15 Tishrei, 5784 / September 30, 2023
By Rabbi Kirk Gliebe
This Week’s Readings:
Torah: Leviticus 22:26 – 23:44; Numbers 29:12-16
Haftarah: Zechariah 14:1-21
Brit Chadashah: Revelation 21:1-8
The recent pandemic
clearly caused serious ongoing health problems for many people who contracted
the coronavirus, but less appreciated is that the pandemic caused some very
serious long-term mental health issues for even more people, regardless of
whether or not they tested positive for COVID-19, loneliness being chief among
them. At a time when many separated themselves or were separated from friends
and family out of fear of the virus, loneliness is a natural side effect of society’s
reaction to the pandemic. Yet even prior to the pandemic, people in the United
States reported experiencing more loneliness than ever before. Pair this with
the fact that recent research suggests loneliness can be lethal, it’s clear
that America’s isolation epidemic could lead to a lot of lost lives. It can be
hard to believe that loneliness leads to death, yet that’s exactly what a
recent report by the American Psychological Association found. Here’s how it
happens: Persistent loneliness causes stress, which increases the body’s
production of a protein called fibrinogen. An excessive amount of fibrinogen
can clog arteries, increase blood pressure, and make people more susceptible to
heart disease. In fact, according to Dr. Dilip Jeste, a professor of psychiatry
and neuroscience at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine,
loneliness rivals smoking and obesity in its impact on shortening longevity. Millennials,
considered the loneliest generation by some, are especially at risk of
experiencing social isolation according to recent data from YouGov, which found
that members of the Millennial Generation have far fewer social relationships
than their forebears: 30% of respondents said they didn’t have a best friend;
27% said they had few close friends; 22% said they had no friends at all, and
an astonishing 25% said they didn’t even have any acquaintances. What a sad commentary on
the state of our society! Thankfully, the Scriptures provide a solution for
loneliness for those who are willing to live according to G-d’s Instruction:
relationship with G-d and relationship with others within a spiritual community
is an imperative, not a suggestion when convenient!
In the Torah portion we read about the instructions for Sukkot and see how Sukkot comes at the end of the listing of Holidays, as the culmination of the hard labor throughout the summer months and after the solemn time of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This final harvest of Sukkot is when the Israelites were to gather in their towns and in Jerusalem to celebrate and enjoy the fruits of their labor! They were to eat of the harvest and gather specific branches and fruit together and rejoice before the L-RD for seven days; a seven-day party with fresh food, dancing, and worship. We also see that Sukkot is a week-long holiday, beginning with a mikra kodesh, a community gathering for worship, and concludes with an additional eighth day on Shemini Atzeret for another community gathering for worship. In Jewish tradition this eighth day was added by G-d so that his people would spend a little more time with Him and with one another in kesher, community. In chapter 23 the passage includes the statement that Sukkot is a “statute forever”, emphasizing that this holiday is to be celebrated for all time as a reminder that G-d provides for us and our needs. It also is a reminder that G-d appreciates when we spend time with him while we are spending time with others.
In the Haftarah portion, we read about a final effort by the nations of the world to attack and destroy Jerusalem, and that they seemingly succeed in this effort: the city is captured with the resulting destruction and bloodshed of our Jewish people. When all seems lost Messiah Yeshua himself will show up to fight on behalf of Jerusalem to rescue the city and its people. Chapter 12 adds some additional insight into this deliverance as the people will mourn during their rescue as they recognize who the Pierced One is who is rescuing them: Yeshua the Messiah of Israel. After this amazing rescue and the establishment of Messiah Yeshua’s kingdom, the land will be transformed and the nations that attacked Jerusalem will be judged. After all of this hardship and judgment there will be peace, and in this time of peace under Messiah all the nations of the world will come in the Fall season to Jerusalem to worship G-d as King and to celebrate the Holiday of Sukkot, gathering together in celebration to worship the L-RD G-d as the one who is the provider for all the people of the world.
In the Brit Chadashah portion we read John’s vision at the end of Revelation that following the judgment of G-d there will be a New Heaven, a New Earth and a New Jerusalem. On top of this G-d himself will be on earth in the person of Messiah Yeshua dwelling among the people in Jerusalem as the King of Israel. After the arduous time of tribulation and judgment we read about in Zechariah and also earlier in Revelation, Yeshua’s return and the restoration of G-d’s creation will bring about a time foreshadowed by the holiday of Sukkot where all the people of the world will together celebrate for all of eternity.
Each year as we go through the High Holiday process, we first hear the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and its call to repentance. Then we fast on Yom Kippur, taking time to reflect on our lives and on our personal sinfulness, asking G-d for forgiveness based on Messiah Yeshua atonement for our sin. Finally, there’s Sukkot as a time to be with G-d and with one another to celebrate what G-d has provided for us and to enjoy time together. So, this Sukkot, I encourage you to make the time to rejoice in who G-d is and what he has provided for you, and to also enjoy spending time with one another! Fight this time of isolation by making time to spiritually and safely connect with other followers of Messiah Yeshua, especially within this community of believers.
One other thought: are you looking forward to the Coming of Messiah Yeshua? With everything going on in our world, I encourage you to remember the final words of the book of Revelation: “The One giving testimony to these things says, “Yes! I am coming soon!” Amen! Come Lord Yeshua!” If you believe in Messiah Yeshua, then keep actively looking forward to his imminent return!