I t seems counterintuitive that we read about the horrors of Gog and Magog on Succos, the holiday on which we’re commanded to be joyous. Why are we so happy?

Following the war of words between the chief executives of the US and North Korea, does anyone know whether they’ll use their trigger finger in the same cavalier manner that they use their tongues? And now, as we open the Neviim to the haftaros of Succos, that sense of anxiety is heightened.

In this post-Hiroshima generation, with the threat of an Iranian atom bomb and missiles from North Korea looming, the apocalyptic images painted by the haftaros of the first day of Succos and Shabbos Chol HaMoed look more real than ever.

The pesukim (Yechezkel 38; Zecharyah 14) do indeed paint the scenario they call the war of Gog and Magog in bold, grim colors. “On the mountains of Israel,” says Yechezkel, and Zecharyah says, “to Jerusalem.” Many nations will take part: “And I shall gather all the nations to Jerusalem, to war, and the city shall be captured” (Zecharyah 14:2). Yechezkel gives a more colorful description, speaking to Gog in Hashem’s name:

“And I shall unbridle you, and I shall put hooks into your jaws and bring you forth and all your army, horses and riders, all of them clothed in finery, a great assembly, with encompassing shield and buckler, all of them grasping swords. Persia, Cush, and Put are with them; all of them with buckler and helmet….” (Yechezkel 38:4-10)

We’re even told when the war is to take place:

“You will come to a land [whose inhabitants] returned from the sword, gathered from many peoples, upon the mountains of Israel, which had been continually laid waste, but it was liberated from the nations, and they all dwelt securely” (Yechezkel 38:8).

According to the pesukim that follow, it will be an extremely difficult war, until a dramatic change occurs to bring victory:

“And it will be on that day when Gog comes against the land of Israel, Hashem Elokim declares, that My blazing indignation will flame in My nostrils. For in My zeal and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken; surely there shall be a great noise on that day in the land of Israel. And at My presence, the fishes of the sea and the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the field and all the things that creep upon the earth and all the men upon the earth shall tremble, and all the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall to the ground…. And I will reveal Myself in My greatness and in My holiness and will be recognized in the eyes of many nations, and they will know that I am Hashem.” (Yechezkel 38:18-23)

Let us look at the parallel description now in the book of Zecharyah to get a more complete picture of the dreaded war: “And Hashem shall go forth and wage war with those nations, like the day he waged war on the day of the battle…. And the Mount of Olives shall split down its middle, toward the east and toward the west, a very great valley.... And it shall be on that day that there shall be no light, only disappearing light and thick darkness. And it shall be one day that shall be known to Hashem, neither day nor night; and it shall be that at nightfall it shall be light.... And this shall be the plague with which Hashem will smite all the nations that besieged Jerusalem: …his flesh will waste away while he still stands on his feet; his eyes will waste away in their sockets; and his tongue shall waste away in his mouth.” (Zecharyah 14:3-12)

What generation is better equipped than ours to envision these apocalyptic scenes, where entire populations could be killed in the very first moment of a global war?

AND THE PLAGUE DESCRIBED so graphically by the navi: “Hashem will smite all the nations that besieged Jerusalem…. And this shall be the plague… his flesh will waste away while he stands on his feet, his eyes will waste away in their sockets, and his tongue shall waste away in his mouth.” Is this not reminiscent of the horrific images of the dead left in the wake of Assad’s chemical onslaught or of survivors of nuclear attack?

“And it shall come to pass on that day that there shall be no light, only disappearing light and thick darkness. And it shall be one day that shall be known to Hashem, neither day nor night; and it shall come to pass that at eventide it shall be light.” Doesn’t this sound like the descriptions of the chain reactions that occurred from the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II?

But wait — what does all this have to do with Succos? Why do we read such dark prophecies during the time the succah shelters us from harm? And why does Zecharyah speak specifically of Succos when he goes on to describe the aftermath of the war?

The Haftarah continues: “And it will come to pass that everyone left of the nations who came up against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to prostrate himself to the King, Hashem Tzevakos, and to celebrate the festival of Succos. And it shall be that whoever of all the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to prostrate himself to the King, Hashem Tzevakos, upon them there shall be no rain....” (Zecharyah 14:17)

How does Succos tie in with this theme of a dreadful war and the unleashing of Hashem’s wrath on our enemies? The connection is profound. For a succah is not merely four walls that barely stand up against the wind. It isn’t just sechach or colorful decorations. A succah represents a whole philosophy of life, which divides the human race into two categories: the succah people and the anti-succah people. Over the millennia, these segments of humanity have formed the only two civilizations that really exist in this world. Two contrasting civilizations that fight an endless, obstinate, exhausting struggle against each other.

Chazal taught that the mitzvah of succah means moving out of one’s regular home into a temporary dwelling. Rav Yitzchak Arama, author of Akeidas Yitzchak, defines this obligation as follows: “This [i.e., leaving one’s house to seek shelter under Hashem’s protection] is the unique meaning of this festival. At this time people leave all matters of profit, business dealings, produce, and everything to do with their property, and go out to this little succah, which has nothing in it but each day’s meal, and at most a bed, a table and chair, which arouses a person’s consciousness to the futility of his possessions. For the basic necessities are sufficient for the lifetime he will spend in this entryway.” (Akeidas Yitzchak, shaar 67)

THE SUCCAH, AS A PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE , dispels interpersonal tensions, moderates the competition for livelihood, and opens up all the options for compromise in the realm of mundane life. This is the culture of the four walls and the sechach. It is no wonder that this is the only holiday of which the Torah says, “And you shall rejoice in your festival.” For simchah resides only in the heart of a person who is able to restrain his urge for worldly conquests, who has learned the pleasures of letting these things go while focusing on building a spiritual personality.

Against the succah civilization stands the rest of the world. Since the dawn of history, the anti-succah people have viewed this material world as the be-all and end-all. The struggle for material gain motivates all desire for conquest, causing war and bloodshed. And it has been the main stimulus for technological advances intended to empower one man over another.

Thus weapons of war developed. It began with carving a stone to serve as a spearhead, and advanced through battering rams, catapults, gunpowder, all the way to atomic bombs and guided missiles. This is where the anti-succah civilization has brought the world.

This is why the neviim connect the results of the final war to Chag HaSuccos. For only when man stands on the ruins of his world, will he see that his redemption lies in the philosophy of Succos.

And, therefore, in the words of Zecharyah: “And it will come to pass that everyone left of the nations who came up against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to prostrate himself to the King, Hashem Tzevakos, and to celebrate the festival of Succos.” (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 680)