Sukkot – Between Particularism and Universalism – בין ישראל לעמים

The Haftorah of Sukkot is taken from  Chapter 14 in the Book of Zecharia, a prophecy in which the celebration of Sukkot is mentioned three times. 

 

וְהָיָה כָּל הַנּוֹתָר מִכָּל הַגּוֹיִם הַבָּאִים עַל יְרוּשָׁלִָם וְעָלוּ מִדֵּי שָׁנָה בְשָׁנָה לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לְמֶלֶךְ ה' צְבָאוֹת וְלָחֹג אֶת חַג הַסֻּכּוֹת:

וְהָיָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא יַעֲלֶה מֵאֵת מִשְׁפְּחוֹת הָאָרֶץ אֶל יְרוּשָׁלִַם לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לְמֶלֶךְ ה' צְבָאוֹת וְלֹא עֲלֵיהֶם יִהְיֶה הַגָּשֶׁם:

וְאִם מִשְׁפַּחַת מִצְרַיִם לֹא תַעֲלֶה וְלֹא בָאָה וְלֹא עֲלֵיהֶם תִּהְיֶה הַמַּגֵּפָה אֲשֶׁר יִגֹּף ה' אֶת הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יַעֲלוּ לָחֹג אֶת חַג הַסֻּכּוֹת:

זֹאת תִּהְיֶה חַטַּאת מִצְרָיִם וְחַטַּאת כָּל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יַעֲלוּ לָחֹג אֶת חַג הַסֻּכּוֹת:

 

"And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of Sukkot.

 And it shall be, that whoso of the families of the earth goeth not up unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, upon

them there shall be no rain.

And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, they shall have no overflow; there shall be the plague, wherewith the LORD will smite the nations that go not up to keep the feast of Sukkot.

This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations that go not up to keep the feast of Sukkot."

 

The words bolded in the text teach us something new and surprising.

In the Torah, Sukkot is similar to the holiday of Pesach, as both commemorate the Exodus from Egypt and the lives of Bnei Yisrael in the desert.

 

VaYikra 23:43 – 'So that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'

 

The essence of Sukkot is similar to that of Pesach, a holiday that emphasizes "This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it;" (Shmot 12:43)

 

ויקרא כג, מג: לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם אֲנִי ה' אלוקיכם:

חג שדומה במהותו לפסח, שבו יש הדגשה מיוחדת  – "כל בן נכר לא יאכל בו" (שמות יב מג).

 

How can we understand Zacharia's prophecy that requires other nations to take part specifically in the holiday of Sukkot, to convey their acknowledgement of the Almighty, the G-d of Israel?

The universal aspect of Sukkot is made quite clear to us through the seventy cows that are sacrificed throughout the holiday, as defined in Masechet Sukka (55:B). Rashi explains: This corresponds to the seventy nations, to serve as an atonement so that the entire world will be blessed with rain, because the fate of the water is decided on the holiday.

It is true that the nations do not take an active part, but they are certainly part of the objectives of the ceremonies in the Beit HaMikdash on Sukkot, and are connected to our prayers for rain. We learn from Zechariya's prophecy, that in the days to come, there will also be a punishment: Rain will be withheld from  those who do not join the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Sukkot. 

 

What can we learn from the prophecy of Zechariya? Why is the universal aspect of Sukkot so significant?

 

In our Sages' commentary on the verse: "Because I housed Bnei Yisrael in booths,"  we learn that the sukkot were not only to protect Bnei Yisrael from the perils of the desert, but also from enemies and conspirators. The booths were the clouds of glory that were used as a pillar of cloud to protect Bnei Yisrael. The sukkot in the desert were a barrier between our nation and all other nations, but sukkot in the days to come will no longer be used as barriers. Just the opposite.  The Haftorah opens with a description of a terrible war that will end with G-d's deliverance, and as a result, a fundamental change will emerge: The nations of the world will no longer gather in Jerusalem to wage war and try to destroy the nation of Israel. They will come to Jerusalem in acknowledgment of G-d's sovereignty in the world.

 

As is written in the prophecy, and as we all said in our prayers during the High Holidays: "And G-d will be the King of all the land; On that day, G-d will be One and His name will be One."

 

The holiday of Sukkot will become the focal point of a universal acceptance of G-d in the world. And the sukkot which were originally set up to separate and protect us from other nations, will turn into sukkot that invite the entire world to crown G-d as their King.

 

One thing that is common to all of humanity is the universal need for water and rain. That is why we pray for rain on this holiday. The objective of the sacrifices on Sukkot are also to ensure that the entire world will be blessed with rain. Those who refuse to recognize G-d will be punished by withholding rain.

 

These days, we are all quite anxious and apprehensive about the changes happening around us in Israel, and we are fearful of the outcome. A natural reaction might be to withdraw from pursuit of a global ideal and seclude ourselves on both an emotional and religious level. But the holiday of Sukkot, the Haftorah and the mention of the special sacrifices of the holiday join together to remind us that we must lift up our eyes from the present and look out towards the future and the tikkun of the world.

 

On this Sukkot, as we do every year, we will recite Hoshanot every day. In this prayer, we ask for the salvation of the nation of Israel and pray for a year blessed with peace and rain. We ask that the voice of the herald announce the arrival of the geula, the redemption. All of these prayers focus on Am Yisrael. But we end the Hoshanot every day with the prayer: "Deliver Your people" and conclude with the verse :"Thus shall all on earth know that the Almighty is G-d and there is no other."