This week is the holiday of Succot, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the fifth Intermediary Day falls on Shabbat, so once again the regular Torah reading is suspended and a special portion for the holiday is read instead. We read from Exodus, Chapter 33. The section discusses G-d’s covenant with Moses and that His presence will dwell with the Jewish people. He tells Moses to carve new tablets upon with G-d will engrave the Ten Commandments and up on Mount Sinai G-d reveals His glory.
Following this section, a shorter section is read from Numbers 29. These verses describe the sacrifices that were brought in the Temple on each day of Succot. As a result, we read the set of verses for each day on the appropriate day of the holiday: for example, we read verses 12 – 16 on the first day, verses 17-19 on the second and so on.
For centuries, we have followed this custom and I don’t think I ever thought of this as special. But think about it– we are celebrating holidays that were given to us by G-d, as taught to us by Moses some 3,500 years ago. The instructions were meticulous and when the Children of Israel entered the Land of Israel and built the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, each of these instructions was followed to the letter. But we have been without a Temple for nearly 2,000 years! We have not brought these sacrifices since then! And yet, we still consider this to be the ultimate way to celebrate the holiday. It is the way G-d wanted us to celebrate, and we express our longing for the rebuilding of the Temple and the return to these ancient rites by reading these verses on the day that they are supposed to be performed.
On every Shabbat morning, after the Torah portion is read, a short passage from the Prophets is read as well. On this Shabbat, the sixth day of Succot, the passage is from Ezekiel 38. It talks of the war of Gog and Magog which will precede the Final Redemption. This war is identical to the one described in the fourteenth chapter of Zachariah, which is read on the first day of Succot, speaking of a time, after the nations will have fought against Jerusalem and G-d brings judgment upon them.
There will be a time when G-d will defeat our enemies, will enable us to live in peace in this Land, when the Temple will be rebuilt and we will once again celebrate the holiday of Succot as before. And the nations of the world will join us — not just those who come today as our friends and allies, but also those who were once our enemies, who survive G-d’s punishment and recognize G-d’s sovereignty. We wait for that day to come and pray for it, especially during the holiday of Succot.