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Sukkot and the War of Gog U’maggog

The prophecy read as the Haftara for Shabbat Hol Ha’mo’ed Sukkot is from the Book of Yehezkel (chapters 38-39), and it foresees a series of major battles which will take place in the Land of Israel before the arrival of Mashiah. Yehezkel describes how two nations will fight against one another in the Land of Israel, though it will not directly involve the Jewish People.

The Malbim (Rav Meir Leibush Wisser, 1809-1879), his commentary to Yehezkel, explains that these wars will be waged between the kingdoms of Edom (the kingdom founded by Esav) and Yishmael – meaning, between the western, Christian world, and the Arab world. This will occur, the Malbim writes, after the Jewish People return to the Land of Israel, and the kingdoms of Edom and Yishmael will fight against each other for control of Jerusalem. We see this prophecy’s fulfillment gradually unfolding in our times, as the Jews have returned to the Land of Israel and established sovereignty there, and tensions are building between the West and the Arab world.

This war will result in an enormous number of casualties, and will be followed by the arrival of Mashiah, who will bring peace and serenity to the world, and under whose kingship all mankind will recognize and serve the one, true G-d.

The question arises as to why this prophecy is read on Sukkot. What connection is there between the war of Gog U’maggog and the festival of Sukkot?

The answer is found in a remarkable observation made by the Gaon of Vilna (Rav Eliyahu of Vilna, 1720-1797) regarding the special sacrifices brought over the course of Sukkot. As the Torah outlines in Parashat Pinhas (Bamidbar 29), a large number of animals were offered as the Musaf sacrifices each day of Sukkot. These included a total of seventy bulls, which, our Sages teach, were offered on behalf of the seventy gentile nations. The sacrifices also included one goat brought each day of Sukkot as a sin-offering. The Gaon of Vilna noted that two different expressions are used to refer to these goats. The goat offered on the first, second and fourth days of Sukkot is referred to by the term "Se’ir Izim," whereas the goat offered on the third, fifth, sixth and seven days is called simply, "Se’ir." The Gaon explained that the word "Se’ir" on its own alludes to Esav, who was also called by the name "Se’ir." The term "Se’ir Izim," by contrast, refers to Yishmael. Now on the first, second and fourth days of Sukkot, a total of 35 bulls were offered (13 on the first day, 12 on the second, and 10 on the fourth). This same number of bulls were offered on the third, fifth, sixth and seventh days (11 on the third, 9 on the fifth, 8 on the 6th, and 7 on the seventh). The Gaon explained that all the gentile nations are aligned with either Edom or Yishmael, such that exactly half of the 70 bulls offered on Sukkot correspond to Edom, and precisely half correspond to Yishmael.

Understandably, then, we read the prophecy of the war of Gog U’maggog on Sukkot – because the sacrifices offered on this holiday reflect the historical tension between the two kingdoms of Edom and Yishmael, who will wage this fierce battle.

Our Sages have taught us that prophecies predicting blessing and prosperity will always be fulfilled, whereas prophecies of calamity and tragedy can be averted through Teshuba (repentance). It thus follows that the dreadful war of Gog U’maggog – which, according to some commentators, will result in 60 million casualties, and according to others, in the death of one-third of the world’s population – can be avoided. By reaffirming our commitment to faithfully obey the Misvot, study Torah and perform acts of kindness, we will, please G-d, be worthy of protection from this war as well as from all crisis and hardship, Amen.

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