Adrian A. Durlester

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Sukkot 5767

Precious Congealed Light - Or Y'karot V'kipa'on

Ah, the poetic Hebrew of the prophets. even the best of linguistic scholars can be baffled by it. Take chapter 14 of Zechariah, which is the haftarah for the first day of Sukkot. It's a stunning and somewhat disturbing piece of prophetic vision about a day of judgment that is coming for the world and Israel. Though even Israel gets her share of doom and gloom, In the end, it predicts a time when those of all the nations who have survived G"d's judgment will come up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot, and acknowledge the One G"d. And woe to those who don't, for they shall not have rain (except for Egypt, where the rain doesn't seem to matter so much.)

The connections to the the prayers for rain and the water libation ceremony stand out, and remind us that Sukkot was not always just a holiday of cute little decorated huts. In the aftermath of the Yamim Noraim, the holiday of Sukkot, for most liberal Jews, has become an afterthought. Yet Sukkot is THE holiday-the biggest and most impressive of the three pilgrimage holidays - Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot. In the absence of a Holy Temple at which to make the required sacrifices (this is the holiday where the 70 bulls, representing the 70 nations of the world, are sacrificed. It's another reminder that despite its seeming particularity, Judaism was intended to be universalistic.) And the all important purification of the altar, the water libation ceremony, took place during Sukkot.

I could talk more about all the water/rain connections for Sukkot, but that's not where I wanted to go this year. I was struck more by a reference to another elemental, light.

This day that is coming, according to Zechariah, when G"d will rain down judgment first upon Israel, by calling all the nations to Jerusalem to attack, capture and plunder her. Then G"d will literally plant G"d's feet on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and wreak vengeance on Israel's enemies. Fresh water will flow from Jerusalem to the Mediterranean and the Dead seas! All the rest of Israel except for Jerusalem shall be lowered like the lands of the Arava, so that Jerusalem stands alone towering over the land. Flesh will rot away from Israel's enemies, panic shall fall upon them. Eventually, all the wealth of the world will be brought to Jerusalem, and, as I mentioned, those who survive will all make pilgrimage to Jerusalem to acknowledge the One G"d and observe the holiday of Sukkot.

Can you imagine this as a movie script? And those special! But I digress.

This day that is coming is described in Zechariah 14:6-7 in a most interesting way:

6. In that day, there shall be neither sunlight nor cold moonlight; 7. but there shall be a continuous day-only the L"rd knows when-of neither day nor night, and there shall be light at eventide.

Perhaps one can see this (pun intended?) as the "light" equivalent of how at Sinai G"d's voice was seen and felt. This is a different kind of light. what kind?

Well, the committee of scholars that assembled the current JPS translation did their best to translate the Hebrew, and who am I to argue with them. But the Hebrew here is truly difficult to translate. What they translate as "sunlight nor cold moonlight" is, in Hebrew: or y'karot v'kipa'on.

"Or" is straightforward enough. It means light. Y'karot and k'pa'on, however, are horses of a different color. The root of Y'karot generally means splendid, precious, rare - it's the root used when we speak of "more precious than rubies." Only in this usage and on other in proverbs do we find y'karot translated as "cold." And the words for sun and moon just aren't there, and simply inferred by the scholars.

K'pa'on is another interesting word. Its root means to thicken or congeal, and k'pa'on is defined as meaning "congelation" or more plainly, congealment.

Some in the p'shat, the plain meaning, the words "or y'karot v'kipa'on" appear to say "precious and congealed light." Makes sense, sort of, in contest of what follows-that there will be a continuous day. So perhaps what we have is the congealment of sunlight and moonlight into one light that is continuous.

If so, do we have here something like the light that existed on the first day of creation - the light that existed before there was sun and moon and stars?

At the end of Sukkot we celebrate Simchat Torah. It's not really a separate holiday at all, just part of the overall holiday of Sukkot, indeed, part of the overall continuous holiday that starts in Elul, and runs through Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Hmm. Continuous holiday. Continuous light. There's food for thought-and yet another connection to the haftarah.

So maybe it's all a clue, pointing us to what we recognize at Simchat Torah, and the time of reading anew from the beginning- that Torah is this light that is nether sunlight nor moonlight - is this light that was created on the first day of creation.

This is metaphor, of course. Torah was given to us at Sinai. And, if we put on our scholar hats, the idea of a physical Torah existing on day one of creation (some sages have even suggested it existed before creation) feels false. Yet wearing our spiritual and theological hats - perhaps Torah was created as G"d congealed the light that G"d had created on that first day from the chaos that was the tohu vavohu. And now, on this day that is to come, G"d once again congeals the light into a continuous light, a continuous day - a day when "from out of Zion shall go forth the Torah." Puts a nice envelope, a bowtie, around creation and this ultimate day of judgment.

See what ya miss when you just read and accept a translation of the Tanakh done by someone else? Not to "dis" the great scholars who assemble the JPS translations, but as funky as the text reads, you might still have glossed over it (Zechariah 14:6-7) without much a second thought after some initial puzzlement.

So my challenge to you this Shabbat and Sukkot is to figure out for yourself what "or yikarot v'kipa'on" could mean - what kind of light is this, and why will it appear on this day to come, this day of judgment. And my continual challenge is to do the same with every little bit of text you encounter in Torah and Tanakh. That ought to keep you busy, perhaps too busy to have done a lot of things for which you'll be atoning next year around this time. A little less khol, and a little more holy.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameakh,


©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester 


Some other musings on the same parasha:

Sukkot 5764--Bayom Hazeh
Sukkot 5763--Sukkot Time Travel

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