Sukkot Values: Shalom, Iran, Nuclear Weapons, and Sukkot

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow


The physical sukkah as a fragile, vulnerable hut and the festival of Sukkot both affirm the importance of peace, rather than threats and acts of war.

The traditional Jewish evening prayers ask God to “spread over all of us the sukkah of shalom.”  Why a sukkah rather than a fortress, a palace, even a house? Because shalom is more likely to be achieved when all the parties in a conflict recognize their vulnerability, rather than aggressively striving to dominate the other.  That is even more likely in a world of nuclear weapons.

And Jewish tradition teaches that the harvest festival of Sukkot celebrates an abundant harvest not only for the Jewish people but for all the "70 nations" of the world. The rabbinic commentators derived this from the Torah’s command to sacrice 70 bulls during the seven days of Sukkot  -- by far the largest and most expensive of all the Temple offerings. “Why 70 bulls?” asked the rabbis  -- even though since the destruction of the Temple no offerings at all were being made.  And they answered  by connecting the number with the archetypal assertion that there are 70 nations in the world, and now prayers for their prosperity must substitute for sacrifice.

So this aspect of the issues before us in the November election affirm every effort to use diplomacy to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. From that perspective, the careful multinational diplomacy that achieved the end of Iran's nuclear-weapons program in exchange for the end of economic sanctions against Iran was a great triumph for “Sukkot Values,” because it recognized the vulnerability of Iran, the US, and many other nations. Its cancellation was a tragedy, and a violation of the meaning of Sukkot.  Voters could apply that wisdom to making decisions in the coming  election.

We are including two items  from 1984, the earliest days of The Shalom Center. President Reagan and the Andropov-Chernenko leadership of the Soviet Union were reheating the nuclear arms race in a frightening way. The Shalom Center built a sukkah on Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, midway between the White House and the Soviet Embassy, and organized a rally there urging both superstates to move toward freezing and ending the nuclear arms race. The poster for that rally and a song celebrating the Sukkah came out of that campaign.




In other Shalom Reports on Share Sukkot --  Grow the Vote, we will take up other aspects of the meaning of Sukkot as the election approaches.

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With blessings for shalom, salaam, sohl (“peace” in Farsi, the language of Iran) paz, peace.


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