A Little Good News Couldn’t Hurt (Zechariah 14:1-21)

The prophecy chosen for the first day of Sukkot is eschatological in nature, namely, it expresses Zechariah’s vision of the ultimate redemption of Jerusalem and the universal recognition of God. His message is not for the faint-hearted since, as he sees it, these events will be accompanied by terrible violence and bloodshed where God will conquer Israel’s enemies and bring about divine recognition. In context, a vision such as this was not out of place, coming as it did only a generation or two after the nation had been violently conquered by the Babylonians. This said, upheaval aside, Zechariah’s message of the universal recognition of God is forever linked with Sukkot because this holiday is the setting in which Zechariah’s prophecy is to come to fruition. One verse, in particular, is forever linked with this ideal because it serves as the conclusion of the Aleinu prayer: “And the Lord will be King over all of the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and His name shall be one.” (14:9)

The medieval commentators struggled over the meaning of this religiously significant verse, born of Zechariah’s vision. Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) explains: “when the nations of the world come to Jerusalem and see God’s marvels, they will recognize that God is the Master of the world, who tends to the world and causes nature to do the will of those who worship Him… As a result, all will recognize that God is one and that there are no other deities. Then God’s name will also be one for everyone will call only His name….” (adapted translation)

Maimonides, in his Guide to the Perplexed (1:61), asserts that the different names for God grew out of people’s different experiences of God’s actions in the world. This appreciation of God is something good but has its pitfalls. It is possible for people to presume that different names represent different gods. When the world is ultimately redeemed, says Maimonides, everyone will recognize God by His true name.

The Talmud offers a different interpretation: “’And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and His name shall be one.’ [The Talmud asks:] Is He not one now? Rabbi Aha bar Hanina responds: This world is not like the future world. In this world, when good things happen we say the blessing: ‘He is good and He does good’ (Hatov u‘meitiv), while when we hear bad news we say: ‘blessed be the True Judge’ (Dayyan Haemet). In the future, we will only have to say the blessing ‘He is good and His name is good’.” (Pesahim 50a) Rashi understands this to mean that in the future there will no longer be bad tidings.

These days, when we seem to be wallowing in troubles, we can only hope and pray that the day will soon come when we will experience the spirit of Rabbi Aha’s understanding of Zechariah’s vision.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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