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celebrate

09/23/2021 10:47:39 AM

Sep23

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

The language that the Torah uses directs us in how we observe the various sacred occasions legislated within. For example, when we read about the Shabbat in chapter 23 of Leviticus, which happens to be the portion read on the first two days of Sukkot, the operative word is “Shabbat”, which means “cessation from work”. We learn from this that the primary feature of Shabbat is exactly what its’ name means: cessation from work.

What about the sacred occasions during the year? The Torah offers two sets of nouns to describe them: “Moadei Adonai” and Mikraei Kodesh”. The first means “set times”, and reflects that these events occur on a regular, annual date. The second set of words means “sacred occasions”, and offer us a view into the what indeed makes a “set time” sacred.

The first is Pesach, and the foci of the text are on several things: 1) A Passover offering to God; 2) Eating unleavened bread for seven days; 3) Do not work on the first and seventh days, as they are “sacred occasions.” Note that there is no reference to the Exodus from Egypt here.

The next festival mentioned is Shavuot, although, curiously enough, it is not called Shavuot even though we are commanded to count for seven weeks. Neither is there any recognition of the revelation of God at Mt. Sinai. At this juncture in the history of the Israelites, Shavuot is a celebration of the grain harvest that comes seven weeks after Passover. On that fiftieth day, the priest elevates two lambs and the bread of the first fruits. That day is also called a “sacred occasion” and work is not permitted. The operative phrase throughout this text is the bringing of harvest to God.

The Torah pauses briefly to remind us not to harvest the corners of our land, but to leave it for the poor. It also reminds us that if any gleanings fall, we must also leave them for the poor.

We then move on to the first day of the seventh month, AKA Rosh Hashanah, although not called by that name. It is merely the first day of the seventh month, a “sacred occasion” commemorated by loud blasts, we which know refers to the sounding of the shofar. Work is not permitted.

Seven verses are then devoted to the tenth day of the seventh month, which is called Yom Kippurim, also a “sacred occasion”. The essence is that it is a day of self-denial, which we understand to mean a fast day. Work is not permitted, and we are to make expiation before God. It is also called a Sabbath of complete rest, in Hebrew a Shabbat Shabbaton, literally Sabbath of Sabbaths.

Lastly comes the fifteenth day of the seventh month, which the Torah calls Chag Sukkot. We do not work on the first nor eighth day (Shemini Atzeret). We are to have completed the harvest, and then gather on the first day the four elements that comprise the lulav (palm, willow and myrtle) and the product of hadar trees, which means “beautiful”. Since there are no trees with that name, we took it be the Etrog. We are commanded to live in Sukkot so that future generations will know and learn of this history of our ancestors.

Of all the holidays, it is interesting that the Torah uses the phrase “you shall observe it as a festival of the Lord” twice when referring to Sukkot, with the word chag being the most prevalent word. No other festival, or Shabbat for that matter, is called a chag, which I think is very telling. How does one observe a chag? By devising ways to celebrate, by being joyous. Clearly if there is one “sacred occasion” in our calendar year where we are to be happy, it is Sukkot. The pomp and circumstance of the synagogue services with the lulav and Etrog, when combined with eating in the Sukkah, create a celebration unlike no other in the Torah. To me it encapsulates what Judaism is about: joy and celebration.

May your “sacred occasion” of Sukkot be one of joy and celebration.  

Fri, October 22 2021 16 Cheshvan 5782