Thursday, October 15, 2009

Q) Ezra's celebration of Succoth

After the construction of the essential parts of the Temple was completed, the vision of Prophet Zechariah was given symbolic expression already then, on Succoth (the Feast of Tabernacles) celebrated under the guidance of Ezra and Nehemiah. Since both of them were contemporaries of the Prophet1, we may safely assume that they conferred with him, and took up his visions.

Succoth, like the two other Biblical convocations Pessach and Shavuoth, has besides the historic/religious and the agricultural aspects also a prophetic bearing, in this case that of the ingathering of all the peoples, Jews and others, so-to-say as the last harvest into the Third Temple2. Succoth stands thus also for the feast of peace on earth, for the time being at least symbolically and as a sign of hope3.

Ezra3a and Nehemiah gave expression to this hope by specially ordering the people "to go forth unto the mount and fetch branches of the (wild) olive tree and of the goodly olive tree"4 besides the other commanded varieties of branches (palm branches, myrrh, willow). The order to fetch branches of both the wild olive tree and of the goodly olive tree is peculiar indeed, and the interpretation of the Torah given by Ezra and Nehemiah on that day must have included the explanation of the meaning of the two varieties of olive branches, and of this peculiar order as being derived from the law5. When hearing that, the people wept. Apparently they had hoped for a feast of joy and peace among themselves, now and forever – and were rather shown that others symbolized by the wild olive branches would become associated. In response to their weeping, Ezra encouraged them: "Be not sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength"6

Prophet Zechariah, Ezra, and Nehemiah, must have realized by then that monotheism with its high ethical and moral standards cannot be brought into mankind neither by acts of a government, not even by a well-disposed one like that of Cyrus and Darius; nor could that be done by the nation of Israel, at least not as long as the peoples are not prepared for it and become ready to accept it. This preparation would have to be done in a way modeled after the “mixing of leaven into the dough” (Matth. 13:33); and/or by “mingling clay into the iron” (as per Dan. 2:41-43).

Zechariah's vision of the Menorah flanked by two olive branches, if seen in connection with Hos. 14:6,7 and Ezra's above order for Succoth, must have served as a fulcrum in Paul's message to the Gentiles in which he depicts them as wild olive branches grafted "in violation of nature" onto the goodly olive tree, Israel7. By adhering to this spirit they would, according to Paul, eventually become co-fellows, co-citizens, co-heirs with the Jews8.

In our times, the State of Israel reborn after the destruction of the Second Temple roughly 1900 years ago, made the Menorah flanked by two olive branches its official emblem of state; and a stylized Menorah presented by some Members of the (British) House of Commons to the new State of Israel, shows in one of its branches Prophet Zechariah's famous word9: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord", a word which still expresses the hopes of many people, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Although there is much theological, political, and even violent resistance against Israel’s rebirth and what it stands for, there is yet good hope that the prophecies will come true, for the benefit and the blessing of all men of His Will.

We may indeed see the rebirth of Israel in 1948 as a token for the eventual fulfillment of the ancient hope for peace on earth, namely that "nation shall not lift up sword against nation", and that "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain"10 Wonderusly enough, this rebirth occurred in the very same decade which saw the devastating and unparalleled havocs of Auschwitz and Hiroshima.

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