To celebrate the October 13th release of my forthcoming debut novel, King of Shards, I will be featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth for 36 days. Today’s entry is on The Feast at the End of Days.
Day 35: The Feast at the End of Days
On the day the Messiah will come to redeem humankind all wickedness will vanish like smoke from the face of the earth. That day, God will set a gigantic table inlaid with precious stones and surrounded by rivers of balsam, and there he will invite the greatest scholars and their students from around the world. Jacob, the patriarch, will be called to the table, because his name is Israel, because when the people of Israel suffer, so too does Jacob, the patriarch, because his name is Israel too. At this table, the righteous will feast upon the three beasts, Behemoth, Leviathan, and the Ziz. Some say they will also eat of the Messianic-ox, which dwells in Paradise, waiting for the End of Days, when it will be slaughtered and served at the Messianic banquet.
God will offer the righteous a choice of three wines, citrus, cider, or grape, from fruits preserved from the six days of creation. It is said that this Messianic wine was only served once, when Jacob had no wine to serve his father Isaac, and so an angel provided him with some. On this day, God will leave his Throne of Glory and sit with all the righteous. With the skin of the Leviathan, God will make a sukkah, and the righteous will dwell there in holiness. The parts of Leviathan that are not eaten will be spread across the walls of Jerusalem, where the city will shine so brightly that the whole world will know its light.
The Myth’s Origins
The book of Isaiah speaks of a great feast at the time of the Messiah’s arrival: “And in this mountain will the Lord of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.” And Tractate Baba Bathra 75a of the Babylonian Talmud says, “The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh of Leviathan; for it is said: Companions will make a banquet of it.” The same tractate also says, “The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come make a tabernacle for the righteous from the skin of Leviathan; for it is said: Canst thou fill tabernacles with his skin.” And again, “The rest of Leviathan will be spread by the Holy One, blessed be He, upon the walls of Jerusalem, and its splendor will shine from one end of the world to the other; as it is said: And nations shall walk at thy light, and kings at the brightness of thy rising.”
It is customary to recite a prayer at the conclusion of Sukkot that speaks of Leviathan: “May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our forefathers, that just as I have fulfilled and dwelt in this sukkah, so may I merit in the coming year to dwell in the sukkah of the skin of Leviathan. Next year in Jerusalem.” At the end of Shavuot, the commemoration of the reception of the Torah, Jews recite the Akdamut prayer, which among others things, states that Leviathan and Behemoth will engage in a fierce battle, but God will slay them both with his mighty sword.
In some versions of this myth, the Messianic ox and the Behemoth are conflated; they are the same beast, and many depictions of the Behemoth are ox-like. According to the Midrash, the Behemoth can only be killed by the one who created it, i.e. God, and therefore he will slaughter the beast at the end of days. In other tales, Leviathan and Behemoth battle it to the death, killing each other. Since Leviathan, Behemoth and Ziz were often seen as a triad of beasts dominating the Sea, Land, and Sky, they were often grouped together. In scripture, when the Behemoth is mentioned, there is also mention of “wild beasts of the field,” which were interpreted as birds, hence the addition of the Ziz. Thus the feasting of all three at the Messianic banquet represents the complete dominion of God over the earth’s sea, land and sky.
Some Thoughts on the Myth
As I’ve said in previous posts, I love mythical creatures, and here we get a myth that incorporates three of them. At the end of days, the righteous get to feast on these giant beasts. The significance of the feast itself is obvious: it’s a time for rejoicing, and God invites to his table those whom he sees as most worthy of his blessings. Namely, righteous scholars, i.e. those who have devoted their lives to the study of Torah. But why these beasts in particular? I think because these are creatures that represent our fear. Each rules one portion of the earth. The eating of them signifies dominion over them and thus the end of fear. The coming of the Messiah ushers in a new age where terror vanishes. We eat what once frightened us at the table of God. What more do we have to fear after that? But until that time, until the redemption, we must dwell in this earthly realm under the dominion of frightful beasts. Until then, wickedness rules the earth.
I find it fascinating that among the orthodox, prayers mentioning Leviathan and Behemoth are common. These mythical sea and land beasts, once believed to lurk in deep waters or stalk distant landscapes, are still vibrantly alive in this myth that persists to this day. Eventually, if we lead righteous lives, we will devour our fears at the table of God. What once terrified us will decorate our holiest city, so that its light may shine forth. The monster’s skin will be make into dwellings to protect us. It’s a powerful message of transformation of terror into peace. It’s no wonder this myth has persisted for so long.
Also, I’m kind of hungry now.
Tomorrow’s Myth: The Lamed Vav, The Thirty-Six Hidden Righteous