By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
"And you [the Kohanim] shall not desecrate My Holy Name and I shall be
sanctified in the midst of Bnei Yisrael…… who delivered you out the land
of Egypt to be your G-d" (Vayikra 22:32-33). This verse concludes the
opening section of the parshah that calls on the Kohanim to sanctify their
avodah by not defiling themselves through mourning for the dead or through
allowing priests who were maimed to officiate or by offering sacrifices
that were blemished. In that way the Name of G-d would not be desecrated
and this is linked to the sanctification of His Great Name through the
Chagim and Moadim that follow. By commanding Israel to gather together in
His appointed Holy Place at those times in joy and song, with their
enjoined offerings and thanksgivings and mandatory gifts to the poor, they
will bear witness to Hashem's providence and so proclaim that He watches
and guards over His People. That sanctification of His Name is the reason
for the linkage between the instructions to the Kohanim, and this list of
Chagim and Moadim.
The Divine commandment of Moadei Hashem are strangely linked to "You
shall call them, they are My Moadim" [verse 2]. This means, ‘You shall
call them [but] they are My Moadim’, because all of them are linked to the
times of the Sun and the Moon and so are dependent on the human agency of
the Bet Din in Yerushalyim who determine Rosh Chodesh and Ibur Hashanah.
Therefore, the Bet Din determines the exact dates of Hashem’s Moadim.
Furthermore, the Bet Din are obligated to send messengers throughout
Israel so that all Israel will observe the Chagim at the same time.
Otherwise, if each person depended on their own knowledge and expertise to
determine dates and times, then we would have the same situation that the
Karaites have. There, since the human bet din does not determine the
months, they do not observe Yom Hakippurim in Egypt on the same day as in
Kushta [Istanbul], and in Damascus different from Yerushalyim. Because
Hashem here gave Israel's Sages the power to declare the times of His
Moadim, all Israel sanctifies His Name on them at the same dates. The
repetition of the phrase "Moadai" before and after the Shabbat separates
this day from the others in this respect since this day is not dependent
on a human bet din to determine its occurrence, nor does its time vary nor
does it mark miracles that occurred to us, rather it is fixed in the
sequence of the 7 day cycle to mark the wonders of His Creation and to
announce our thanks for His manifold blessings. This day is further
distinguished from the other Moadim by the text calling it Shabbat
Shabbaton whereas the others except Yom HaKippurim are called Shabbaton
only. Thereby we are told that on Shabbat and Yom HaKippurim there is to
be perfect rest for the human body, even work connected with chaiyei
nefesh is forbidden whereas such work is permitted on the other Moadim.
[We find a continuation of this idea in Chassidic thought. "There is no
imprint of Mankind’s hands in the Shabbat; only Hashem's work is reflected
in it. Therefore we find it easier to understand and relate to the Chagim
that are related to the experiences of Am Yisrael. That is why there is
simcha and sasson only on the Chagim, whereas there is Oneg that is
pure 'seichel' on Shabbat that is Divine Wisdom. So we have Isru Chag to
allow the transition to the weekdays but havdalah alone suffices for the
transition from Shabbat" (Shem Mi Shmuel)].
The phrase 'shabbaton' is used in connection with Rosh Hashanah, Yom
Kippur and Sukkot yet it is not used with regard to Pesach and Shavuot
even though we are told that work is not permitted on those days too.
Shabbaton denotes a time of rest when people are free in their bodies and
spirit. While this is true of these 3 festivals when people are given over
to bodily rest and relaxation of spirit, however it is not true of Pesach
and Shavuot. In both of them men are eaten up with concern and worry about
their livelihoods bound up as they are with their crops in the fields. At
the time of these 2 chagim people await reaping and harvesting those crops
and are fearful of any dangers or natural mishaps that may occur. They are
therefore eager to engage in all the activities connected with their
ripening crops and with those ready for harvesting, so that they are
hardly ready for a shabbaton. The Torah alludes to this difference when it
commands us to go up to Yerushalyim on Pesach and Sukkot in different
terms. In Devarim regarding Sukkot chapter 16, verse 15 reads:" Seven days
you will celebrate the chag of Hashem in the place that He will choose
since He blessed you in all your crops and all your actions". Sukkot is
the festival of the ingathering, at the end of the year when all the crops
and harvests are safely gathered and stored; then people can be in a state
of shabbaton. However, with regard to Pesach we read in the same chapter
verses 6-7, " In the place that Hashem chooses to establish His Name you
will offer the Pesach in the evening ….on the morrow you will return to
your tents…..six days you shall eat matzot". Now at the beginning of the
harvest with crops to be brought in and threshed and cleaned, only one day
in Yerushalyim is required; there is no shabbaton, no peace of mind.
At the very beginning of the harvest [16 Nissan] there is the commandment
in our parshah to bring the korban tzibbur of the Omer, to count 7 full
weeks and then on Chag Habikurim [ these are individual offerings] to
bring another korban tzibbur of the 2 loaves of new wheat. In regard to
the Omer the phrase "in all you habitations" is used to denote that while
the Omer is only brought in Eretz Yisrael, nevertheless the accompanying
injunction against eating chadash exists everywhere. In addition to our
counting the 7 weeks between the bringing of these 2 korbanot we are also
counting in joy the days between the Exodus from Egypt and Matan Torah on
Shavuot like one anticipating a great gift or a momentous occasion.
Despite this the Torah does not refer to Matan Torah but only to bikkurim
on Shavuot. This is because Matan Torah is a constant and an ongoing
occurrence not limited to a special time or place whereas bikkurim is. Now
the Omer is of Barley that is usually animal fodder and that is given to
the animals in its raw form; simply harvested and given to them. On the
other hand, the Shnei Halechem brought on Shavuot are of wheat, the food
of mankind, and is eaten after it is prepared by milling, refining and
baking. When we left Egypt we were unrefined, gross and unlearned like the
Omer. Seven weeks later we received the Torah that taught us to be
cleared, refined and purified through its Divine Wisdom and so we offer
the 2 loaves on Shavuot. They are brought together with 7 sheep and other
offerings just like kings and nobles eat their refined wheaten bread with
meat, wine and delicacies; however, the Omer is offered by itself, a sign
of reduced spiritual joy .
In order that a person should not think that having brought bikkurim on
Shavuot to Hashem, he has completed his obligations, the Torah followed
bikkurim with the laws of Peah to denote our obligation to the poor, the
weak and the stranger.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
r. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.