“All who survive of all those nations that came up against Jerusalem shall make a pilgrimage year by year to bow low to the King, Lord of Hosts and to observe the Feast of Booths. Any of the earth’s communities that does not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to bow low to the King, Lord of Hosts shall receive no rain” Zechariah 14: 16-17

By Rabbi Nancy Morris, October 1, 2009

Thus Zechariah presents his apocalyptic vision of Succot as the messianic end of days for all nations, the traditional haftarah reading for the first day of Succot. In it, he visualises the violent destruction of Jerusalem and the plagues that will harm the nations that destroyed it.

All nations will come to worship in Jerusalem on Succot or face further calamity, particularly lack of water. Succot manages to encompass both the most particularistic rituals of Jewish festivals as well as the most universalistic. The Torah reading for Succot contains many particularistic laws such as the four species, while Zechariah envisions a future when all non-Jews will join with Jews in worship of the One God.

Many commentators, like Rashi, see the universalist link between Zechariah and Succot as the focus on water. However, the basic underlying premise is punishment against the nations of the world for failure to recognise the One God, by withholding the universal element of life, water.

The Reform liturgy has therefore replaced this traditional haftarah reading because of its focus on punishment and violent destruction in favour of a passage from I Kings 8, in which Solomon prays at the dedication of the Temple. The passage maintains a universalist vision by describing foreign peoples coming as individuals to Jerusalem to pray to God. In this reading they do not worship God for fear of punishment, but because they have heard the fame of God’s great name “and so come to pray in this House.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg articulates these positive aspects of Succot’s universalist vision when he writes: “Succot rituals affirm the holiness of pleasure, even while they infuse pleasure into the holy. The Succot liturgy celebrates material wealth even as it warns that it is ‘vanity of vanities’, [and in this way]…Succot’s central ritual model – re-enactment of the journey to liberation – becomes the foreshadowing of the Exodus way through human history to a universal Promised Land.”

Last updated: 9:55am, October 1 2009