By Shlomo Katz
Volume 22, No. 31
5 Iyar 5768
May 10, 2008
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Nazir 51
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Yevamot 79
A large part of this week’s parashah is devoted to the laws of the festivals — Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Hakippurim. These laws are introduced by the verse, “G-d’s appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations.” This verse teaches, the Gemara comments, that “you”– the bet din — are to designate when the festivals will occur. (This was done by hearing the testimony of the witnesses who saw the new moon and declaring which day would be Rosh Chodesh.) Even if the bet din were to miscalculate and declare Rosh Chodesh to be on the wrong day — even if bet din were to intentionally declare Rosh Chodesh on the wrong day – its declaration would be binding.
This halachah is reflected in a number of Midrashim. They record, for example, that the angels ask G-d, “When is Rosh Hashanah?” “I do not know,” G-d responds. “Let us all go down to the bet din and see what they have decreed.” This is reflected also in our Yom Tov prayers, in which we recite the blessing, “Who sanctifies Yisrael and the festivals.” This reflects the fact that G-d sanctifies Yisrael, and Yisrael sanctifies the festivals. In contrast, the parallel blessing on Shabbat is simply, “Who sanctifies the Shabbat.” Yisrael is not mentioned because we have no role in determining when Shabbat will occur.
R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l (1903-1993) notes that G-d has literally given some of His dominion to us. Rosh Hashanah is the day when He judges us, yet we decide when Rosh Hashanah will be! In what other court system does the defendant enjoy that privilege? This power of the Jewish people sheds light as well on the Jewish view of kedushah / holiness, says R’ Soloveitchik. Kedushah is not some magical force that appears on its own; it is something that we create through our deeds. Man can imbue time with kedushah and man can imbue objects with kedushah. Without our mitzvot, there would be no kedushah. (Divrei Hashkafah pp. 138-142)
“Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them, `Hashem’s appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations; these are My appointed festivals. For six days labor may be done, and the seventh day is a day of complete rest, a holy convocation, you shall not do any work; it is a Sabbath for Hashem in all your dwelling places.’ These are the appointed festivals of Hashem, the holy convocations, which you shall designate in their appropriate time.” (Vayikra 23:2-4)
Rashi z”l comments: “Why is Shabbat mentioned among the festivals? To teach that one who transgresses the festivals is considered to have transgressed the Shabbat, and one who observes the festivals is considered to have observed the Shabbat.”
R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) elaborates on this relationship:
Based on the fact that the above verses list Shabbat before the festivals, we recite in kiddush, “For it is the day preceding the holy festivals.” What does this mean? It means that the festivals draw their sanctity from the sanctity of the Sabbath.
How so? R’ Kook explains that the relationship of the festivals to Shabbat is parallel to the relationship of the Oral Law (“Torah sh’be’al peh”) to the Written Law (“Torah sh’bichtav”). The Written Law, i.e., the Bible, came directly from the mouth of G-d. The Oral Law is firmly based on principles that G-d taught to Moshe Rabbeinu, but its development has been in the hands of man ever since. Likewise, Shabbat is completely G- d’s handiwork. Shabbat comes every seventh day whether or not man sanctifies it. Not so the festivals, which occur only if man declares the new moon each month. [In actual practice, the Sages established a calendar so that we would not have to declare the new moon each month.] This is why our Shabbat prayers state, “Mekadesh ha’Shabbat” / “He sanctifies the Sabbath,” while our Yom Tov prayers say, “Mekadesh Yisrael ve’hazmanim” / “He sanctifies Israel and the festivals.” Were Yisrael not sanctified, there would be no festivals.
We read in our parashah (23:11 and 15) that Yom Tov is sometimes called “Shabbat.” In light of the above, this is understandable. Because the sanctity of Yom Tov is dependent upon the sanctity of Shabbat, Yom Tov can itself be called “Shabbat.” (Da’at Kohen p.274)
R’ Zalman Sorotzkin z”l (1881-1966; rabbi in Lithuania and Israel; died 1958) observes that the above verses refer to Shabbat as “My appointed festival” and to the holidays as “the appointed festivals of Hashem.” This, he writes, reflects the closer connection that G-d has to Shabbat than to the festivals. (Oznayim La’Torah)
“Rabbi [i.e., Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi] says: `What is the proper path that a person should choose for himself? Whatever is a credit to himself and earns him the esteem of fellow men’.” (Chapter 2, mishnah 1)
R’ Baruch Pinchas Rabinowitz z”l (1874-1920; the Skolye Rebbe) explains: Mitzvot may be divided into two categories – man’s duties to G-d (“bain adam la’Makom”) and man’s duties to his fellow men (“bain adam l’chavero”). If a person decides to observe one category of mitzvot, but not the other, then he is not on the proper path. It goes without saying that one cannot simply ignore the commandments which are bain adam la’Makom. These are, after all, man’s duties towards G-d. But lest one think that he can fulfill the bain adam la’Makom commandments and ignore his duties to his fellow man, the Gemara (Yoma 86a) teaches that fulfilling one’s duties to other people also fulfills a duty to G-d. This is because, if one is studies Torah and prays with great devotion, but is not respectful towards, and concerned about, people, it causes onlookers to disparage G-d and his Torah.
In this light, we may interpret our mishnah as follows: “What is the proper path that a person should choose for himself? Whatever is a credit to Him — i.e., the mitzvot bain adam la’Makom — and earns him the esteem of fellow men – mitzvot bain adam l’chavero.” (Divrei Baruch)
R’ Shlomo Kluger z”l (1785-1869; rabbi of Brody, Galicia) suggests a very different interpretation of the mishnah. The mishnah says, “What is the proper path sh’yavur lo adam . . . .” These Hebrew words are commonly translated “that a person should choose for himself.” That is not correct, writes R’ Kluger, for then the mishnah should have said, “sh’yivror lo adam.” Rather, the word “sh’yavur” is related to the word “bur,” which means “empty” (as in “sdeh bur” / “a field lying fallow”). Read this way, the mishnah means: “What is the proper path that a person should avoid? Whatever is a credit to himself and earns him the esteem of fellow men.” Rather, a person should serve Hashem quietly and discretely. (Magen Avot)
R’ Hillel Lichtenstein z”l
R’ Hillel Lichtenstein was born on 11 Kislev 5575 / 1814 near Pressburg (present-day Bratislava, Slovakia), and he became one of the leading students of the rabbi of Pressburg, R’ Moshe Sofer (the Chatam Sofer). After his marriage, R’ Lichtenstein studied in Galante, Hungary.
R’ Lichtenstein began his rabbinic career in 1846, first as rabbi of Margareten, Hungary, then as rabbi of Klausenberg (today, Cluj, Romania), and later, back in Margareten. Eventually, he became rabbi of Kolmyya, Galicia (today in Ukraine), the town with which he is most closely associated. While in Margareten, R’ Lichtenstein began to visit R’ Chaim Halberstam, the Zanzer Rebbe. Although not from a chassidic background himself, R’ Lichtenstein eventually began to act as a chassidic rebbe. Many chassidim gathered around him and he accepted kvitlach / notes with requests from them in the manner of a rebbe.
R’ Lichtenstein was active in the affairs of the broader Jewish community beyond just the towns in which he served. While in Hungary, he was one of the founders of the “Orthodox Congress,” an umbrella group of Jewish congregations. After moving to Galicia, he joined with R’ Shimon Sofer (his teacher’s son) to found a similar organization, “Machzikei Ha’dat.” R’ Lichtenstein was a popular speaker and he frequently traveled from town to town trying to strengthen Torah observance. He was also among the fiercest opponents of the Haskalah, the so-called “Enlightenment” movement.
R’ Lichtenstein was a strong supporter of settlement in Eretz Yisrael, and he helped his son-in-law, R’ Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, buy up land for what became the city of Petach Tikva. R’ Lichtenstein himself died in Kolomyya on 10 Iyar 5651 / 1891 and is buried there. In addition to leaving many descendants, R’ Lichtenstein wrote numerous books including Avkat Rochel (mussar), Bet Hillel (letters regarding strengthening observance), Maskil El Dal (derashot), Teshuvot Bet Hillel (responsa), and others. (Source: Encyclopedia L’Chassidut).
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