On every Shabbos and Festival, we chant the words of the haftorah – the portion from the Prophets selected for that day. In this letter, we will discuss a few passages from the haftorah for the first day of Succos. These passages include a description of living waters which will emerge from under the Temple at the dawn of the messianic age, and how these waters will bring healing – physical and spiritual – to a damaged world. The haftorah also describes how the birth of this new age will be preceded by the downfall of violent nation-states that have decided to destroy the renewed Jewish presence in Zion.
The idea that the rebirth of our people and the world is preceded by the downfall of wicked and corrupt powers is a theme of biblical prophecies. Through the spiritual power of their God-given visions, the Prophets of Israel realized that the new age could not be born as long as arrogant human beings viewed themselves as the sovereigns of the earth with the freedom to exploit and oppress the earth, other creatures, and other human beings. In this spirit, the Prophet Isaiah, who envisioned all the peoples going up to Jerusalem to study Torah and thereby “beat their swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4), also proclaimed how a humbled humanity will finally acknowledge the sovereignty of Hashem – the Compassionate and Life-Giving One:
“Humankind’s haughty eyes will be brought low, and men’s arrogance will be humbled; and Hashem alone shall be exalted on that day.” (Isaiah 2:11)
Before I begin to discuss the prophecy regarding the living waters that will bring healing to our damaged earth, I want to discuss with you a letter that I received from a correspondent who has been an environmental activist, as well as a peace activist, within American leftist circles. We have been corresponding for a number of years, and I have a deep respect for her sensitivity, her concern for others, and her integrity, She has sought to bring healing to our damaged earth and its endangered species, and I know that she will appreciate these teachings about the living waters. She has also, however, become very concerned about the endangered People of Israel. She wrote that she has decided to confront the growing anti-Semitism and the cold indifference to Israel’s survival that she has encountered among certain leftist groups. She remembered that I had written about how my father, of blessed memory, was a leftist activist who had the self-respect and courage to speak out against the anti-Semitism that he encountered within his own leftist circles, and she therefore wanted to know if I had any suggestions to offer her, for she feels that she can not be silent about the serious danger facing our people. Her letter can serve as a reminder to some other activists that they cannot succeed in bringing in the new age of living waters while remaining indifferent to the increasing global anti-Semitism and the plans of certain nations to destroy Israel. It is therefore relevant to mention that the haftorah for the first day of Succos describes how an international military force representing various nation-states of the world will attack the renewed Jewish community in Jerusalem, just before the dawn of the messianic age. According to this ancient prophecy, the ancient hatred of our people will have surfaced again, and this international force will attempt to eliminate our renewed presence in Zion. Our endangered people will be saved, proclaims the Prophet Zechariah, as “Hashem will go out and wage war with those nations” (Zechariah 14:3).
The defeat of these forces through the open and miraculous intervention of the Compassionate One will lead to universal spiritual renewal, and all will acknowledge the Oneness and Sovereignty of the Compassionate One. As the Prophet Zechariah states:
“It will be a unique day, known to Hashem, neither day or night, but it will happen towards evening that there will be light. And on that day, living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, one half towards the eastern sea and one half towards the western sea; in summer and in winter will it last. And Hashem will be the Sovereign over all the earth; on that day, Hashem will be One and His Name will be One.” (Zechariah 14:7-9).
In a related prophetic vision regarding this future age, the Prophet Ezekiel describes these living waters, and he saw “water was emerging from under the threshold of the Temple” (Ezekiel 47:1). His description of the life-giving stream flowing from the Temple includes the following verse:
“By the stream there will rise up by its bank – on this side and the other – every manner of food tree; its leaf will not wither and its fruit will not fail. Every month it will yield new fruit, for its waters emanate from the Sanctuary; so its fruit will be for food and its leaf for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:12)
Based on the above verse, an ancient midrashic work, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, states:
“Every person who has a wound will be healed by taking of their leaves and applying it to the wound.” (Chapter 51)
(In the section below, “Related Teachings,” there is a discussion of another passage in this prophecy which indicates that the living waters will also bring healing to the polluted waters of the earth.)
As we mentioned above, the haftorah of the first day of Succos describes these healing waters as “living waters” (Zechariah 14:8). Malbim, a noted 19th century sage and biblical commentator, explains that in addition to the simple meaning, this alludes to the spreading of the life-giving Divine teachings.
The Prophet Zechariah adds: “It shall be that all who are left over from all the nations who had invaded Jerusalem will come up every year to worship the Sovereign, Hashem, of all the hosts of creation, and to celebrate the Festival of Succos.” (Zechariah 14:16)
“Hashem of all the hosts of creation” – “The God of love of all the hosts of creation” (Translation of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch).
These nation-states attacked Jerusalem, because they were worshiping a god of hate; however, in the new age of spiritual enlightenment and unity, humanity will make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Succos in order to worship the God of love – Hashem of all the hosts of creation.
In their commentaries on the above passage, Metzudas David and Malbim cite the tradition that the defeat of the armed forces attacking Jerusalem will take place during Succos. In order to commemorate this miraculous event which inspired the nations to acknowledge the Divine unity and sovereignty, pilgrims from the nations will journey to the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem each Succos.
We will then experience the fulfillment of the following Divine promise:
“My House shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).
Have a Chag Samayach – A Joyous Festival,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. According to my late teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, a noted Torah scholar and educator, the living and healing waters described above can be understood in both the physical and spiritual sense. If we understand this prophecy in the physical sense, explains Rabbi Carmell, it can be referring to the living waters from Zion which will bring healing to all the waters polluted by humanity, and Rabbi Carmell refers us to the following vision of the Prophet Ezekiel:
“Then He said to me: Waters issue out towards the eastern region and go down to the desert plain; and on their entering the sea, the sea of polluted waters, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that all the living things that swarm there – as soon as these streams reach them – will live: And there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come there, so that everything shall be healed and shall live where that stream comes.” (Ezekiel 47:8, 9 – translation of Rabbi Aryeh Carmell)
Rabbi Carmell discusses this vision in an article titled, “Judaism and the Quality of the Environment,” which appears in the book, Encounter, published by Feldheim. In this essay, Rabbi Carmell writes:
“No generation but our own is better equipped to appreciate the significance of this vision; both the parable of the polluted sea – something which only our own age has witnessed – and the inner meanings: the power of the waters of Torah and purity to revolutionize life on this planet by restoring to mankind its true goal, the creative life of the spirit.”
Rabbi Carmell’s translation of the above passage and the reason for his translation can be found in the commentary section of the ArtScroll edition of the Book of Ezekiel titled, Yechezkel.
2. The Netziv, a noted 19th century sage and biblical commentator, cites the tradition that during the reign of King Shlomo (Solomon), representatives from all the nations would come to Jerusalem during the Festival of Succos, when Israel offered seventy offerings on behalf of the seventy primary nations of the earth. The Netziv writes that during the intermediate days of the Festival of Succos, the sages of the nations who were in Jerusalem would hear King Shlomo share his teachings from the Book of Ecclesiastes (Herchav Davar on Numbers 29:12). The Book of Ecclesiastes was written by King Shlomo, and there is a custom to chant this book during the Intermediate Shabbos of the Festival of Succos.