A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
July 17-18, 24 Tammuz, 5758
This week's portion lists the festivals and the sacrifices offered to commemorate these
days. (Numbers, Chapters 28, 29) While other portions mention only the three
major holidays, Passover, Shavuot, and Succot,
(Exodus 23:14-16; 34: 18-22; Deuteronomy 16) here (as in Leviticus 23:4-44),
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are also included. The different listings speak
different approaches to the holiday experience which in turn shed light on different goals
When only the three holidays Passover, Shavuot and Succot are listed, they reflect the
cornerstone of what makes up our nationhood. On Passover we became a people as we
left Egypt--Am Yisrael was born. On Shavuot we received the law--Torat Yisrael.
And on Succot, the festival which marks our marching through the desert to Israel,
we commemorate the gift of the land of
Israel--Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, the four species taken on Succot are viewed by many as
especially connected to the land. From this perspective, the holidays send a
very nationalistic message, the message which became the
foundation of the Religious Zionist movement--the people of Israel, Am Yisrael, according
to the Torah of Israel, Torat Yisrael, in the land of Israel, Eretz Yisrael.
But in our portion, the list is expanded to include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
One could argue that the actual order presented--Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah,
Yom Kippur, Succot--point to the universal vision of Judaism.
Through the Exodus from Egypt we physically came into being; we emerged as a people.
But a people without a purpose, just as a body without a soul, has no meaning.
Hence Shavuot, the day we received the Torah which commemorates the infusion of
spirituality into the physicality of Am Yisrael.
While Passover and Shavuot mark the full development of the Jewish people, the trend now
veers into another direction by presenting Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah
marks the anniversary of God creating all of humankind. This theme reaches its crescendo
on Yom Kippur with the reading of Yonah (Jonah), the Jewish prophet who was told by God to
take the message of repentance to Ninveh a heathen city. And Succot is the most
universal of festivals. During the week of Succot we offer seventy sacrifices
symbolic of the nations of the world.
Passover and Shavuot speak to the development of the Jewish people. The remaining holidays
aim to fulfill our task of redeeming the Jewish people through which the world will be
redeemed. No wonder these latter holidays
fall seven months after Passover. Seven can be vocalized savea, to be satiated.
When becoming a light to the nations of the world, our mission is realized.
There has been long debate whether Judaism is fundamentally nationalistic or
universalistic. The two different listings of the order of the holidays as found in
the Torah indicate we're both.
Some Jews express their Judaism by separating themselves from the larger world.
Others feel that their mission to perfect the world is so predominant that they
forget their roots. The two listings of the holidays indicate
that both approaches are flawed. Real creativity does not come from absolutes, but
rather from the tension between opposite ideas.
Taste of Torah
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Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
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