Sukkot: Peace and War

Copyright 2012 Neal Joseph Loevinger

 
Torah Portion: Shabbat of Sukkot 
 
“On that day, when Gog sets foot on the soil of Israel — declares the Lord GOD — My raging anger shall flare up . . . “(Ezekiel 38:18)
 
Good afternoon! After days of rain, it’s finally sunny for Sukkot in the Hudson Valley! Unfortunately, the special haftarah [reading from the prophets] for the Shabbat of Sukkot is not so sunny in its tone and imagery. The text is from Ezekiel 38 and 39, and is a violent and awful prophesy of an apocalyptic battle between God and the forces of “Gog of the land of Magog,” an evil nation that will suffer a terrible vengeance at the End of Days. 
 
Prof. Michael Fishbane, who wrote the introductions to the haftarot found in the Etz HayimTorah commentary used in many Conservative synagogues, points out that this is not the first mention during Sukkot of battles during messianic times. The prophetic reading for the first day comes from Zechariah, and mentions not only a war of the Lord but also a great reconciliation afterwards, when all nations shall come to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot together. (See verse 16 here.) Fishbane also notes that the rabbis assumed that the war of Gog was the same war mentioned in Zechariah; hence, tomorrow’s text is an extension of the earlier one, in the understanding of the ancient rabbis who chose them.                                                                                                                                     
Yet the apocalyptic images of our prophetic texts hardly seems to fit the celebratory and joyous mood of the holiday. Some say that part of our joy comes from a renewed faith in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, but perhaps these stark texts portraying future upheavals and violence are also somber reminders of the fragility of our peace. Like a sukkah, peace can fall apart in a moment; like a sukkah, peace is temporary and fleeting. We must be mindful of peace when we have it, but not be afraid to confront evil when we must. 
 
All of the Abrahamic faiths- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- have ideas of an apocalyptic battle at the end of days. There are those who desire the end times, and seek to understand their enemies in theological terms. Gog, to them, is not a symbol but somebody on this earth who must be fought in the present moment- there is no waiting for Divine intervention. 
 
I reject this. I  believe it’s the job of religious moderates to stand against such reasoning and instead assume that the wars of the Lord are indeed only God’s to fight. Our job is not to rush the end times, but make this time as sweet and peaceful as we can. Our job is to make the whole world a sukkah of peace, now, and let the Holy One handle the end of days. 
 
moadim l’simcha,*
 
RNJL 
 
*happy holidays 
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