The recounting of the mandatory Temple sacrifices for the holidays of the Jewish year occupies a significant amount of space in this week’s parsha. The overall meaning and matter of animal sacrifices has been discussed a number of times previously by me in these parsha articles. But I wish to now attempt to dwell on the uniqueness of the sacrifices that are meant to somehow characterize the holiday itself.
For example, the sacrifices offered on the seven days of Succot differ for each day of that holiday. This is not true regarding the sacrifices ordained for the last six days of Pesach which are all identical. This difference has halachic implications regarding the recitation of a Haftorah blessing on the Shabat of Chol Hamoed. On Succot because of the fact that a different sacrifice was offered each day, the blessing is a holiday blessing and not only a Shabat blessing.
On Shabat Chol Hamoed Pesach the blessing is a purely Shabat blessing. Aside from the halachic implication just described, a subtle message of general insight is provided here. Pesach, representing a one-time redemption from Egyptian slavery, a great but essentially singular event, repeats its same sacrifice throughout the six latter days of the holiday.
Succot, representing the Divine protection over Israel and all individual Jews, is a renewed daily event which captures the differing circumstances that each day of life brings with it – a new salvation each and every day. Hence, the different sacrifices offered on the Temple altar on each individual day of Succot.
The description of the holiday altar sacrifices for the holiday of Shavuot is also significant. The Torah describes the holiday as Yom Habikurim – the day of the offering of the first fruits of the agricultural year. It also states that a new offering – the offering of the two loaves of bread – is to be part of the mincha offering of that day.
Even though all of the holidays revolve around the natural and agricultural year in the Land of Israel – Pesach is the holiday of springtime and the offering of the grain sacrifice symbolizing the harvest of the winter wheat crop and Succot represents the holiday of the fall harvest season – it is the offerings of the holiday of Shavuot that are most intertwined with nature and agriculture.
We know Shavuot as the holiday of the granting of the Torah on Sinai to the Jewish people. The Torah does not mention this directly but rather concentrates upon nature, agriculture and the blessings of the bounty of the earth. The Torah, by not dwelling especially on the granting of the Torah aspect of the holiday, sublimely suggests to us that Torah is as natural and necessary to us as is the seasons of the year and the bounty of the earth.
Torah is truly our lives and the length of our days and is therefore an integral part of nature itself, the very wonders of nature that Shavuot itself celebrates. Perhaps that is the intent of the rabbis in their statement that the world itself was created in the image of God’s Torah.
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