Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 11 July 2020 / 19 Tammuz 5780

Parshat Pinchas

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Roofless Renaissance

The festival of Sukkot is unique in its sacrificial offerings. On the first day of the festival, fourteen sheep, two rams and thirteen bulls are brought. While the number of rams and sheep remain constant, the number of bulls decreases by one each day, such that on the seventh day there are six. When the total number of bulls for the seven days is calculated, we arrive at a total of seventy, a number, which our Sages explain, represents the nations of the world. Thus, the offerings of Sukkot are distinct in that they are an expression for all of mankind. Our Sages say that Israel’s offering represents a plea for the atonement of mankind.

The Prophet Zechariah links Sukkot to the future goal of the nations. He describes the efforts of the nations, who employ their power against G-d — they will ultimately pay homage to G-d in Jerusalem, and all of mankind will then… celebrate Sukkot. But what is the connection of the nations of the world to the festival of Sukkot?

On the festival of Sukkot, Israel builds its sukkah under the protection of G-d. We leave our permanent dwelling, and construct a temporary hut whose roof must be made from produce of the earth. While the walls — which demarcate the social sphere of man — may be made of any material, the roofing must bear no sign of the power and nature of man. By dwelling under this roof, we acknowledge that G-d alone protects, and we rejoice in that protection.

The final wars that the nation will wage against G-d and against His workings will be led by Gog. This name, Gog, stems from the same root as gag — roof. Gog is the opposite of sukkah — that roofless dwelling under the protection of G-d. Indeed, the whole content of the world history of man is encapsulated in this contrast. Just as people have the power to erect strong and artificial walls, to enclose their sphere and safeguard it against others, so too do they imagine that they can secure themselves against G-d and the effects of His power. They think that they can protect themselves with their own power, and crown the building of human greatness with a gabled roof, rendering them independent of G-d!

This is precisely the struggle of Gog against the sukkah — the roof-delusion of human power and ingenuity against the roof of G-d’s protection. So it will come to pass when the Jewish People will have led humanity to its goal, and the futile efforts of man will have been laid bare. No longer will mankind seek protection by its physical and intellectual prowess. Instead, they will rejoice in the only enduring protection, together in one great roofless sukkah.

  • Sources: Commentary, Bamidbar 29:13, Vayikra 23:43

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