Chol Hamo'ed

"And the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year" Exodus 34:22


We know the festival as Succot, the Feast of Booths, but here the Torah uses its other, probably older name, the Feast of Ingathering. Farmers would gather their harvested crops in from the field and the orchard, for protection from the winter rains. After our spiritual outpouring on the Days of Repentance, Succot is a time of refreshment, for gathering in the succah with family, community and guests, a time for joy.

A few chapters earlier, in an almost identical verse (Exodus 23:16), the Feast of Ingathering is said to be "at the end of the year," but here it's "the turn of the year". In between these passages, the Israelites have experienced a terrible trauma: Moses's long absence, their worship of the Golden Calf and God's threat to destroy them utterly, averted only by Moses's pleading.

Talk of endings might now seem too final, too dire. The year ends, but now we're reassured that it returns as well. Winter is coming, but spring will soon follow. Our circling of the synagogue with the lulav during Succot, and then with the Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah, echo this turning of the year, the cyclical nature of time.

As we watch the pound tumble, Europe crumble, Aleppo shatter under Russian bombs, peoples moving across continents and the future of the Western world hang on the choice of American voters, our foreboding might overwhelm us. The book of Kohelet, read on Shabbat Chol Hamo'ed, is filled with a sense of the futility of things, as history repeats itself.

Yet the author maintains that God "brings everything to pass precisely at its time" (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and what we cannot change, we must endure, for this too shall pass. He concludes (verses 12-13) that "the only worthwhile thing is for [people] to enjoy themselves and do good in their lifetime… this is a gift of God".

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