Haftarah Shabbat Hol Hamoed Sukkot (Ezekiel 38:18-39:16)
October 22, 2016 /20 Tishre 5777
Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning the demise of Gog from Magog, the archenemy of Israel, falls into the category of apocalyptic eschatology, namely, the violent redemption that will occur at the end of time. It strikes the modern western reader, who has only reflected on the horrors of war from the distance of a few glimpses on the television screen, as worse than awful. One cannot imagine such a fate even for one’s enemies. It is from this prophecy that the word “Shoah” was coined for the events of the Holocaust. The graphic images portrayed in this prophecy would not have been lost on the ancients, not in Israel or elsewhere (and not on the tragic victims of the atrocities taking place in Syria in our day). Corpse strewn valleys and streets were a familiar sight. The victims, though, were your children and your fellow countrymen.
One can imagine how such images might shake the faith of those who had experienced these travesties. Ezekiel’s apocalyptic vision of Gog from Magog was intended to reinvigorate the faltering faith of his despondent brethren. God’s total sovereignty was yet to be established. The likes of Gog and Amalek still existed in the world, but God would ultimately overcome them and His true kingship would be established. And when God’s sovereignty would be established, true justice would be carried out with the fate which you had suffered being visited on those who were responsible for inflicting it on you.
This, of course, may not resonate with those of us who have not been afflicted. It seems so intemperate, but for Ezekiel’s audience, and for some today, the disposal of those who oppose God’s positive vision of the world resonates with them. This very same idea is the source for a liturgical phrase found on almost every Jew’s lips at one point or the other: “Yitgadal v’yitakadash – May You (God) be glorified and sanctified” which originates in this prophecy of God’s ultimate conquest over Gog: “v’hitgadilti v’hitkadishti – And I (God) will be exalted and sanctified in the eyes of the nations and they will know that I am the Lord.” (38:23)
This dialectic is reminiscent of a discussion between the famous couple, Rabbi Meir and his wife Beruruah: “There were once some ruffians in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who caused him a great deal of trouble. Rabbi Meir, accordingly, prayed that they should die. His wife Beruria said to him: ‘How do you justify [that such a prayer should be permitted]? [Only] because it is written: Let hatta’im cease (Psalms 104:35)? Is it written hot’im (sinners)? [No], it is written hatta’im (sins)! Furthermore, look at the end of the verse: and let the wicked men be no more. Since the sins will cease, there will be no more wicked men! Rather pray for them that they should repent, and there will be no more wicked. He did pray for them, and they repented.” (Berachot 10a)
So, too, here, may God’s sovereignty be established through the realization of God’s will, so that all will help create a world worthy of His recognition.
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. Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp. Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus . Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: