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The First Day of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:1-21)

The First Day of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:1-21)
Thursday, October 9, 2014 / 15 Tishre 5775

The special haftarah for the first day of Sukkot paints an awful picture of the battle over Jerusalem in the end of days where God will stand up in the battle for the city and rescue it and its inhabitants from the marauding enemies who seek to despoil and destroy it. This ferocious battle will leave Jerusalem’s enemies undone with their resultant remnant recognizing God whom they will come to worship yearly by making pilgrimage to Jerusalem during Sukkot. This eschatological vision (vision of the end of time) where all recognize God is captured in the very familiar verse from the end of the “Aleinu” prayer: “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; on that day the Lord shall be one and His name shall be one NJPS: in that day there shall be one Lord with one name)” (14:9)

Rashi understands this vision as a religiously revolutionary moment: “All of the nations will leave their false religion (hevleihem} and there will no more foreign gods for God will be recognized by all.” Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) describes how he thought this transformational process would come about: “When the nations come to Jerusalem and see the miraculous wonders [wrought by God], they will recognize Him as king over all the world, [noting] that He guides the lower world and does as He wills, overturning nature to do the will of those who fear Him.”

Kimche envisions that those who attend Jerusalem will have a conversionary vision. He assumes that it is sufficient to experience extraordinary events and to be impressed by them to be cognizant of God. Just as important though is how one interprets what one experiences. In order to see God’s hands in events, one must understand them as such. This is very much a modern problem. We are trained to ignore the wonder in things – to have a sense that there is nothing beyond us. Zechariah’s vision wants to turn this poetic blindness on its head.

This is what makes the association of this vision with Sukkot so significant. Dwelling in a Sukkah, underneath “schach – a thatch roof” is intended to remind us that there is “Something” beyond us – that we are not totally in control – that it is possible to experience wonder – to be transformed. Everything is dependent on how a person understands his or her experience. Sukkot is all about transforming our consciousness and teaching us to be able to see.

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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