Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Parshat Emor

The Festivals

Sefer VaYikra deals with aspects of Jewish law from the vantage point of holy or unholy and clean or unclean. And so, when the festivals are taught in this week's parsha, it begins by calling them "mikraei kodesh" – "holy occasions".

The instructions begin with the introduction: "Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: The Lord's appointed [holy days] that you shall designate as holy occasions. These are My appointed [holy days]:…" (VaYikra 23:2).

The Torah then lists all the holy occasions, beginning with Shabbat, then Pesach, followed by the Omer, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and finally Sukkot.

Then the Torah summarizes: "These are God's appointed [holy days] that you shall designate them as holy occasions, [on which] to offer up a fire offering to the Lord… (ibid 37).

One would expect the Torah to then move onto the next subject. But it doesn't. It starts again to teach us about Sukkot, again! "But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the festival of the Lord for a seven day period; the first day shall be a rest day, and the eighth day shall be a rest day…" (ibid 39).

Once, the Torah completes its second account of Sukkot, it then describes Moshe's execution of the task: "Moses told the children of Israel [these laws] of the Lord's appointed [holy days]" (ibid 44).

What's going on? Did the Torah forget something about Sukkot that it needed to add, or is something else going on?

There are two types of Biblical festivals: the Pilgrimage Festivals (Shalosh Regalim or Hag) and the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim).

Sukkot belongs to both. Sukkot closes the series of pilgrimage festivals: Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, and it also closes the Days of Awe series: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

Sukkot, therefore has a dual identity. It has the complete joy of the pilgrimage festivals, and yet has the fear of judgment. Indeed, in modern day Jewish practice, Sukkot fulfils both these requirements: We have the commandment of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and yet we do the "hoshana" ceremony and prayer and prayers for rain, as if it were a day of judgment.

For that reason Sukkot appears twice. Indeed the commandments associated with pilgrimage appear in the first account of Sukkot, while the commandments associated with judgment appar in the second account.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Emor, entitled: "Priestly Defects" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Emor, entitled: "Say it with love" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Emor, entitled: "The Tale of the Blasphemer" appears at

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