(The following is in the main an adaptation of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch’s commentary on the Pentateuch).
Lev. 23:34 – Speak to the people of Israel, saying, the fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord.
Rabbi S.R. Hirsch (Num. 29:13) notes that the prophetic portions of foretelling apocalyptic wars of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel Ch. 38, 39) are read on the festival of Sukkot. He suggests a connection between the name “Gog” and the root גג –roof. In contrast, the name “Sukka” signifying a booth, is closely linked to the word סכך, the flimsy branch coverings required by Halacha to rest on the Sukka.
Gog would therefore symbolize the utter antithesis of the Sukka, as follows: whereas the “walls” of the Sukka are halachically required to be somewhat substantial and steady, the סכך is frail and helpful for little else than protection against direct sunlight; it scarcely avails in the face of heat, much less rain, wind and other weather.
Symbolically, the walls teach us that although we must engage in efforts to protect ourselves against the earthly dangers and enemies which surround us, the feeble סכך covering instructs us that vis-à-vis our Heavenly Father above we recognize that all such attempts are futile in view of His Omnipotence. In contrast to the סכך canopy, the גג-roof announces haughtily that we humans absolute masters of our destiny, even to the extent that it can protect us against G-d’s wrath. This is demonstrated in the early history of Mankind (Gen. 11:2-4), when Man decided to build the Tower of Babel, which was nothing short of a frontal war on G-d (see Alshich to Dan. 3:1). Man at his arrogant worst is intoxicated with his technology and creative genius, and cannot abide a Force greater than he – even the Lord Himself.
This on-going Kulturkampf is at the root of anti-Semitism as well, the Jews’ סכך loudly proclaiming the Uber-power of G-d over humans, vs. the גג’s defiance against that self-same Lord.
The Talmud (Avoda Zara 3a) tells us that the idolaters complain to G-d, as it were, that their lack of Heavenly reward is unfair, since they were never given a chance to fulfill the Divine precepts. G-d agrees to give them the “easy” Mitzva of Sukka. Each one then enthusiastically built a Sukka on his roof – until the weather turned hot, upon which they all contemptuously kicked down their Sukkas. Apparently, leaving their fate and comfort in the hands of G-d is insufferable – even for a week.
That said, a total of seventy sacrifices were offered in the Temple on this holiday – one for each of the emblematic seventy gentile nations. Our tradition has it that following the calamitous wars of Gog and Magog, the entire world will repent and recognize the One G-d of the universe – all on the holiday of Sukkot. Those surviving the cataclysmic carnage will finally grasp that no roof, not of shingles, not of titanium, not even a futuristic electronic force-field can stand up to G-d’s wrath. Those remaining finally realize that “not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit” (Zech. 4:6) does the world exist. Those who embrace and are embraced by the rickety סכך ironically outlive those protected by Man’ most sophisticated defenses.
May we merit the blessings of the Redemption of Israel and all of Mankind during this joyous holiday – sans the need for Gog or his גג.
Yehoshua is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain and currently lives in Israel with his wife and children.
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