I remember sitting very peacefully in the synagogue on Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, just five days after my disastrous Yom Kippur fast day, which fortunately I completed despite serious exhaustion. Fasts, as anyone who does them knows, are deeply personal affairs, struggles that pull you right into yourself and away from global concerns. But following the rhythms of life, Sukkot takes you right back from the exalted and highly personal inner reality of Yom Kippur. Sukkot pulls you into reality, into identity, human identity and Jewish identity, and the tension between them.


In the ancient world, Jerusalem was apparently a place where people of many nationalities gathered around the holiday of Sukkot, and it seems for that reason that the question of ‘Israel and the nations’, for lack of a better phrase, seems to come up quite a bit in the ancient rabbinic liturgy, the choices especially for Haftorah (Prophetic) reading. Those readings have references to non-Jewish saints like Koresh of Persia, but also a great deal of resentment of surrounding nations, and some very nasty predictions, some so nasty that it is very hard to take after you spent such sacred time on the High Holy Days making peace with yourself and the world. But it is inescapable that the destruction of the Temples by outside forces was massively traumatic to ancient Judaism, and that is reflected in the liturgy, in the choice of angry Haftorah’s on the holiday of Sukkot where the Temple had been so central.


The rabbinic prayers and liturgy as they were transmitted, however, have some pretty intense contradictions that get very uncomfortable. Opposites can make you a little crazy, and they go along way to explaining oppositional Jewish politics. The two opposites I get from the Holiday liturgies taken as a whole: Everything is our fault and we are cursed forever; Nothing is our fault and everyone else is cursed forever! Gives me a headache just boiling it down to a few words.


The prophetic visions have some horrible predictions for the gentiles, but the rabbis clearly open up the most important standing prayer with exactly the opposite voice. The Musaf encapsulated the Temple Service, the Temple that was destroyed, and Musaf opens with the unforgettable words, spoken my entire childhood and utterly internalized: Mipne hato’einu galinu me-artzeinu, Due to our sins were we exiled from our land. There it is, enough to make you crazy. Which is the true voice? And is that even the right question?


The ancient Temple is ground zero for violence, shefichus damim,  in Jewish history. It was the place that was the most contested throughout history. It was supposed to be the locus of monotheistic religion, but through much of the years of Jewish kingdoms it became a corrupted place of idolatry against which the Jewish prophets railed and predicted destruction. It was indeed destroyed, twice, and the human toll each time, the hurban, was so horrific that those memories were seared into the Jewish consciousness.


Today it bears reminding that those who want to rebuild the Temple include those who want to rebuild it by necessarily destroying the Al Aqsa Mosque, something that would not only be the deepest violation possible of the Palestinian people and Muslims worldwide, it also would cause an international war like nothing Israel has ever seen before. And yet, in an utterly paradoxical way, it is hard to not understand why religious Jews yearn for the Temple to be rebuilt, as was predicted and prayed for throughout a 2000 year exile. Pretty strange and painful paradoxes.


There is unity and sacredness in the mystery of opposites. This is what Jewish spirituality has understood for thousands of years. Yichud, Unity from opposites means fixing what is impossible, and it is what we human beings are always called upon to do.


The Lubavitcher Rebbe once pointed out that it was Solomon who was charged with building the Temple, not King David. David had blood on his hands from so much conquest and killing, but it was Solomon, Shlomo, whose name exemplifies peace and wholeness, Shalom, who is the only one capable of building Temples with everlasting sanctity.

There is great mystical reality in drawing from the strength and beautiful sides of all opposites. Only in the mysterious capacity to draw strength and beauty from all beings does the unity of heaven and earth appear on and through the contested land.

Nonviolence is the crown in the jewel of the unity of opposites. Violence destroys all coexisting opposites that epitomize human life, but nonviolence holds contradiction in its essence. Nonviolence expresses the paradoxical strength and power of not acting upon the very real realities of rage, injury and memory, whereas rage, ka’as, is the essential loss of prophetic and mystical reality. Ka’as, rage, drives the sacred from this world. But nonviolence, especially as it is expressed by hesed, loving kindness, gives birth to the sacred word, which gives birth to apologies and forgiveness, which in turn mystically create the union and reunion of opposites. The nonviolence of hesed is waiting to be born inside the Jewish and gentile hearts that beat in and around the Temple, and with that birth will come the healing of the world.



© Marc Gopin