Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot (Ezekiel 38:18-39:16)
October 7,2017 / 17 Tishre 5778
Next to “Shma Yisrael”, the words “Yitgadal v’yitkadash – Glorious and exalted” of the Kaddish prayer probably can be counted as the most well-known phrase in the Jewish liturgy. People, however, are less familiar with their origin and significance. These words make their debut in an eschatological vision (a vision of the end of times) found in this week’s haftarah reading in which Ezekiel prophesies the demise of a demonic nation named Magog, led by man called Gog, who will gather nations together to attack the nation of Israel. God will defeat Magog auspiciously, bringing about universal recognition of God’s greatness: “Thus will I (God) manifest My greatness and My holiness (v’hitgadalti v’hitkadashti) and make Myself known among in the sight of many nations. And they shall know that I am the Lord.” (38:23)
A clue to the significance of these words for the Jewish religious mindset may be found in a midrash which links these words with a very famous verse from the Torah: “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) … It was taught (in a baraita): Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai said: When is the name of the Holy One Blessed be He, glorified in the world? When He exacts justice upon the wicked. And there are many verses [to support this position]: [Among them] ‘Thus will I (God) manifest My greatness and My holiness (v’hitgadalti v’hitkadashti) and make Myself known among in the sight of many nations. And they shall know that I am the Lord.’” (adapted from Vayikra Rabbah 24:1, Margoliot ed. pp. 549-50)
It is hard to see the connection between Israel’s holiness and God’s meting out Divine justice in the world? Rabbi Hanoch Wolf Einhorn (Maharzu, 18th century Lithuania) has a very interesting take on this question: “Can there be any comparison between the holiness of flesh and blood and God’s holiness? Rather, since God is holy, we are made of holy material. Therefore, God is sanctified, as it were, in the acts of righteousness that Israel performs.”
In some sense, by avoiding the context of the verse from our haftarah, Einhorn has confronted it full force. There may be a time and place where a show of God’s power against one’s enemies exalts His name. On a normative basis, though, we are the arbiters of sanctifying God’s name in the way we act. In how we live our lives, we are agents of God’s will and in every single act we perform, the potential is there for “Yitgadal v’yitkadash”.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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