The War of Gog and Magog:
The Haftara of Shabbat Chol Ha-mo’ed Sukkot
By Harav Mosheh Lichtenstein
Translated by David Strauss
The haftara for Shabbat Chol Ha-mo’ed Sukkot (Yechezkel 38:18-39:16), which deals with the war of Gog and Magog, is one of the most famous prophecies in Scripture. It has succeeded in taking hold of the human imagination and penetrating deeply into our cultural and religious consciousness. The destruction of the existing and imperfect world, the ultimate war against evil, the heavy price of blood, and God's victory over men of flesh and blood are powerful images that leave a profound impression on the human soul. Thus, this prophecy has become part of the inalienable property of the Jewish and general world.
It is quite understandable, then, that this prophecy was included in the haftarot cycle. However, its relationship to the festival of Sukkot is not at all clear, and is even surprising, for what is the connection between a blood-drenched world war and the festival of Sukkot? How does the sukka of peace connect to war, and what is the relationship between the refuge and shelter of the sukka and the destruction and desolation described in this prophecy?
The reading of the haftara of Gog and Magog on Shabbat Chol Ha-mo’ed Sukkot is not merely a custom, but an obligation of Talmudic law. The gemara in Megilla (31a) mentions it along with the other haftarot read on the various holidays to this very day; we thus see that Chazal already saw an essential connection between the prophecy and the festival.
In answer to this question, Rashi (Megilla 31a, s.v. be-yom) identifies the war of Gog and Magog with the war fought in the end of days that is mentioned at the end of the book of Zekharia in the chapter that serves as the haftara on the first day of Sukkot. As Rashi puts it, "'On that day, when Gog shall come' is the war mentioned in Zekharia in 'Behold, the day of the Lord comes.'" Indeed, there is significant correspondence between these two prophecies. Both deal with a future war of defense fought against nations oppressing Israel in which God Himself rises to fight against the enemies of Israel, making use of very similar methods of fighting. Both campaigns are decided by way of supernatural means introduced by God, the focus of which is a great earthquake that utterly overturns the regular natural order, as a result of which pandemonium breaks out, causing "every man's sword to be against each other." From this perspective, we can certainly speak of very similar accounts issuing from the mouths of Yechezkel and Zekharia, and conclude from this that we are dealing with the same war, as is argued by Rashi.
Based on this, we can explain why we read the story of Gog and Magog on Shabbat Chol Ha-mo’ed Sukkot, for the prophecy in Zekharia makes explicit mention of the festival of Sukkot. According to Rashi, the two haftarot read on the festival of Sukkot deal with the terrible war that will take place in the future, "on that day," for they are one and the same war. On the first day of Sukkot, we read the account of that war as it appears at the end of the book of Zekharia, mentioning the festival of Sukkot at the conclusion, and on Shabbat Chol Ha-mo’ed, we read Yechezkel's account of the same war.
Read the rest here.