 years. In looking at the dates of this rare occurrence, a striking pattern is revealed. The first (1493-1494) was the year following the expulsion of the Jews from its main Torah center of Spain and the discovery of America. The second (1949-1950) was the year of the founding of the State of Israel and the War of Independence. The third (1967-1968) was the year of the Six Day War, and now this year (2014-2015), the trifecta Sabbatical year. This current tetrad began this past Pesach, soon before the War of Gaza erupted. This period will continue for another year, until Succot 5776. The pattern is enough to give us pause to contemplate what equally momentus events for the Jewish people and the World might await us. Within the Torah world we do not give much stock to speculation about what various astronomical phenomenon might mean, however, it is interesting that the concept of a lunar eclipse (likui yare’ach), or, in this case, likui yare’ach b’dam, would seem to symbolize that the Jewish people who are compared to the moon, are in the midst of a time of danger. As we enter 5775 (2014-15) Israel, perhaps more than ever before, we find ourselves in the center of a storm of unimaginable hostility, This danger is felt both on its physical boundaries, as well as in the battlefield of world opinion. Every part of Israel seems vulnerable to attack or an unrelenting campaign of deligitimization, morally, politically or economically, from both outside of the country and within. It seems to orbit around us in an ever widening spiral. Nevertheless, we in Israel sit as if in a succah of Divine Protection, calmly living our lives and joyously celebrating the Yomim Tovim, despite the black flags of unspeakable violent acts that swirl around us, and a multitude of armies in conflict, to such an extent that it is hard for any nation to differentiate fully between who is friend or who is foe. As we say hadam hu hanefesh (the blood is the soul). Blood, by definition, is not a negative thing in Judaism, as it is associated with the brit (Covenant of Circumcision), and dam Pesach, about which we say on Seder night, ואעבר עליך ואראך מתבוססת בדמיך ואומר לך בדמיך חיי ואומר לך בדמיך חיי, “I passed over you and saw you covered with your blood, and I said to you: Through your blood you shall live; and I said to you: Through your blood you shall live.” In other words, this Foursome of moon eclipses could be a sign that the Jewish People are ripe to connect with their legacy of faith, and in this Sabbatical year period affirm their Jewishness and belief in G-d and faith in G-d, and His unique covenant with the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. My brother, Dr. Yoni Schwartz, suggested another interpretation. It says in Isaiah 63:1-4 מי זה בא מאדום חמוץ בגדים מבצרה זה הדור בלבושו צעה ברב כחו אני מדבר בצדקה רב להושיע...כי יום נקם בלבי ושנת גאולי באה, “Who is this coming from Edom, with sullied garments, from Bozrah? This One Who is majestic in His raiment, girded with His abundant strength? It is I, Who speaks with righteousness, abundantly able to save!...For a day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redemption has come.” In other words, perhaps, the four blood moons of Pesach, Succot, Pesach and Succot symbolize that over the course of this period, Israel and the Jewish People will see HaShem’s vengeance carried out against our enemies, as the time of our geula arrives. There is one interesting halachic nuance of the “blood moon” Succot-Pesach link. It is well known that someone who is mitzta’er (in pain or discomfort) is exempted from sitting in the succah. Some examples of this include those that are ill, or a bride and groom who wish to enjoy their wedding nuptials in privacy, as well as situations where the succah is either made of ir surrounded by foul smelling or unpleasant odors or circumstances. This is based on the possuk (VaYikra 23:42), בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת, “You shall dwell in succot for a seven day period, every citizen of Israel shall dwell in succot.” From here we derive the concept of תשבו כעין תדורו, “To sit in the succa as we live in our homes” (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Chapter 640 in detail). Consistent with this rule, if your Succah is swamped with a rainstorm, one is exempted from sitting in the succa even if only a minor amount of water penetrates to his table food (ibid). However, many authorities rule that on the first night of Succot one is obligated to eat at least a nominal meal in the succa, no matter what the weather conditions are. This is explained due to the fact that there is a g’zeyra shava, a Torah passage link between Pesach and Succot, that both occur on the 15th of their respective months. This ט"ו-ט"ו tie that the Torah makes between these two holidays, means that the mitzva of eating in the succa on Succot night is akin to the mitzva of eating a piece of matza on Seder night, meaning, no matter how uncomfortable one may be, this is a mitzvah that must be performed without exception. The difference between the first night of Succot (the night of a potential tetrad) and the rest of Sukkot is that the first night of Skkot is linked to the redemption of Pesach. If Sukkot Chag Haasif , a celebration of our ingathering to the Land of Israel and enjoying the fruits of our freedom within the Land, the first night of Pesach hearkens back to our emergence from exile, when we first were protected by the Clouds of Glory during our tumultuous and dangerous trek from Egypt towards the Promised Land. But the two are linked as one chain of inevitable events .Therefore the first night ,even in a stormy Sukkah we must recite Kiddush there and eat enough to recall that in the future a true Chag Hasif ultimately awaits us. Such is our unwavering belief in the face of any time of trouble or danger. This Succot, we have especially felt the clouds of HaShem’s protection. I was personal witness to the puffs of smoke emitted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, that protected my home in Beit Shemesh from devastation by incessant flurries of Hamas warheads. Our rabbis taught that the Clouds absorbed missiles and projectiles that were showered upon us by hostile nations. We’ve seen that in this past year, in a vivid and personal sense. There have been many stories about the miracles of G-d’s hand and protection, including sudden winds that appeared to blow missiles into the sea, that were within seconds of demolishing major portions of Tel Aviv. Perhaps the “blood moon tetrad” is a reminder to the Jewish People that HaShem is aware of the violent intent of those who thirst to spill human blood, and particularly Jewish blood, and that through our faith, prayers, mitzvot and solidarity, that blood will be transformed into a new nefesh, a new life, for both the Jewish People and the world. The Degel Machane Efrayim, quotes the Zohar on Parshat Emor 150, as saying that the verse כל אזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת does not only refer to Jews, but to gentiles such as Eliezer who served Avraham, so too all non-Jews who cling to Israel, and support us faithfully will also be shielded from harm in these tumultuous times, as they will be seen as residents of Israel by virtue of their support and their concern for our welfare. We hope that this Succot and the remaining year of this profound tetrad period will mark a turning point for Israel and the world from conflict and enmity to peace and faith. That is the secret of the joy of Succot, a holiday that we are told all nations of the world will eventually celebrate. Simcha is cognate to the term samach (support). We will find joy by supporting one another with love and by receiving the support of our true friends, as we gather together to watch the momentous events of this year unfold,and hopefully see this tetrad lead an additional one ,the four cups of our full redemption. Best wishes for a Chag Same’ach, Chani & Yaacov Schwartz

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