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Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot

Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot
September 29, 2018 | 20 Tishrei 5779
Haftarah | Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16

The rabbinic sages saw many parallels between Sukkot and Pesach and it affected their thinking on both a halachic and theological level. From a legal or halachic perspective, it is plain to see that both festivals fall in the middle of the month, the 15th. This led the sages to determine that just as on Pesach there is an obligation to say kiddush and eat matzah on the first night, so too there is an obligation to say kiddush and eat bread in the sukkah on the first night of Sukkot. The sages also saw both holidays as a time of redemption – geula. Regarding Pesach, this point is obvious – the whole festival is about the miraculous redemption of the people of Israel from Egypt. But Sukkot’s connection to redemption is less obvious.

This question may be answered by looking at the haftarot that the sages assigned to Sukkot. For the first day of Sukkot, the sages selected a reading from Zechariah describing the eschatological battle over Jerusalem in the end of days. Similarly, the haftarah for Shabbat Chol HaMoed recounts the battle against the forces of Gog, a future enemy who will be overcome before all of the nations of the world come to recognize God. At the very least, these futuristic reading are gory, grotesque and surrealistic for those of us who have never experienced the battle field, and it is hard to fathom what they have to do with Sukkot, the time of our joy – zman simchateinu.

The answer to this question may be alluded to in the following midrash regarding the redemption from Egypt: “the like of which has never been seen’ (Shemot 9:18) [regarding the plague of hail] – but unlike the plague of the first born, this does not mean that there will not be a plague like it in the future. When? In the days of Gog and Magog, as we note in a verse from Job: ‘which I have put aside for a time of adversity, for a day of war and battle.’ (38:23) This is what is meant in Ezekiel’s prophecy: ‘I will pour down torrential rain, hail and sulfurous fire.’ (Ezekiel 38:22)” (adapted from Shemot Rabbah 12:2 Shinan ed. p. 246) These sages saw a parallel between what happened in Egypt and that which Ezekiel describes happening in the future. 

Some of the sages apparently saw Pesach as the redemption which began the saga of the Jewish people and Sukkot as the time of the ultimate redemption. The ultimate redemption, of necessity from their point view, had to overshadow the first one. We, of course, are squeamish about such things and would prefer a more peaceful resolution when the time comes, but then again, our imaginations are not colored by the reality of the Babylonia exile that the Ezekiel saw with his own eyes or the reality of domination which the sages experienced at the hands of the Romans. For us, the rabbinic tradition that the seventy bulls sacrificed on Sukkot for the welfare of the nations of the world will suffice.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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