Shabbat Hol Hamoed Sukkot
October 2, 2004
The Jewish tradition associates the ultimate national redemption of the Jewish people with Sukkot. This Shabbat’s haftarah from Ezekiel plays an integral in this association. Theologically, for Ezekiel, Israel’s defeat and exile represented God’s ultimate disgrace. God’s role in overturning Israel’s tragic history, will, consequently, serve as a means for restoring dignity to God’s name in the world. In a sense, Israel’s ultimate redemption will be God’s ultimate redemption as well. Ezekiel prophecies the final battle against the evil forces known as Gog from the land of Magog. God’s triumph in this battle will cause His name to be exalted: “Thus will I [God] manifest My greatness (v’hitgadalti) and My holiness (v’hitkadashti), and make Myself known in the sight of many nations” (Ezekiel 38:23)
Rabbi Joseph Kara (12th century France) captures the essence of this verse: “I [God] will glorify Myself in the world with the wonders that I will perform against Gog. When the nations see the power of My might, they will recognize Me as God and will exalt and sanctify Me. The nations will then know that I am God and there is none else…”
The sages, following Ezekiel’s lead, felt that Israel had a critical role in manifesting God’s reputation in the world. They thought that Israel’s behavior was not only an indicator of God’s status in the world but, even more so, it had an influence on His status: “Rabbi Shimon ben Eleazar says: ‘When Israel do the will of God, His name is exalted in the world…. But when Israel does not do the will of God, His name is profaned in the world…” (Mechilta d’Rabbi Ishmael Shirta 1:3)
This idea took hold in liturgical form in the Kaddish. The first two words of the verse from the haftarah are also well known for their liturgical usage as the first words of the Kaddish prayer (yitgadal v’yitkadesh). The liturgical function of the recitation of these words gives human beings the role of establishing God’s glory in the world. A number of sages from the middle ages note that this might even account for the reason that these words are recited in Aramaic in the Kaddish rather than in Hebrew. They assert that since Aramaic was the universal language at the time of the formulation of the Kaddish, it should be said in a language that even the nations of the world would understand. By reciting these words, the nations would come to recognize that God and justice should ultimately triumph. (Machzor Vitri Siman 9)
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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Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
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