Haftarah: Shabbat Chol HaMoed Succot: Dignity
Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16: In 38:23 we find the biblical source for Kaddish. The exalting of God’s name is associated with death, for us in the Kaddish and in this prophecy with the deaths and burial of Israel’s enemies.
The prophet takes us back to Noah and his sons, Shem and Yefet, who covered their father while he lay naked in a drunken stupor. Shem understood that this great man, a savior of humanity and life on earth, may have fallen, however, his essence remained. Shem called to his brother, Yefet, to back into the tent of the drunken Noah and cover him with a blanket. Noah would never know if these two sons had seen him in his disgrace. He could not possibly know if Shem and Yefet walked straight into the tent, or if they backed in so as not to see him naked. The two sons wanted to preserve their father’s dignity in their own eyes, so they backed in and covered him.
Shem received his reward when his descendants, Israel, were granted the Mitzvah of Tzitzit. Yefet had to wait for his reward. He is still waiting It will come only upon the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy when Yefet’s children, the people of Gog, the attackers of Jerusalem, would merit the dignity of burial after their destruction. This speaks to the exaltedness and sanctity of God’s name; even the enemies of Israel will receive reward for the good they had done. There will be ultimate justice. Every good deed is rewarded. Kaddish will be said.
Ezekiel takes us back even earlier, to the first appearance of Adam: “the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the beasts of the field, all creeping things that move on the ground…” This is the list of the very things given to Adam to master. (Genesis 1:28)
The prophet connects the End of Time with its beginning. He connects the former, with its promise of potential, the latter, with the consequences of misusing that potential. The same birds and beasts that were to be mastered will consume the remains of those who used their potential to destroy, rather than to build up God’s creation.
Except, that is for the descendents of Yefet, the one who maintained an awareness of the dignity of being a human being.
Ezekiel is speaking to people exiled to Babylon, people who lost everything, including their dignity. We are surprised that people struggling to rebuild their lives have the time and patience to listen to Ezekiel as he speaks of the end of time. However, his message addressed the most basic ingredient necessary for them to start over. He reminds them of their promise, their dignity, and their ability to master their environment. He reminds them of Ultimate Justice, that everything they will do, and everything they have done, albeit, lost in the destruction of Jerusalem, mattered to the Creator. Ezekiel recites Kaddish, as if to say, “the dignity of God’s name in this world is intertwined with your dignity. Foster yours and His will expand in kind.”
Succot is a time of joy, but for those above the equator, it is a time when much of nature seems to be dying. The s’chach is taken from dying branches. (Nehemiah, chapter 8) We have spent a great deal of time examining our past. Ezekiel promises us that nothing is lost. There is Ultimate Justice. He urges us to reconnect to the promise of humanity as we step forward into the future.