Haftarah First Day of Sukkot
September 21, 2002
This haftarah identifies Sukkot as the time when the ultimate redemption of the world will take place. An essential part of this redemption will be the gathering of all of the nations of the world in Jerusalem where all of the nations will announce their acknowledgment of God. Zechariah marks this idealized future with a phrase now familiar to us because it marks the end of the Aleinu prayer: “[And the Lord shall be king over all the earth;] in that day the Lord will be One and His name will be one.” (Zechariah 14:9 – old JPS translation)
The medieval commentators struggled over the meaning of this religiously significant verse. Radak, the 12th century Provencal commentator, building upon Rashi’s interpretation, explains: “when the nations of the world come to Jerusalem and see the marvels which God has wrought, they will recognize that God is the Master of the world, who tends to the world, causing nature to do the will of those who worship Him because all are the works of His hands. As a result all will recognize that God is one and that there are no other deities. Then God’s name will also be one for everyone will call only His name….” (adapted translation) Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, the 11th century Spanish grammarian and exegete, based his interpretation on one found in the Talmud (Pesachim 50a). He notes that the redemption of the world will bring with it an acknowledgment of God’s four letter divine name (hashem hameforash). Everyone will call God by this name rather than by the names now in use. Maimonides, in his Guide to the Perplexed (1:61), adds a philosophical perspective to Ibn Ezra’s interpretation. He asserts that the different names for God grew out of people’s experience of God’s actions in the world. This appreciation of God is something good but has the potential to lead people away from God, since people might assume that different names might signify different gods. When the world is redeemed, everyone will become aware of this error and call God by His true name.
The Talmud (Pesachim 50a) offers another interpretation: “And the Lord shall be King over all the world, in that day the Lord will be one and His name shall be one”: Is He not one now? – Said Rabbi Aha bar Hanina: This world is not like the future world. In this world, when good things happen we say the blessing: ‘He is good and His name is good’ (hatov u‘meitiv), while when we hear bad news we say: ‘blessed be the true Judge’ (Dayyan haemet). In the future, we will only have to say the blessing ‘He is good and His name is good’.”
May we draw closer to the day when all of us will be cognizant of God in the spirit of Rabbi Aha’s vision.
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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