The Moadim of Parashat Emor

  • Rav Michael Berger
VBM Torah Studies - Special Holiday Shiur

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur by the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


by Rabbi Michael S. Berger

	Sometime in midsummer, as our plans for Rosh Hashana, 

Yom Kippur, and Sukkot begin to crystallize, we inevitably 

inquire "When are the holidays this year?"  Given our presence 

in a society which, for the most part, follows the secular 

calendar, the answer we often receive, or even offer 

ourselves, to this query is that the holidays will be either 

"late" or "early" (are they ever on time?), leading to 

decisions about work, school, or even the feasibility of going 

away for yom tov.  The point of these remarks is that we 

naturally tend to view these three holidays, which are 

clustered together in the short span of three and a half 

weeks, as a single unit - "the holidays."

	Temporal proximity is not, however, the only means of 

classifying the holidays in Halakha.  Were we living in the 

times of the Beit ha-Mikdash, we might very well see Sukkot as 

grouped more naturally with the other regalim - Pesach and 

Shavu'ot -  which all require 'aliya le-regel, a pilgrimage 

to Yerushalayim, as well as a variety of sacrifices and other 

obligations, be they korban pesach with matza and marror 

(bitter herbs), bikurim (firstfruits) on Shavu'ot, or the 

arba'a minim (four species) on Sukkot.  No such demands are 

made of the individual Jew on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; 

everything he or she must do can be done at home, whether it 

is hearing a shofar-blast or fasting for twenty-five hours.  

From this perspective, Sukkot shares almost nothing with its 

two predecessors in Tishrei; its more logical comrades are 

Pesach and Shavu'ot, as the Torah itself classifies them 

(Devarim 16:16):

	Three times a year - on the Feast of Matzot, on the Feast 

	of Weeks, and on the Feast of Tabernacles - all your 

	males must appear before Hashem your God in the place 

	that He will choose, and [they] should not appear before 

	Hashem empty-handed.

Given this more natural grouping, why do we continue to refer 

to the Tishrei holidays as one unit?  I think that it is not 

merely a calendrical convenience which underlies this 

designation, but a fundamental understanding of the nature of 

Sukkot, or, more aptly, the dual nature of the Feast of 

Tabernacles, partaking of both triads - the shalosh regalim 

(the three pilgrimages) as well as the yamim nora'im (the Days 

of Awe).  To explain this more fully, we must explore how the 

holidays unfold in the Torah, primarily in the books of Shemot 

and Vayikra.

The Three Pilgrimages:  Pesach, Shavu'ot, and Sukkot

	The first holiday to appear in the Chumash is, of course, 

Pesach.  Evenwhile still in Egypt (Shemot ch. 12), Hashem 

commanded the people to offer the paschal sacrifice, eaten 

with matza and marror, on the fourteenth of Nissan.  Moshe is 

informed that a seven-day festival commemorating the exodus 

from Egypt will always be observed on this date, requiring the 

people to dispose of all leaven from their homes and to eat 

only matzot, or unleavened bread.  As they leave, Hashem 

provides Moshe with further details on how to properly prepare 

and offer the korban pesach and who may partake of it in 

future generations (12:43-49).  This feast is to have the 

added dimension of every father relating the story of the 

miraculous salvation of the people from their bondage in 

Egypt.  Pesach is thus an historical holiday, in the sense 

that it was instituted ab initio to commemorate an historical 


	This is not how we meet the other two pilgrimages, at 

least initially.  The following passages are taken from 

chapter 23 of Shemot, which Moshe receives while up on the 

mountain immediately after the revelation of the Decalogue:

	14 Offer a sacrifice to Me three times each year.

	15 Keep the Festival of Matzot.  Eat matzot for seven 

	days, as I commanded you, during the prescribed time in 

	the month of standing grain, since this is when you left 

	Egypt.  Do not appear before Me empty-handed.  

	16 [Also keep] the Reaping Festival, [through] the 

	firstfruits of your produce which you planted in the 

	field, and the Harvest Festival at the end of the year, 

	when you gather your produce from the field.

	17 Three times each year, every male among you must 

	appear before God, the Master.

In this relatively brief treatment of the three festivals, 

Shavu'ot and Sukkot are designated by their generic names: 

chag ha-katzir - the Reaping Festival - and chag ha-asif - the 

Harvest or Ingathering Festival.  In other words, in contrast 

to Pesach's historical origins, these two holidays represent 

traditional agricultural holidays, of the sort we find in most 

agrarian societies.  At the two endpoints of the summer season 

- the earliest reaping in late spring and the preservation and 

storing away for the winter in the fall - God's providence 

must be acknowledged.  Notice, also, the absence of any 

mitzvot for these two pilgrimages; one would naturally bring 

choice seasonal offerings from the harvest to thank God for 

the bounty, an act already intuited by Cain and Abel (see 

Breishit 4:3-4).  In contrast, Pesach, as the holiday of God's 

miraculous redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt, 

requires special laws.

	Thus, the three pilgrimages are, in reality, divided into 

two groups: the historical one (Pesach), which is treated in 

verse 15, and the agricultural ones (chag ha-katzir and chag 

ha-asif), which are mentioned together in verse 16.  All 

three, however, require appearing before God, for all three 

are human recognition of divine providence, whether naturally 

in the realm of agriculture, or supernaturally in the domain 

of history. 

	This relatively brief treatment of the holidays is 

repeated almost verbatim in the renewed covenant shortly after 

the sin of the golden calf.  After God reveals the thirteen 

attributes by which He will conduct his relationship with the 

people (Shemot 34:6-7), the three festivals are mentioned 


	18 Keep the Festival of Matzot.  Eat matzot for seven 

	days, as I commanded you, during the prescribed time in 

	the month of standing grain, since this is when you left 


	19 The firstborn initiating every womb is Mine.  Among 

	all your livestock, you must separate out all the males 

	of the firstborn cattle and sheep.

	20 The firstborn of a donkey must be redeemed with a 

	sheep, and if it is not redeemed, you must decapitate it.  

	You must [also] redeem every firstborn among your sons.  

	Do not appear before Me empty-handed.

	21 You may work during the six weekdays, but on Saturday, 

	you must stop working, ceasing from all plowing and 


	22 Keep the Festival of Shavu'ot [through] the 

	firstfruits of your wheat harvest.  Also keep the Harvest 

	Festival soon after the year changes.

	23 Three times each year, every male among you must 

	appear before God the Master, Lord of Israel.

We notice several important differences from the original 

version in chapter 23:

	a) there is no introductory ("Three festivals a year will 

you celebrate for Me");

	b) verses 19-20 regarding firstborn offerings are now 

linked to Pesach, whereas previously they stood independently 

and considerably prior (22:28-29);

	c) the prohibition against work on Shabbat, referred to 

in 23:12 before the portion of the festivals, is mentioned now 

between the historical and the agricultural holidays (verse 


	d) Chag ha-katzir is now referred to as chag shavu'ot - 

"the festival of weeks" (verse 22), and it is more precisely 

defined as the wheat harvest;

	e) the closing verse - "three times a year..." (verse 23) 

- parallels the closing verse of 23:17, yet adds the last two 

words "elokei yisrael," "the Lord of Israel."

These few differences, which are primarily additions to the 

earlier version (b, c, and e), should not mask the fact that 

for the most part, the two accounts are quite similar.

	Obviously, this modified version is deliberate; but the 

reason for the changes is not so obvious.  While the Torah 

does not explicate the cause for this revision, the chronology 

of events recorded in Sefer Shemot suggests one.  The major 

episode, of course, which separates the two accounts is the 

sin of the golden calf.  Less than seven weeks after hearing 

the second commandment received at Mount Sinai, the people, 

led by Aharon, fashioned an idol and worshipped it, violating 

the second commandment.  Moshe secured their forgiveness 

through lengthy negotiations, re-establishing the covenant on 

the assumption that while the people are admittedly "stiff-

necked" (33:3; 34:9), God will nevertheless be more patient 

and slow to anger (34:6-7).  The earlier presentation of the 

festivals stood as a unit in its affirmation of God's 

sovereignty; the males of the people would have to pay homage 

to ha-Adon Hashem, "God the Master."  God could therefore 

insist on the three pilgrimages which would be celebrated "for 


	However, after the sin, that unity was shattered.  

Essentially, we have not here three integrated holidays, but 

merely three occasions on which Jewish men will appear before 

God.  No verse introduces the festivals for they simply do not 

constitute a cohesive unit.  Rather, we have the historical 

holiday of Pesach, to which is now attached the commandment to 

offer one's firstborn to God.  This is not an unreasonable 

link; the very basis for the law is the plague of killing the 

firstborn of Egypt on the night before the great exodus.  

Nevertheless, in ch. 23, the holiday and the laws regarding 

the firstborn were separated; now they are joined by their 

common origin.

	The agricultural holidays are introduced by the sabbath; 

on the seventh day, one acknowledges God's kingship by 

abstaining from work in the fields, even during the critical 

seasons of plowing and reaping, when every day's labor counts.  

An extension of this admission of our dependence on God is the 

two festivals of harvest and ingathering.  In a post-golden 

calf world, where the people showed their readiness to worship 

their own handiwork, these agricultural holidays are more 

appropriately linked to Shabbat than to Pesach, since the 

people must re-affirm and deepen their commitment to the one 


	Although this new account of the festivals disrupts their 

previous unity, the three holidays are preserved within a new 

framework: the renewed berit - covenant - of ch. 34.  The 

first covenant was predicated on those aspects of God which 

reflected His middat ha-din - the rule of judgment, whereby 

God exacted swift and appropriate accountability from the 

Jewish people.(1) Now, however, given the nation's stiff-

necked nature, God is forced to base His relationship with the 

Jewish people on His middat ha-rahamim, the divine attributes 

of patience, mercy, and slowness to anger.  In the covenant of 

the Second Tablets, God commits Himself to an ongoing 

relationship with the Jewish people, whether or not the people 

actually behave as God insists. This is the nature of the 

second berit, underscored in the God the males must visit 

three times a year: not merely ha-Adon Hashem, the Master and 

Sovereign of the universe (23:17), but ha-Adon Hashem Elokei 

Yisrael, the Master who is also the Lord of Israel, no matter 

how they act (34:23).  The kingship element is no longer 

exclusive; it is now tempered by a long-suffering quality, 

characteristic of a relationship of commitment.

	It is precisely the nature of this new relationship which 

accounts for the different presentation of the holidays.  For 

acknowledging God's providence is not an intuitive reaction 

for the people.  They require assistance to come to this most 

basic awareness.  Therefore, the offering of one's human and 

animal firstborn - a frequently profound expression of 

sacrifice - helps deepen the sense of indebtedness to God for 

saving us during the plague of the firstborn in Egypt.  This 

law is linked to the observance of Pesach, when we 

collectively commemorate the miraculous exodus.  The 

agricultural holidays, almost counter intuitive in their 

admission of our dependence on God even as we toil daily in 

the fields, are aided by the observance of Shabbat, when God's 

ultimate sovereignty over the universe is affirmed.  These 

other mitzvot are interspersed among the holidays not to 

interrupt them; their internal unity has been shattered by the 

sin of idolatry.  Rather, with the original kingship element 

of these pilgrimages now tempered by the covenantal 

relationship of the people with God, these three festivals, 

together with their respective "preparatory" laws, provide 

three occasions on which Jewish males may reflect on their 

genuine reliance - historically and agriculturally - on God.

Yom Kippur: Purifying the Mishkan and Ourselves

	Chapter 16 of Sefer Vayikra is certainly the main 

treatment of what both the High Priest and the people are to 

do on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. One of the most 

lasting effects of the sin of the calf , and of God's 

subsequent forgiveness,(2) is the need to set aside one day a 

year to repair our relationship with God - whether through 

ritual purification of God's Tabernacle or through personal 

fasting. The Torah institutes into the Jewish calendar a day 

on which the aggregate sins of the people and the impurity 

that sinfulness imparts on the mishkan may be expunged.

	However, we rarely notice that the need to purify the 

mishkan once a year is already mentioned in the last verse of 

Parashat Tetzaveh, a full chapter before the people begin to 

react to Moshe's absence and set into motion the sequence of 

events which tragically leads to worshipping a golden idol.  

When the Torah describes the construction of the incense altar 

and its daily function at the very end of Parashat Tetzaveh 

(Shemot 30:1-10), the section ends with directions for an 

annual purification (v. 10):

	Once each year Aharon shall make atonement on the horns 

	[of this altar].  For all generations, he shall make 

	atonement with the blood of the atonement sacrifice once 

	each year. [This altar] shall be a holy of holies to God.

The expression "once each year" - ahat ba-shana - is repeated 

twice in the verse; apparently, there is an atonement 

sacrifice brought once a year, and its blood is used to make 

atonement on the golden incense altar as well.  No date is 

given for this ceremony, other than it must be done annually.  

Nor is it described as part of a larger, more elaborate 

ceremony; only one sacrifice is mentioned, with its blood 

going on the altar's corners to "make atonement" on them.

	After this extremely brief comment, two major events 

occur in the life of the people:  the national transgression 

of the golden calf, and the individual sin of Nadav and Avihu, 

which resulted in their death (Vayikra 10:1-2).  We discussed 

earlier the impact the collective sin had on the three 

festivals.  Nadav and Avihu's sin, to be sure, is never stated 

precisely; when referring to it in retrospect, the Torah at 

times focuses on the uncommanded fire they brought,(3) and at 

other times, their coming near unto God without permission is 

portrayed as central.(4) In any event, the instructions 

regarding Yom Kippur are introduced with a verse whose focus 

is clearly the spatial trespassing of Aharon's sons (v. 1):

	God spoke to Moshe right after the death of Aharon's two 

	sons, who came near before God and died.

Coming near is not, in itself, a capital crime; it is the fact 

that it was not preceded by the proper sacrifices, offered in 

the proper way (vv. 2-3):

	God said to Moshe: Speak to your brother Aharon, and let 

	him not enter the sanctuary that is beyond the partition 

	concealing the Ark, so that he may not die, since I 

	appear over the Ark cover in a cloud.  With the following 

	[ceremony] may Aharon enter the sanctuary, with a young 

	bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt 


This is not the place to enter into all the elaborate details 

of the day's ceremony; each element, from the incense cloud 

brought into the inner sanctuary to the sprinkling of the 

bloods in various spots around the mishkan, is quite literally 

dripping with significance.  Nevertheless, we may make some 

general observations.  From the end of the chapter, it is 

clear that two separate functions have merged:  the atonement 

of the Tabernacle from the impurities which may have attached 

themselves over the year, and the atonement of the kohanim and 

the people from their sins (16:33):

	[The High Priest] shall be the one to make atonement in 

	the holy [inner] sanctuary, in the Communion Tent, and on 

	the altar; he shall also make atonement for the priests 

	and for the entire people of the community.

The aim of purifying the altar is not new; as noted earlier, 

we encountered it first at the end of Parashat Tetzaveh.  

However, it is now united with a new, post-golden calf 

purpose: to purify the people from their sins.  The chapter 

closes with reference to this novel aspect of the day, 

introduced only after the people's experience proved that 

there was indeed atonement after transgression (v. 34):

	[All this] shall be for you as a law for all time, so 

	that the Israelites will gain atonement for their sins 

	once each year.

The expression "once each year" (ahat ba-shana) explicitly 

links this function with the more narrow one of atoning for 

the altar mentioned in Shemot ch. 30, which employed the 

expression twice.

	Returning to our original context of holidays, Yom Kippur 

is truly of a different sort.  It is certainly not 

agricultural, as are the Festivals of Harvest and Ingathering.  

Nor is it strictly historical, in the way Pesach is:  no 

particular event is explicitly commemorated on the tenth of 

Tishrei, although as we mentioned, Chazal and many subsequent 

commentators saw this date as the day Moshe received the 

second set of tablets, indicating that full atonement had been 

achieved.  It is a unique holiday, literally offering the 

Jewish people the annual opportunity to cleanse themselves of 

their sins in the way our forefathers had done that first year 

in the wilderness.  Rather than celebrating a particular 

historical event, it focuses on the nature of our relationship 

with God, on the renewed covenant based on patience and 

forgiveness.  Our ability to stand, year after year, before 

God and assert that we are His people is possible only because 

God had agreed to give priority to His middat ha-rahamim over 

His middat ha-din.  To take advantage of the opportunity is 

the challenge of the day, but Yom Kippur's essence, 

undiminished if even every Jew fails to truly repent, is the 

offer of forgiveness, extended only because we are His nation.

The Fifth Holiday of Emor (Vayikra 23)

	By the time we arrive at the central and most complete 

treatment of the festivals in Sefer Vayikra, we are already 

familiar with most of them:  the three pilgrimages, and Yom 

Kippur.  Only one holiday is newly introduced in chapter 23: 

the first day of Tishrei, which came to be known as Rosh 


	God spoke to Moshe, telling him to speak to the 

	Israelites and say:  The first day of the seventh month 

	shall be a day of solemn rest for you (y'hiyeh lakhem 

	shabbaton), a remembrance of a shofar-blast, a holy 

	convocation.  Do not do any service work, and you will 

	bring a fire-offering to God.  (23:23-25)

No agricultural or historical connection is mentioned 

explicitly.  We know of no event in the Torah which occurred 

on this day which this new holiday may commemorate.  

Nevertheless, without introduction, it suddenly appears in the 

full array of Jewish holidays.

	Two textual clues suggest that we must see the first of 

Tishrei as connected to Yom Kippur.  The first is somewhat 

technical:  this brief portion is set off from the 

presentation of Yom Kippur which follows by only a small break 

(parasha setuma, lit. "a closed portion."  In other words, 

as compared to some of the other, more significant divisions 

in the text (parasha petucha), these two - the first and 

tenth of Tishrei - are presented as more closely linked than 

with any other holiday.

	However, it is the second clue - a literary echo of a 

particular word - which necessarily connects these two 

holidays.  In ch. 16, where the ceremonies of Yom Kippur are 

described in detail, the Day of Atonement is referred to by a 

unique designation:  it is to be a shabbat shabbaton - a 

Sabbath of Sabbaths, a day of total rest (v. 31).  When we 

reach the fuller treatment of the holidays in chapter 23, 

neither Pesach nor Shavuot is designated as a shabbaton - but 

the first of Tishrei (v. 24), as well as the tenth (v. 32), 


	These connections strongly suggest that already in the 

Torah, the first day of Tishrei is portrayed as a partner, or 

more appropriately, as a prelude, to Yom Kippur.  In the 

previous section, we noted the origin of Yom Kippur, and its 

uniqueness as a holiday.  But it is precisely that uniqueness 

which demands some preparation.

	If we inspect the shalosh regalim, the three pilgrimages, 

we understand why they have no need for serious preparation.  

Pesach, as a holiday commemorating a historical event, 

virtually evokes its own emotion.(5) While the Torah imposes 

several commandments on us to remember and even re-experience 

the Exodus, it is the remembering itself, the anniversary of 

the event, which ineluctably elicits profound feelings of 

gratitude to Hashem for freeing us from the bondage of 

Egypt.(6) As regards the agricultural festivals, the religious 

feelings attendant to chag ha-katzir and chag ha-asif find 

their origin in the very performance of the agricultural acts 

mentioned by name, many of which have been going on for some 

time.  The harvest or ingathering of bountiful crops over 

several weeks creates the situation, and perhaps even the 

need, to acknowledge God's providence in our material fate.

	Yom Kippur, in contrast, does not enjoy the benefit of 

either natural seasonal activity nor historical commemoration.  

As a day designated for renewing our relationship with Hashem, 

it requires more time and preparation, even a nurturing.  

Moreover, what Yom Kippur offers - the chance to repent and be 

granted atonement - is not always met enthusiastically; self-

reflection and contrition are not human reflexes, nor can they 

always be turned on or off at will.  Therefore, the Torah 

itself sensed the need for a pre-Yom Kippur holiday, one which 

would help prepare the Jew for teshuva and coax him on the 

path of authentic return.  The notion of aseret yemei teshuva 

is, on this reading, already in the Torah.

	But what sort of holiday could achieve this?  What sort 

of act or acts, performed a few days before the awesome and 

solemn Day of Atonement, could elicit genuine contrition?  

Rosh Hashana is described merely as zikhron teru'a - "a 

remembrance of a shofar-blast."  For the people, the only 

shofar-blast in their collective memory was almost a year 

before, when God descended onto Mount Sinai, amid thunder, 

lightning, and the sound of the shofar.  As the trumpet 

heralds the arrival of the king, the ever-increasing sound of 

the shofar signaled the approach of the Master of the Universe 

to the top of Mount Sinai.  The people, gripped with terror, 

retreated in fear from the base of the mountain, and asked 

Moshe to inform them of God's word.  Moshe, reluctant to act 

as intermediary, tried to allay the people's fears and 

encouraged them to continue to listen to God directly (Shemot 


	Do not be afraid.  God only came to refine you, and so 

	that His fear will be on your faces, so that you will not 


While God's proximity to the people had multiple functions, 

Moshe focused on the prophylactic aspect of the Divine 

Presence:  if the people have a palpable sense of God, they 

will naturally avoid sin.  It may not be the ideal form of 

observance, but if we are concerned with training ourselves to 

observe the laws and avoid transgressions, the physical 

experience of God's presence is a desirable state of affairs, 

in spite of the terror it instills in us. 

	This is what zikhron teru'a is meant to elicit:  the 

memory of the spectacular and overwhelming revelation of God 

to the Jewish people.(7) If the people are to begin their 

annual trek away from sin, recalling the arrival of God in the 

world and the immediacy of His Presence could provide the most 

fitting motivation.(8) This recollection is not a guarantee 

that each individual will repent, yet it serves its primary 

purpose: to prepare Jews collectively for the Day of 

Atonement, preventing them from standing before God on that 

solemn day bereft of any serious effort to dispel their 

sinfulness and begin a life of greater shemirat ha-mitzvot.  

The shabbaton of Rosh Hashana readies us for the shabbat 

shabbaton of Yom Kippur.

Chag Ha-asif Transformed

	If Yom Kippur requires a prelude to assist in the 

difficult introspective process, it no less demands that there 

be some actual consequences for all its effort.  Were Yom 

Kippur to come and go without some lasting effect, it would 

render the entire teshuva of the day suspect.  The tenth of 

Tishrei naturally has an impact on the holiday which follows 

so immediately on its heels:  chag ha-asif.  Just as the Day 

of Atonement created the holiday of Rosh Hashana before it, 

it similarly transformed the holiday of Sukkot after it.

	The Torah's presentation of Sukkot in Parashat Emor is a 

well-known conundrum.  It first describes Sukkot as an eight 

day festival (v. 33-36), then seemingly "ends" the unit on 

holidays with the concluding line "These are God's special 

times which you must keep as sacred holidays..." (v. 37-38), a 

clear echo of the opening verse.  However, almost as an 

afterthought, the chapter then concludes with five verses 

detailing the laws of Sukkot:  sitting in the sukka for seven 

days, and bringing the four species (lulav, etrog, hadas, and 

arava) with which to rejoice before God.  No commentator is 

able to ignore this textual paradox.

	Once again, it is the literary clues of the Torah itself 

which offer an answer.  Aside from the newly introduced laws 

of Sukkot which comprise that final section, two other facts 

of the text distinguish this latter treatment of the holiday:

	1) Similar to Rosh Hashana, the first and eighth days of 

	this holiday are called shabbaton (v. 39), a designation 

	not found in the earlier discussion of Sukkot (v. 33-36);  


	2) the word which begins this five-verse unit is akh, the 

	same word which introduced the tenth of Tishrei (Yom 

	Kippur) earlier in the chapter (v.27).

Thus, the Torah uses these key words to signal that this 

holiday is integrally related to the Day of Atonement.  

However, unlike Rosh Hashana, which was created to serve the 

needs of Yom Kippur, Sukkot already existed:  it was the chag 

ha-asif of Sefer Shemot.  The effects of Yom Kippur are seen 

not in the invention of another holiday, but in the 

transformation of the existing Ingathering Festival already in 

the calendar.  Sukkot, in a word, partakes of two dimensions:  

it remains in its original nexus of the three pilgrimages, 

with its agricultural moorings, yet it now has the added 

dimension of being part of the Tishrei holidays which revolve 

around their central axis of Yom Kippur and the attempt to 

repair our relationship with God.

	This is why the Torah "closed" the discussion of the 

holidays after only mentioning the eight day festival of 

Sukkot.  By employing that literary ending (v. 37-38), the 

original aspect of the holiday is preserved; with no 

particular laws, it is a festival simply by virtue of its 

being at the time of the ingathering.  This is likely the 

significance of calling it the festival of booths (sukkot):  

as farmers prepared the harvest for storage, whether it was 

turning grain into flour at the mill or olives into oil at the 

press, it was customary to live in small booths in the fields, 

both to remain close to the work, and to have a place to rest 

and eat in the middle of the day's labor.  In this original 

context, the booth connects to the agricultural character of 

the holiday.  This appellation does not, however, necessarily 

imply a commandment to sit in these booths; just as the names 

chag ha-katzir or chag ha-asif do not require that one perform 

such activities on the holiday itself, so too does chag ha-

sukkot not necessarily imply sitting in a sukka.

	However, after the akh, after Yom Kippur has its effect, 

a new dimension is added to this holiday of storing.  First, 

every Jew, already on his pilgrimage, is asked to bring four 

species to the Temple and rejoice before God (v. 40).  These 

species, particularly the willows and myrtle branches, must be 

cut just prior to their use, if they are to survive the 

journey.  In other words, it is not sufficient to prepare for 

this commandment during the week between Rosh Hashana and Yom 

Kippur, when the feelings of repentance are fresh and intense.  

The true gauge of Yom Kippur's value is what one does after 

the tenth of Tishrei, how one acts after the atonement has 

presumably been granted.

	Furthermore, the booth itself is converted from a mere 

agricultural accouterment to a commemoration of the divine 

providence the Jewish people enjoyed continually in the 

wilderness.  Whereas earlier the name chag sukkot did not 

necessarily translate into an actual imperative to sit in a 

sukka during the festival, now the commandment is clear (v. 


	For seven days you will dwell in sukkot; everyone 

	included in Israel will dwell in sukkot, so that future 

	generations will know that I had the Israelites live in 

	sukkot when I brought them out of Egypt.

The booths of the field have now been transformed into an 

integral aspect of the holiday:  sukkot are not merely a 

convenient designation for the holiday, but have become an 

actual seven-day dwelling place for all Jews.  This 

"reification" of chag ha-sukkot from a mere title to a real 

activity is meant to require all Jews to re-live the life in 

the wilderness, when the people were radically dependent on 

God.  In this respect, the original context of Sukkot - 

acknowledging the divine providence in the annual harvest - is 

not supplanted but intensified and deepened; to pay homage to 

God for the agricultural yield, a physical pilgrimage is 

insufficient.  That acknowledgment must be embodied in living 

a life of real dependence, if only for seven days.(9)

	There is another, even more symbolic aspect to this 

actualization of the term sukkot.  Accepting the traditional 

dating of the events surrounding the sin of the golden calf, 

that first year Moshe came down with the second tablets on the 

tenth of Tishrei.  From that point forward, the people busied 

themselves with fashioning and building the mishkan, the 

tabernacle in which God's shekhina would dwell.  As is well 

known, the mishkan was an ohel, a kind of portable tent, 

composed of firm sides and a removable top which could be 

easily assembled and disassembled.  To show the authenticity 

of their teshuva, the people built not a golden idol, but, if 

you will, a booth for God.

	Every year, to re-capitulate and re-experience that first 

Yom Kippur, each Jew must show his commitment by building a 

temporary dwelling: not for God, but for himself.  Just as the 

Jews of that fateful first year in the wilderness expressed 

their contrition by devoting themselves to the task of 

building a dwelling place for God, so too must all Jews 

henceforth build a dwelling which shows that their teshuva is 

genuine.  Only once were the Jews asked to build a tabernacle 

for the divine; from now on, a human tabernacle, a sukka, can 

be built to show the people's willingness to live under the 

aegis of God, relying on His providence and dependent on His 



	Sukkot, as we have shown, truly sits at the intersection 

of two groupings.  On the one hand, chag ha-asif fits 

naturally within the triad of pilgrimages, rejoicing before 

God for the bounty He has bestowed on the land and its yield.  

However, Sukkot is to be understood as well within the more 

unique nexus of the Tishrei holidays, which have Yom Kippur as 

their central axis.  As a clear manifestation of an atonement 

process which began on Rosh Hashana and reached its crescendo 

on the tenth of Tishrei, Sukkot is an agricultural holiday 

transformed.  Offering God a percentage of the produce of 

one's fields is not enough; it must be more specifically the 

four species.  Coming to God's house is not enough on the 

pilgrimage; one must now build a temporary dwelling which 

accentuates the radical nature of one's dependence on the 

Creator and Sustainer.  If Yom Kippur indeed transformed us, 

then it also must transform a relatively nondescript 

agricultural festival into a holiday of indescribable joy:  

the joy which results from the recognition that we constantly 

live under God's guiding providence.


1.	Thus, the Decalogue records God as being "a jealous God" 

(20:5), one who will not allow one who takes His name in vain 

to go unpunished" (20:7).  The laws of Parashat Mishpatim echo 

this severity, such as the punishment for oppressing the 

disadvantaged (22:21-23):

	Do not mistreat a widow or an orphan.  If you mistreat 

	them, and they cry out to Me, I will hear their cry.  I 

	will [then] display My anger and kill you by the sword,

	so that your wives will be widows, and your children, 


	God's compassion for the unfortunate translates into a 

swift, measure-for-measure punishment against the oppressors.

2.	Thus, Rashi (on Shemot 34:29) quotes the midrash that 

Moshe received the second Tablets and finally achieved 

forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf on the tenth of 

Tishrei, the date of the (future) Day of Atonement.

3.	Bemidbar 3:4, 26:61. 

4.	Vayikra 16:1.

5.	Although here, too, one may reasonably argue that the 

arba'a parshiyot - Shekalim, Zakhor, Para, and Ha-hodesh 

were instituted by Chazal to prepare us spiritually and 

religiously for Pesach.

6.	This posture of gratitude is expressed most clearly in 

the fact the the korban pesach, the paschal sacrifice, is 

technically within the sacrificial category of shalmei toda, 

thanksgiving offerings (Vayikra 7:11-15). 

7.	The appropriation of the revelation at Sinai to be a 

preparatory aid for Yom Kippur may explain why the Torah 

itself never mentions a formal commemoration of that event.  

It is Chazal who make the connection between Shavuot and 

mattan Torah (see Shabbat 86a-87a).  Of course, the fact that 

this spectacular revelation did not prevent the sin of 

idolatry barely seven weeks later may have contributed to the 

Torah's decision not to commemorate it explicitly.

8.	The theme of malkhuyot (kingship), so dominant in the 

Rosh Hashana liturgy, is thus a natural extension of shofarot 

(shofar-blasts).  This connection is certainly explicit in the 

eschatology of the Later Prophets (e.g. Malakhi).

9.	I heard from Rabbi J. J. Schacter, in a discussion of 

Kinot on Tisha B'Av, that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt"l 

understood the notion of "joy" as an intellectual cognizance 

of this hashgacha peratit.  Thus, when the gemara in Berakhot 

(60b) searches for the significance of the mishna's claim "to 

bless [God] for the good as well as for the bad," Rava answers 

that one "should accept the bad with joy."  The Rav zt"l 

understood this not as an emotional prescription, but as an 

intellectual awareness that just as the good in our lives is 

not random, we must be prepared to accept that the misfortunes 

in our lives are similarly directed from above.  Similarly, 

the Torah's directive to rejoice on the holidays, and on 

Sukkot in particular (Devarim 16:14-15), is not a command of 

one's emotions, but a prescription for correct intellectual 


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