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Shabbat Hol Hamoed Sukkot 5769

Shabbat Hol HaMoed Succot
(Ezekiel 38:18-39:16)
October 18, 2008
19 Tishre 5769

The haftarah for Hol HaMoed Sukkot comes from an eschatological prophecy – a vision of the end of time. It envisions a nation named Gog from a place called Magog which will attack Israel after it has returned from exile. God\’s anger will be kindled against this nation for attacking Israel. God will cause Gog\’s downfall after its attack on Israel. This defeat will cause the recognition of God\’s sovereignty over the world.

Ezekiel\’s message seems to be aimed at reassuring the restored community of Israel that despite their insecurity, God was still sovereign over all of the nations of the world. God would ultimately overcome all of Israel\’s enemies. Gog symbolized the Israel\’s ultimate enemy. Its defeat, then, represented God\’s ultimate authority in the world. This prophecy was intended to convince Israel and the nations of the world of this message. (R. Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra L\’Yisrael, pp. 733-735)

The language used to convey this sovereignty is familiar to all: \”Thus will I manifest My greatness and My holiness (v\’hitgadilti v\’hitkadishti) and make Myself known in the sight of many nations. And they shall know that I am the Lord.\” (38:23) This verse forms the basis for the beginning of the prayer, the Kaddish. It is interesting that this prayer became associated with the rites of mourning. In some sense, the prophecy which contained these words was inspired by the nation\’s insecurity, by its sense that its fate was not assured. The nation doubted God\’s ability to insure its existence. Belief in God\’s ultimate victory over Gog was intended to shore up Israel\’s faith in its moment of weakness. By acknowledging God\’s greatness, the nation\’s faith was strengthened.

This is also very much the same thing we do when we say mourner\’s kaddish. In our moment of individual existential weakness, the kaddish allows us to reaffirm our faith in God\’s greatness. In our acknowledgement of God\’s greatness and sovereignty, we, too, are strengthened. It helps us move back into the orbit of the world that God has created and out of the chaos that our loss has brought upon us. Such is the power of the affirmation of our faith.

This message is particularly poignant on this Shabbat where we read the book of Kohelet – Ecclesiastes, with its focus on human insecurity and the religious struggle to overcome it. The liturgical recitation of this book leaves us with a similar answer. For life to have meaning with all that we must contend with, our focus must be on appreciating God\’s creation, sharing in it, enjoying it, appreciating it and showing our gratitude to Him through our service to Him. This will help us over life\’s rough moments.

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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