Our Nation’s Key to Survival
The review of the yearly holidays of Israel appears in this week’s parsha. This type of review also appears in a number of different places in the holy Torah. The reasons advanced by the commentators for this seemingly unnecessary repetition are many, varied and insightful. But there is one that truly resonates with me and I think it has great relevance to our times and circumstances.
And the gist of this explanation, of the necessity for repeating the holiday cycle a number of times, is as follows: The original mention of the holiday cycle is directed to a generation that seemingly needed no such reminders or instructions.
The holiday of Pesach and the commemoration of the exodus from Egyptian bondage were fresh in the minds and memories of the generation of the desert. And the holiday of Succot was a daily event in their lives, living as they did in their tents and underneath the heavenly clouds in the desert of Sinai. The agricultural nature of Succot – the ingathering of the summer produce of the land – and of Shavuot – the harvest of the spring and winter grain crop and the offering of the first fruits of the land in the Temple – were not yet relevant to that generation, a generation that would not live to see the Land of Israel inhabited by the people of Israel.
That description of the holiday cycle came to teach Israel that this cycle was eternal, independent of geographic reality, and not subject to the actual circumstances of life and locality then present in the Jewish world.
The further repetitions of the holiday cycle dealt with the service of the sacrifices to be offered in the Temple. This repetition is Temple service oriented. In the absence of the Temple and its sacrificial service and of the loss of the Jewish homeland and its agricultural produce, one would have possibly thought that the holidays no longer had true meaning, and in effect could stop to exist. This is what happened to other faiths, cultures and even mighty empires.
The loss of power, homeland and sovereignty also made their holidays and days of historical and national commemoration extinct. The Jewish people, faith and its Torah have survived for millennia without nationhood, homeland and with the absence of any vestige of temporal power. One of the main reasons for this near miraculous ability to survive and even thrive has been the proper halachic observances of the holidays of the Jewish calendar year.
There is almost an unconditional and unconnected review of the holidays again in the book of Dvarim, for the observance and importance of the holidays is never relegated to particular generations or geographic locations. The holidays denote the passage of time on the Jewish calendar but they themselves are timeless and, in a certain sense, they are above purely historical time.
The very repetitions of the holidays that appear in the Torah serve to remind us of this fact, of our spiritual existence. As a consequence of our return to our ancient homeland, the agricultural nature of the holidays now exists once more. It in itself confirms the timeless quality that the holidays of the Jewish year represent.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com