Rejoicing With A Double-Edged Sword
The Jewish High Holidays are known as the Days of Awe.
On Rosh Hashanah, we coronate God as our King, on Yom Kippur, we receive God’s forgiveness, and on Sukkot, we rejoice and demonstrate our trust in God.
The Talmud (Sukkot 52b) describes the Sukkot celebration in the Temple as being so joyful that anyone who did not see it “never saw celebration in his life.”
Rejoicing can be a double-edged sword. Done properly, it can enhance our love of God; however, because “joy breaks boundaries”, inappropriate levity can lead to a moral disaster with men and women not showing respect for each other’s boundaries.
Our sages foresaw the potential for disaster during the Sukkot celebration, so they instituted a mutually agreed upon and respectful separation of men and women. They built a balcony that afforded the women a superior unobstructed view of the festivities.
The Talmud asks how the sages could introduce a “new” structural change in the Temple. The sages homiletically applied an event mentioned in Zechariah to their situation.
Zechariah 12:10-12 describes the great mourning which will take place over Jews who died as martyrs in battles again our enemies. Zechariah foresees a time in the future when all Jerusalem with mourn “with the men separate and the women separate.”
The Talmud explains that if separation is required at a funeral when levity is unlikely, how much more so is separation appropriate at joyous celebrations like the Sukkot festival.
Missionaries mistranslate Zechariah 12:10 to read, “they will look toward God whom they pierced” and claim it is referring to Jesus (God) who was pierced (executed) by the Jews. This missionary argument contradicts the New Testament (John 19:34-35) that says Zechariah’s prophecy was fulfilled when a Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side after he was already dead.
In context and the original Hebrew, the verse reads, "they will look onto Me (God) regarding the ones (the Jews who were killed in battle) who were pierced, and they will mourn for him." The words "Me" and "him" confirm that the text speaks of two different subjects. Additionally, the prophecy cannot be speaking about Jesus since he was never mourned in the manner described by Zechariah.
You can find more detailed explanations of Zechariah 12 on the Jews for Judaism website, including my article at jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/analysis-of-zechariah-1210.
May we soon see the day when sorrow is transformed to rejoicing as it says, “You turn my mourning into joyful dancing” (Psalm 30:11).
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz