The holiday cycle discussed in this week's Torah portion (Leviticus 23) can perhaps best be understood as an extended reflection on the nature of this covenant between God and the Jewish people. We begin with the Festival of Pesach--Passover--during which we commemorate and re-enact the most important experience the Jewish people have ever had: We were an abandoned people, enslaved and degraded for generation upon generation, utterly devoid of hope and the sense that things could be different.
But, despite despair, the status quo was dramatically overturned, and we were set free. This is the most important story we tell about the world. It reflects both our aspirations and our deepest commitments: God will not be satisfied, and history will not be complete, until all oppression and degradation have been rooted out and God's presence is tangibly felt in the world.
Taken by itself, the Exodus insight--that oppression is unacceptable to God and must be uprooted--is as vague as it is powerful. What are the concrete implications of being the bearers of the Exodus story? It is for answers to this question that we journey to Sinai and receive the Torah--an event that, according to the rabbis, took place at the time of the Festival of Shavuot--the Feast of Weeks (v. 21).
It is no exaggeration to say that the Torah is, at its core, an attempt to understand the implications of the Exodus experience. Again and again, the Bible makes demands upon us that are justified by the most basic truth about our life as a people: "You were slaves in the Land of Egypt" and "I am the Lord your God who took you out from the Land of Egypt." At this moment in the Jewish calendar, we are between Exodus and Sinai--that is, we have just left Egypt, and we are journeying toward Torah. On Shavuot, we will receive the Torah yet again and attempt through it to [realize?]enact the world of which we dream and of which Exodus is the ultimate harbinger.
But if Pesach is about the Exodus and Shavuot about Sinai, then what about Sukkot, the Festival of Booths (vv. 33-43)? What formative event in our history does this festival commemorate? Sukkot commemorates the sheer fidelity of living the covenant day after day, even--and especially--on days in which God does not split seas or reveal codes of law and ethics.