14 Tishrei 6774
Erev Chag Sukkot
By Rav David Silverberg
The haftara for Shabbat Chol Ha-mo'ed Sukkot is the prophecy of Gog U-Magog, found in Sefer Yechezkel (38). Yechezkel foresees the time when a certain empire named Magog, led by a ruler named Gog, will descend upon the Land of Israel to wage war against the Jewish people that had been assembled from across the globe to its ancient homeland. God warns that He will respond with vengeance and defeat Gog and his allies through a host of supernatural disasters (see 38:22). Some commentators associate the war foreseen here with the final prophecy of Zekharya (chapter 14) that is read as the haftara for the first day of Sukkot, and which similarly tells of an alliance of nations that will descend upon Jerusalem and ultimately suffer a crushing defeat.
The connection between this war and the festival of Sukkot, as noted by Rav Menachem Bentzion Zaks (in Menachem Tziyon – Yerach Ha-eitanim), emerges from a passage in the Yalkut Shimoni (653). Commenting on the verse, "You shall dwell in sukkot for seven days" (Vayikra 23:42), the Yalkut states that the mitzva of sukka alludes to the sukka spoken of by the prophet Yeshayahu (4:6): "And there shall be a sukka for shade by day and for refuge and shelter from downpours and rain." The Yalkut explains that at some point in the future, nations will wage war against Am Yisrael in the Land of Israel, and the Almighty will fight on Am Yisrael's behalf while providing a protective "sukka" over them all throughout. Our observance of this mitzva thus relates to the supernatural protection God will provide during the battles and bloodshed that will precede the Messianic era, and for this reason, perhaps, we read the prophecies describing these wars as the haftarot on Sukkot.
Rav Zaks suggests an additional basis for this connection, as well. He cites the Radak (without providing a source) as suggesting that the names "Gog" and "Magog" are etymologically related to the Hebrew word gag, or "roof." A roof is a firm, sturdy, man-made structure that offers a person protection and a sense of security and comfort. The thematic symbolism of gag directly contrasts to that of a sukka, a makeshift, temporary structure that offers no protection from the elements. ... The empire of Magog, as depicted by Yechezkel, is characterized by an arrogant sense of self-sufficiency, and overconfidence in man's independent capabilities, achievements and prowess. It is a nation that believes it can achieve its goals through its own resources of talents and willpower, that it can survive and endure under the sturdy, robust "roof" it has built for itself.
The mitzva of sukka, of course, conveys the precise opposite message, as it brings to mind the period of wandering in the wilderness, when Benei Yisrael lived entirely under God's supernatural protection. The fragility and instability of the sukka remind us that our efforts and initiative, while certainly indispensable, are worthless without God's ongoing support and protection. Thus, the apocalyptic confrontation between Magog and Am Yisrael is, essentially, a reflection of the ever-present conflict between the notion of gag – human self-reliance – and that of the sukka – our sense of dependence on the Almighty – and this perhaps accounts for the connection between Sukkot and the battle of Gog U-magog.
May we see the ultimate fulfillment of all the prophecies for good! Have a wonderful, joyful holiday!!