Haftarah Shabbat Hol Hamoed Sukkot
September 21, 2013
17 Tishri 5774
Ezekiel’s bizarre prophecy about the defeat of an imagined future enemy from the north (Gog) was meant to capture the imagination of all those who have concerns for the fate of the Jewish nation. Judea (read \”Israel\”) has always been a nation at the crossroads of larger nations, often world powers, which have threatened its security. Some prophets, like Jeremiah, perceived the nation’s enemies as agents of God visiting punishment on Judea. Others, like Ezekiel, envisioned the nation’s enemies as powers which could burst forth out of nowhere to threaten the welfare of the nation. Ezekiel’s message in this week’s haftarah is that God will reckon with these enemies too in order to provide His chosen nation with security and redemption.
In a series of four prophecies (chapters 38-39) of which the last two have been chosen as the special haftarah for Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot, Ezekiel wrestles with the nation’s insecurity in lieu of having recently been exiled to Babylonia. Ezekiel’s people are insecure as a result of having recently been cast out from their land. They do not know what do believe. Has God abandoned them? As a prophet, Ezekiel seeks to convince them that despite their insecurity, God will help them triumph over the unknown. He will trounce even their most awful enemy as part of the ultimate redemption. He is trying to teach them the boldest of qualities, namely, that optimism and faith conquer all. (See Rimon Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra L’Yisrael, pp. 734-5)
This intriguing idea serves as the basis of Ezekiel’s message. The horrific picture that he paints of the battle at the end of time which will seemingly engulf the redeemed nation is meant to teach that even redemption will not bring an end to uncertainty. The return home will not be idyllic. Life will never be without its uncertainties. The challenge in life is how to face these conditions. Ezekiel wants his people to face the challenges with certainty, knowing that God is with them.
Perhaps this explains the choice of this haftarah for Sukkot. During Sukkot, we intentionally dwell in booths with thatch roofs which make us subject to the weather with all of its uncertainty. Will we be able to sit in the sukkah or not? Will it rain? Will there be wind? We are confronted by insecurity. Still, Sukkot is “z’man simchateinu – the time of our rejoicing”. We rejoice despite our insecurities since they will never go away. Why? Our joy is founded upon faith that God is with us. Ezekiel’s message is that this promise is what should sustain us.
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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