Dear Jew in the City,
Is this Hamas war the war of Gog and Magog? How will we recognize it?
Thanks for your question, David. First, let’s address what the war of Gog and Magog is.
Many people are under the misconception that “the war of Gog and Magog” refers to a conflict between two nations (say, the US and Russia), symbolically referred to by the names “Gog” and “Magog.” This is actually not the case. Have you heard of the “French and Indian War?” (“Indian” in this case means “Native American.”) From the name, people think that this 18th-century conflict was between the French and the Native Americans. Actually, it was the British colonies in America against the French and their Native American allies. Same here: Gog and Magog are on the same side. It’s us against both of them.
So who or what are Gog and Magog? For that, let us turn to chapters 38-39 in the Book of Ezekiel. There, God tells the prophet Yechezkel that Gog, king of Magog, and a consortium of other nations will march upon the exiles who have returned to Israel. They will oppose God and attack innocent people in undefended cities. When Gog and Magog attack, God will remember their sins and turn His wrath on them. The nations will see this and recognize God’s greatness. God will then execute great judgment on the nations. After being beaten back, Gog will launch a second assault. At this point, they will be completely eradicated.
Subsequent chapters of this Book discuss the third Temple and other aspects of the messianic era that are meant to follow this climactic battle.
So is our current conflict the manifestation of this war? I couldn’t say for sure, so let’s examine some evidence in support of – and counter to – that hypothesis.
The part about attacking innocent people in undefended cities seems right on the money, so that’s a point in favor of this hypothesis. But what else is there?
Well, the prophecy of Gog and Magog lists some of Magog’s allies. One of these is Persia, known today as Iran. It’s no secret that Iran funded Hamas in this endeavor, so that suggests that this war might be the war of Gog u’Magog.
But… other allies of Magog listed include Kush and Togarmah. Kush is Ethiopia and, to my knowledge, they don’t have a dog in this fight. The Radak, based on a Gemara in Yoma, identifies Togarmah with Germany. We have obviously had our issues with Germany, but in this conflict they have come out on the side of Israel.
Let’s talk about the timing of the war. The Tur (OC 490) cites a tradition in the name of Rav Hai Gaon that the war of Gog and Magog will begin in Tishrei, which this war certainly did.
However… from context it seems that the war is meant to begin on the holiday of Succos. The Vilna Gaon appears to say that the war of Gog u’Magog will begin on Hoshana Rabbah, which is the last day of Succos. (According to the Zohar in parshas Tzav, this is also the day on which the nations of the world are to be judged, which dovetails with Yechezkel’s prophecy.) You might think it’s splitting hairs, but the current hostilities started on Shemini Atzeres, which is the day after the last day of Succos.
Let’s complicate matters further. The US bombed the Taliban in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 (as the US reckons time), which coincides with Hoshana Rabbah (in Israel, which is seven hours ahead). Rav Yitzchok Kaduri, ztz”l, claimed that this event was the war of Gog u’Magog. According to him, the war in question would have already happened.
Let’s take matters one step further. The Malbim on Ezekiel 39:8 says that the timing of the war of Gog u’Magog was not revealed to any prophet; it’s a “sealed” matter. If we subscribe to the Malbim’s position, the last few paragraphs have been rendered moot.
There’s a Magog listed among the grandsons of Noach, from whom the nations of the world descend. Shall we assume that the Magog of Ezekiel is the same nation? I don’t know. The Abarbanel says that the modern descendants of the Magog of Genesis were scattered to Italy, France and Spain. Those nations aren’t combatants in this particular conflict, so there’s not much help there.
There’s also the matter of Moshiach ben Yosef. Moshiach ben Yosef is a sort of a “proto-messiah” who is foretold to be a great leader, but who will be killed in battle with Gog and Magog. This will lead to great mourning, as described in Zechariah chapter 12 (see Succah 52a). To my knowledge this hasn’t happened yet and I hope it never does.
You see, throughout history there have been events. Some of them are huge and some of them are terrible. A natural human reaction to such things is to try to fit them into Biblical prophecies. This is all but impossible to do while the events are unfolding. As my wife likes to say, you can’t see the picture when you’re inside the frame. But hindsight is 20/20. (Consider how Rabbi Akiva thought that Bar Kochba might be the messiah, but we can see clearly now that he wasn’t.) Many Biblical prophecies have been fulfilled within the past few decades; they’re easier to recognize when you can see the whole picture and not just a corner of it. So is this Gog and Magog? I, personally, don’t think so, but I guess we’ll see!
It should be noted that there are two messianic scenarios – the “easy way” and the “hard way.” It’ll happen eventually and when it does, we’ll get the scenario that we deserve. But if we play our cards right, we won’t need a Moshiach ben Yosef or a war of Gog and Magog at all.
One final note: the Talmud (Shabbos 118a) interprets some Bible verses to explain the rewards for eating the three Shabbos meals. Regarding “shalosh seudos” (seudah shlishit, the third Shabbos meal), it tells us that the merit of this mitzvah spares one from the war of Gog u’Magog. As my childhood rebbe Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky used to say, “That’s a pretty good deal for eating a challah roll and some tuna fish!” So if you’re worried about Gog u’Magog – as one might well be – it wouldn’t hurt to amp up one’s enthusiasm for honoring Shabbos!
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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