The Dual Significance of the Pilgrim Festivals

  • Rav Yoel Bin-Nun

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In blessed memory of Tsarna bat Morthe Lowenstein Reiter z”l
of Debrecen, Hungary, whose yahrtzeit is on 15 Iyar.
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  1. Agricultural Holidays and Historical Holidays[1]

A quick overview of the units in the Torah dealing with the holidays reveals that they mention the three pilgrim festivals in two different contexts or dimensions. On the one hand, their significance in the natural, agricultural realm is clear; there is the day of the waving of the omer, which falls in the spring; then, seven weeks later, the festival of the harvest and first fruits; and finally the festival of the ingathering at the year’s end. On the other hand, the historical significance of each of the festivals, relating to the story of the exodus, the wandering in the desert, and the receiving of the Torah, is also emphasized. This revolutionary historical birth and miraculous redemption has nothing to do with the agricultural cycle.

This duality is especially conspicuous in the last part of the unit describing the festivals in Sefer Vayikra:

Speak to Bnei Yisrael, saying: The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the festival of Sukkot for seven days to the Lord. On the first day shall be a holy gathering; you shall do no servile work. Seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord; on the eighth day shall be a holy gathering to you, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn assembly, and you shall do not servile work…

Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a festival to the Lord seven days; on the first day shall be a Shabbat, and on the eighth day shall be a Shabbat. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of the hadar tree, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick-leaved trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. And you shall keep it a festival to the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month.

You shall dwell in sukkot seven days; all that are home born in Israel shall dwell in sukkot; that your generations may know that I made Bnei Yisrael dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” (Vayikra 23:34-43)

The Torah notes twice the festival that falls “on the fifteenth day of the seventh month” and lasts for seven days. Both times, mention is made of the prohibition on work on the first day and on the eighth day. However, in its description of the nature or substance of the festival, the Torah seems to be talking about two completely different holidays. The first time, the subject is “the festival of Sukkot,” while the second time the Torah speaks about a festival that falls “when you have gathered in the fruit of the land” – in other words, “the festival of the ingathering” (which was mentioned already twice in Sefer Shemot: 23:16 and 34:22). The first is a “holy gathering” (mikra kodesh), while the second is a “shabbaton.” On the “festival of Sukkot,” there is a commandment to dwell in sukkot, as mentioned at the end of the parasha, while during the “festival of the ingathering” there is a commandment to take up the four species.

Thus, the “festival of ingathering” is a natural, agricultural holiday bound up with the Land of Israel. The special commandment associated with this festival – the four species – is likewise connected to nature and agriculture in the land. The commandment to dwell in a sukka, which characterizes the “festival of Sukkot,” is a commemoration of the historical exodus from Egypt, as the Torah states explicitly:

In order that your generations may know that I made Bnei Yisrael dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. (Vayikra 23:43)

When we think about Sukkot, we think of a single festival with two separate commandments. But according to the plain reading of the text, they are actually two separate festivals that fall on the same date, each with its own special mitzva.

This initial overview opens the door to deeper exploration of the dual significance of the pilgrim festivals in the Torah in general.

The natural dimension of the festivals is connected to the natural and seasonal cycles of the Land of Israel and its agriculture. These festivals find expression in the spring, at the harvest, and at the ingathering, in the offerings of the first fruits that were brought to the Temple.

Contrary to what most people today think, the Temple is strongly connected to the land, to its agriculture, and to nature, and less to miracles and spirituality.[2] Spirituality finds expression in prayer. Although the Temple is depicted by the prophet as “a house of prayer… for all peoples” (Yeshayahu 56:7; see also Shlomo’s prayer, Melakhim I 8:22-23), this is not its essence. It is quite clear that the crux of the Temple service consisted of the sacrifices, from the animal and plant kingdoms, and the incense offering – all expressing the living connection between the Creator of the natural world and His creations. The Temple expresses and maintains the natural Creation, exposing within it the glory of God, Who observes and watches over everything.[3]

In contrast, the “superimposed” (i.e., not natural) significance of the pilgrim festivals in the Torah relates to miracles[4] and the unique history of the Jewish People, conceived at the time of the forefathers, gestated in the “iron furnace”[5] of Egypt, and born through the exodus.

The exodus from Egypt is a nes, a banner or sign that molds and impacts Jewish history for all generations. The entry into the land, in contrast, represents the return to and integration within the natural cycles of the land, its soil, its roots and agriculture – a system that includes also the Temple.

The nes is not only the breaking of the rules of nature, but a beam of light illuminating history, insofar as God is revealed in history in such a way as to negate the exclusivity and totality of nature as the expression of the will of its Creator. The Creator is thus also revealed as the Master of history, Who need not necessarily obey the laws of nature – and certainly not the laws of man and society.

The laws of slavery were “natural laws” in human society – a fact borne out by the phenomenon of oppression and exploitation that persists in every modern society, despite all the limitations of legislation. Therefore, the breaking of the yoke of slavery became the historical hallmark of the exodus from Egypt to eternal freedom, in every sense.

  1. Am Yisrael in its Natural State and in Exile

A “natural” nation is consolidated and formed in its homeland,[6] and it celebrates natural, national, agricultural, religious holidays. Exiled from its land, or assimilated among conquerors within its own land, it ceases to exist.

Am Yisrael alone, unlike any other nation, was formed and born in the nes of the exodus from Egyptian exile. Eretz Yisrael, for this nation, is not merely a natural homeland, but a tradition passed down through the generations, an aspiration, a dream, a goal, a prayer, a destiny, a longing and a vision of connecting heaven and earth, miracles and nature, history and agriculture. If Am Yisrael is (heaven forfend) exiled from its land or ruled by conquerors in its land, the nation still survives, continuing to pray for a new exodus from Egypt and an ingathering of the exiles.

This unique nature of Am Yisrael is the source of the dual significance of the festivals in the Torah. The duality is gradually exposed, from Sefer Shemot, via Vayikra and Bamidbar, up until Sefer Devarim, as we shall see.

Had Am Yisrael been merely a natural (i.e., territorial) nation, the natural holidays would have appeared before the festivals commemorating the historical miracle, because from the point of view of the nature of the world and the nature of religious faith in the Creator and Master of the world,[7] they should take precedence. Agriculture and natural worship precede historical miracles both chronologically and in terms of the natural order. However, Am Yisrael is not a natural nation; had it been, it would not have survived for so long. Therefore, the Torah introduces the sections discussing the festivals with the exodus from Egypt, the historical miracle, rather than with the natural, agricultural spring season, which remains in the background.

What festivals does Am Yisrael celebrate in exile? The commemorations of the historical miracle and the events that shaped the Jewish People for all generations: the Pesach of the Exodus, the Shavuot festival of the giving of the Torah, and the Sukkot festival of a nation wandering in the wilderness of Sinai and in the wilderness of the nations.[8]

Which festivals can Am Yisrael not celebrate in exile? The festivals of nature and of the Temple: the day of the waving of the omer in the month of spring; the harvest festival, which is the time of bringing first fruits on Shavuot; and the festival of the ingathering at the great pilgrimage.[9] There are only ‘tokens’ of the natural, agricultural festivals: the counting of the omer (which, in exile, is a period of mourning); the reading of Megillat Rut on Shavu’ot, and the four species on Sukkot.[10]

  1. The Festival of Matzot in the Spring Time[11]

The very first time the three pilgrim festivals are mentioned in the Torah, in Parashat Mishpatim, we already encounter the dual significance of the festival of matzot:

You shall observe the festival of Matzot: you shall eat matzot seven days, as I commanded you, in the appointed time, the month of the spring, for in it you came out of Egypt… (Shemot 23:15).

The historical “festival of Matzot” must fall in the spring season of the solar agricultural year in Eretz Yisrael.

However, the two other pilgrim festivals would seem to appear in this parasha only in their agricultural context, with no connection to the exodus:

And the festival of harvest, the first fruits of your labors, which you have sown in the field, and the feast of ingathering, which is at the end of the year, when you have gathered in your labors out of the field. (Shemot 23:16)

These are agricultural, natural-religious festivals, centered around bringing the produce and all that pertains to it from the field in Eretz Yisrael, “before the Lord God” (ibid. 23:17).

However, the unit on the festivals in Sefer Vayikra (chapter 23) “shifts” Sukkot from the first month to the seventh month, connecting it to the festival of ingathering. This is the main innovation of the unit on the festivals in Sefer Vayikra with regard to the three pilgrim festivals. The agricultural “festival of ingathering” is henceforth also the historical “festival of Sukkot,” as discussed above.

This “superimposition” of the historical festival on the agricultural one appears again, in relation to both Pesach and Sukkot, in Sefer Devarim:

Observe the month of spring, and keep the Pesach to the Lord your God, for in the month of spring the Lord your God brought you forth out of Egypt by night… You shall observe the festival of Sukkot seven days, after you have gathered in your corn and your wine… (Devarim 16:1, 13)

  1. The Festival of Sukkot and the Festival of Ingathering

A comparative overview of the unit on the festivals (Vayikra 23) clarifies its structure and its innovative teaching concerning the festival of Sukkot. The big news here is that on the fifteenth day of the seventh month there is the “festival of Sukkot,” one of the “holy gatherings” which are “in memory of the exodus from Egypt.” This is clearly apparent from the parallel to the verses discussing the “festival of Matzot”:

Festival of Matzot – Vayikra 23:6-8

Festival of Sukkot – Vayikra 23:34-36

And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of Matzot to the Lord; seven days…

On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the festival of Sukkot for seven days to the Lord.

On the first day you shall have a holy gathering; you shall do no servile work.

On the first day is a holy gathering; you shall do no servile work.

But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord for seven days;

Seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord;

On the seventh day is a holy gathering; you shall do no servile work.”

On the eighth day is a holy gathering to you… you shall do no servile work.”

Aside from the clear linguistic parallel between the presentation of the “festival of Matzot” and the “festival of Sukkot,” attention should be paid to the expression mikra kodesh (holy gathering). This expression is used in this unit, and throughout the Torah, in relation to the historical festivals – i.e., those commemorating the exodus from Egypt (as we see in Shemot 12:16).

Further on in the unit, we find the conclusion of the list of festivals that are considered mikra’ei kodesh:

These are the festivals of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy gatherings, to offer an offering made by fire to the Lord: a burnt offering, and a meal offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing upon its day, beside the shabbatot of the Lord and beside your gifts, and beside all your vows, and beside all your freewill offerings, which you give to the Lord. (Vayikra 23:37-38)

Only now, after the conclusion of the historical festivals recalling the exodus – the mikra’ei kodesh – do we find the agricultural festival of the ingathering, familiar to us from Sefer Shemot:

Indeed, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a fest to the Lord seven days; on the first day shall be a Shabbat, and on the eighth day shall be a Shabbat. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of the hadar tree, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick-leaved trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. And you shall keep it a festival to the Lord seven days in the year; it shall be an eternal statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. (Vayikra 23:39-41)

As mentioned, the “festival of the ingathering” appears here as a completely separate holiday. The Torah takes the trouble to note all over again its dates (seven days, starting from the fifteenth day of the seventh month), and the days when work is prohibited (the first day and the eighth day). This festival is not called a mikra kodesh, but rather a ‘shabbaton’. In addition, the special mitzvah of this festival is quite different from that of the “festival of Sukkot.” On the historical “festival of Sukkot,” the mitzva is to dwell in sukkot:

In order that your generations may know that I made Bnei Yisrael dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. (Vayikra 23:43)

During the “festival of the ingathering,” in contrast, the mitzva is to take “the fruit of the hadar tree, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick-leaved trees, and willows of the brook” (i.e., the four species), and to rejoice “before the Lord your God” – in other words, in the Temple – for “seven days”. More than a significant addition to the “festival of Sukkot” described previously, this is a wholly distinct, parallel festival (mentioned already in Sefer Shemot), which falls on the same days as the festival of Sukkot.

Although the “festival of the ingathering” appears here as a second festival, what is notable here is the sustained existence of the festival that was mentioned here first: the historical “festival of Sukkot,” which has not been mentioned previously in the Torah. The “festival of the ingathering” is introduced here by the word “akh” (a shortened version of “akhen,” “indeed”). In other words, while this unit does introduce, for the first time, the historical “festival of Sukkot,” recalling the exodus, the familiar agricultural “festival of the ingathering” of Eretz Yisrael is not eclipsed or uprooted in view of this historical festival. The agricultural holiday remains, and the two holidays together define “the festival,” which concludes the year and the annual cycle of the pilgrim festivals.

Following the verses devoted to the “festival of the ingathering,” the Torah goes back to explaining the significance of the sukkot mentioned at the outset as “a commemoration of the exodus from Egypt”:

“You shall dwell in sukkot seven days; all that are home born in Israel shall dwell in sukkot, that your generations may know that I made Bnei Yisrael dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. (Vayikra 23:42-43)

Here we are given the reason for the mitzva of dwelling in sukkot, which recalls the exodus and is unique to the historical “festival of Sukkot.” Thus, we have a classic “closed structure,” wherein the sukkot, with their new meaning, feature at the beginning and end of the unit as a whole.

The “festival of Sukkot” and the “festival of the ingathering” are therefore two separate holidays that fall on the same date, each with its own special mitzva. The “festival of the ingathering” is a seven-day celebration before God “when you have gathered in the produce of the land” – a natural celebration that also includes rejoicing with the four species.[12] The “festival of Sukkot,” on the other hand, entails dwelling in a sukka for seven days, to internalize the historical memory of the exodus.

From the language of the Torah, it is clear that the maintenance of the duality is important and valuable. The introductory expression, “akh,” teaches that the agricultural “festival of the ingathering” remains and is not crowded out or superseded by the historical “festival of Sukkot.” The special mitzvot of these two festivals are likewise maintained side by side. Since the “festival of the ingathering” has already been set down in Sefer Shemot as an agricultural festival related to nature and the seasonal cycle of Eretz Yisrael, it cannot be “transformed” into the “festival of Sukkot.” The “festival of Sukkot” must be established in its own right, occurring at the same time.

Thus, rather than speaking of the “lulav and etrog of Sukkot,” we might more accurately speak of the “lulav and etrog of the ingathering.”

  1. The “Festival of Matzot and the Waving of the Omer

There exists an explicit duality in relation to the “festival of Matzot” and the waving of the omer, as well. At the beginning of the unit, we encounter the historical “Pesach” and the “festival of Matzot,” which commemorate the exodus:

On the fourteenth day of the first month towards evening is the Lord’s Pesach. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of Matzot to the Lord: seven days you shall eat matzot. On the first day is a holy gathering… On the seventh day is a holy gathering; you shall do no servile work. (Vayikra 23:5-8)

However, this is followed by a new section:

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them: When you will have come to the land which I give to you, and you reap its harvest, then you shall bring an omer of the firstfruits of your harvest to the Kohen, and he shall wave the omer before the Lord, to be accepted for you; on the morrow after the shabbat shall the Kohen wave it… And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the shabbat, from the day that you brought the omer of the wave offering, seven complete shabbatot shall there be: to the morrow after the seventh shabbat shall you count fifty days, and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord. (Vayikra 23:9-16)

One cannot help but notice that the waving of the omer and the counting that follows are not a continuation of the Pesach and the “festival of Matzot.” The omer and the counting are given their own introduction, and the key expressions here are different from those central to the previous unit. There is no mention here of a holy gathering (mikra kodesh), but rather the “shabbat” – meaning, the day of rest. The reason for this is clear: This unit starts with mentioning the entry into the land and focuses on the harvesting of the produce and the waving of the omer – neither of which have any direct connection to the historical dimension. Rather, they relate to the natural, agricultural aspect of Eretz Yisrael. In fact, this presentation of the omer and the counting is actually the introduction to the agricultural “shabbaton” festivals of Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, no mention is made of mikra’ei kodesh; rather, there is cessation of agricultural work.

Chazal note that the unit on the waving of the omer is not a continuation of the unit on the Pesach and the “festival of Matzot,” but rather parallel to it. The unit on the omer begins a new subject: the calendar of the natural-religious agricultural festivals of Eretz Yisrael. It is clear that the omer is connected to the first fruits and to the ingathering, and that the expression “on the morrow of the Shabbat” relates to the “shabbaton” – the “yom tov” of the agricultural festival (as it appears further in in this chapter and at its conclusion).

This also explains why the Torah uses the expression “on the morrow of the shabbat,” rather than “on the morrow of the Pesach” (as in Yehoshua 5:11). The unit on the omer introduces the calendar of agricultural festivals, and is in no way a continuation of the Pesach and “festival of Matzot” mentioned previously; it exists in parallel to them. Technically, had our calendar been only a solar one, it would have made sense to start reaping on the first day of the week – “on the morrow of the shabbat.” However, since our calendar is also a lunar one, commemorating the exodus, we must conclude that “the morrow of the shabbat” here means “the morrow of the Pesach,” as is clearly proven by the verse in Yehoshua and as interpreted by Chazal. In the more essential sense, the waving of the omer takes place “on the morrow of the shabbat” – meaning, the “shabbaton” of the month of spring, with the start of the barley harvest in Eretz Yisrael.[13]

In light of the above, we see a duality in the text in relation to Shavuot, as well:

And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the shabbat, from the day that you brought the omer of the wave offering, seven complete shabbatot shall there be: to the morrow after the seventh shabbat shall you count fifty days, and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord. From your habitations you shall bring wave loaves… And you shall proclaim on this same day, that it may be a holy gathering to you: to you shall do no servile work; it shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not altogether remove the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning of your harvest; you shall leave them to the poor, and to the stranger; I am the Lord your God. (Vayikra 23:15-22)

First, Shavuot appears as part of the system of the agricultural festivals, as a completion of the omer and the counting of weeks by bringing the two loaves from the new produce. However, at the conclusion of the unit, it also appears as a mikra kodesh, with a prohibition on “servile work.” The obligation to share the produce with the poor and the stranger is likewise based on an awareness of the limitations of ownership on fields – which is a function of the exodus, and not an element of the natural Creation. All this is made quite explicit in Sefer Devarim:

Seven weeks shall you count for yourself, from when the sickle meets the standing corn shall you start to count seven weeks. And you shall observe the festival of weeks to the Lord your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give, according as the Lord your God has blessed you, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God – you and your son and your daughter, and your manservant and your maidservant, and the Levi who is within your gates, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow that are among you, in the place which the Lord your God has chosen for His Name to rest there. And you shall remember that you were a servant in Egypt; therefore you shall observe and do these statutes. (Devarim 16:9-12)

We might now summarize the two sets of festivals as follows:

Calendar of Mikra’ei KodeshAm Yisrael and the Exodus

Calendar of Shabbaton Holidays – Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael

Introduction: Shabbat (Vayikra 23:1-3)

Shabbat shabbaton mikra kodesh

These are the festivals of the Lord, holy gatherings (mikra’ei kodesh), which you shall proclaim in their seasons. (4)

When you will have come into the land which I give you, and you reap its harvest… (9)

Pesach and the “festival of Matzot” (5-8)

The omer – “From the morrow of the shabbat” (9-14)

And you shall proclaim on this same day, that it may be a holy gathering (mikra kodesh) to you… (21-22)

Counting of the omer – seven shabbatot

Two loaves – “on the morrow of the seventh shabbat” (15-20)

Mikra kodesh – Yom Ha-Zikaron (Rosh Ha-Shana) – shabbaton[14]

Mikra kodesh – Yom Kippur – Shabbat shabbaton (23-32)

The verse, “And you shall remember (ve-zakharta) that you were a servant in Egypt, therefore you shall observe (ve-shamarta)…”, so similar to the “zakhor” and “shamor” of Shabbat, are an explicit reminder of the slavery in Egypt as the foundation for the obligation to observe these statutes. This reason is presented only in relation to Shavuot, and not any other festival. This verse, which also recalls the first of the Ten Commandments, comes to explain the obligation to include the poor and the stranger in the great celebration of the harvest and the first fruits. It establishes that the agricultural festival of thanksgiving for the beginning of the harvest must include central substance relating back to the exodus: remembrance of the poor and the stranger. This obligation is not an integral part of the agricultural festival; it does not flow directly from the natural abundance that God provides for the inhabitants of the land. Rather, this obligation is based on the historical memory of a nation that was once enslaved in Egypt, and emerged from there with no fields and no produce.

Now the structure of the entire unit on the festivals (Vayikra, chapter 23) is quite simple, as we see in the table below:

Festival of Sukkot

(33-38; 42-43)

Festival of the Ingathering (39-41)

The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the festival of Sukkot for seven days to the Lord.

 

On the first day a holy gathering (mikra kodesh)

And on the eighth day a holy gathering (mikra kodesh).

These are the festivals of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy gatherings (mikra’ei kodesh)…

You shall dwell in sukkot seven days…

That your generations may know that I made Bnei Yisrael dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt;

I am the Lord your God.”

Indeed, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a festival to the Lord seven days:

On the first day a shabbat

 

And on the eighth day a shabbat.

 

 

 

 

And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of the hadar tree, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick-leaved trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.”

“And Moshe declared the Lord’s appointed seasons to Bnei Yisrael” (44).

 

Translated by Kaeren Fish


[1] This shiur is based on the chapter, “Teva Ve-Historia Nifgashim Be-Shabbat U-Ve-Luach Ha-Chagim,” in my book, Zakhor Ve-Shamor (Alon Shvut, 5775).

[2] The tendency to view anything “religious” as necessarily “spiritual” is a problem in our generation. The scientific and psychological reasons for this lie beyond the scope of our present discussion.

[3]  In Mishna Ta’anit (4:3) we learn that the anshei ma’amad (shift on duty) at the Temple would read from the Torah each day the verses of the Creation relating to that day and the next.

[4]  The original meaning of the word nes (miracle) is a hoisted flag, a banner that shows the way for the people: “Like a flagstaff upon the top of a mountain, and as a banner (nes) on a hill” (Yeshayahu 30:17). The word ot (a sign) has the same meaning in the Torah. The “miracle” meaning of the word nes would seem to be associated with the mofet, meaning “a wonder” –but an ot is not the same as a mofet. In the story of the exodus, a mofet is generally directed towards Pharaoh (Shemot 4:21; 7:9), while the ot is directed towards Bnei Yisrael (Shemot 3:12; 4:8-9; 28:30). There are mitzvot that serve as an ot; notably, all of these preceded the Revelation at Sinai: circumcision, Pesach, the story of the plagues in Egypt, tefillin on the hand, Shabbat. But there is no mitzvah that is meant as a mofet. In this article the word nes will be used in its original sense: a sign showing that the One God guides history and the relations between Am Yisrael and the nations.

[5] This expression is first used by Moshe in Sefer Devarim: “But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be unto Him a people of inheritance, as you are this day” (Devarim 4:20).

[6] In Avraham’s family, the special quality and chosenness were preserved among Bnei Yisrael, while Moav, Amon and Edom established “natural” nations throughout Eretz Yisrael and built up kingdoms “before there reigned any king over Bnei Yisrael” (Bereishit 36:31). Like most natural nations, Moav, Amon, and Edom eventually were assimilated and disappeared; the fact that they were descended from the forefathers did not spare them this fate. There are nations that remained upon their land for thousands of years, changing their character and their religion along the way. Some were eventually assimilated among their conquerors – such as the Egyptians – while others still remain – like the Chinese. However, Am Yisrael is the only nation that was exiled from its land and yet still exists.

[7] As R. Yehuda Ha-Levi explains most eloquently in the words he places in the mouth of the Kuzari king (Sefer Ha-Kuzari 1:12).

[8]  See Yechezkel 20:35.

[9] As described, for example, at the inauguration of Shlomo’s Temple: “in the month of Eitanim, which is the seventh month” (Melakhim I 8:2).

[10] The four species are specifically connected to the agricultural festival of the ingathering in Eretz Yisrael and in the Temple. After the Destruction they became a “memory of the Temple” (Rosh Hashana 30a).

[11]  There is no “festival of spring,” since in the natural dimension there is nothing to celebrate prior to the harvest. See my article, “Madu’a Ein Ba-Torah Chag Aviv?” on my website: http://www.ybn.co.il.

[12]  This rejoicing, according to the plain meaning of the text, is a celebration of the ingathering, and it was this celebration that was originally held in the Temple for all seven days (and on the eighth day, which “seals” the festival) with recitation of Hallel. This is also the celebration referred to in the Yerushalmi (Sukka, ch. 3, 54a) as the “rejoicing of the lulav.” This is as opposed to the Simchat Beit Ha-Shoeva, which was not celebrated for a full seven days, since it does not take precedence over Shabbat or Yom Tov, and which was celebrated mainly at night, when there is no service in the Temple.

[13] This explanation, while not set forth explicitly in the Talmudic discussion of the expression “on the morrow of the shabbat” (Menachot 65a-66b), is assumed as its foundation, as the Rambam writes in his Laws of the Daily and Additional Sacrifices (7:11). The discussion among the Tanna’im exposes the underlying assumption of a parallel between the (lunar) “month” and (solar-agricultural) “atzeret” – and, within the agricultural context, between the omer and the “two loaves,” both of which fall on “the pilgrim festival and the beginning of the pilgrim festival.”

[14] For the dual significance of the Yom Teru’a (Day of the Sounding of the shofar) as the lunar Rosh Chodesh starting the new year, and Yom Kippur as the conclusion of the solar year, see my book Zakhor Ve-Shamor, chapters 8 and 9.