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17.09.2018 12:52    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah  shabbat  parashah  hag  rosh hashana  kippu  sukkot  

Festivals of the Month of Eitanim


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In the gemara (Rosh ha-Shanah 11a) the month of Tishre is called Yerah Eitanim, or the “Month of the Mighty.”  The reason given by the gemara for this name is that the Patriarchs were born in this month.  A second opinion says this nomenclature is because the month is strong on commandments, as Rashi notes (in his commentary on Rosh ha-Shanahloc. cit.):  “The shofar, the Day of Atonement, the sukkahlulav and aravah, and the water libation ceremony.”

The order of the festivals in the month of Tishre is intimated in Psalm 27, recited from the beginning of the month of Elul:  “Of David.  The Lord is my light and my help.”  According to the midrash:  “My light on Rosh ha-Shanah, which is the Day of Judgment, for it is said:  ‘He will cause your vindication to shine forth like the light, the justice of your case, like the noonday sun’ (Ps. 37:6); and my help [Heb. yish`i] on the Day of Atonement, for He will deliver us and forgive us all our transgressions.”[1] The addition to this midrash is well-known:  “He will shelter me in His pavilion [Heb. sukkah]—this is the feast of Tabernacles,” although it should be noted that this line does not appear in the above-mentioned midrash.  It apparently comes from the remarks of Elef le-Mateh in Sefer Mateh Ephraim, part. 581.6.   Below we shall shed light on the special order of the festivals of Tishre in the light of the above-quoted verse.

It has been asked: Why was the Day of Atonement, the day on which our transgressions are forgiven, not set before Rosh ha-Shanah, the Day of Judgment?  We shall elucidate the matter according to the intimations in the psalm.

What is the light of Rosh ha-Shanah? In a sermon which Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook gave before the blowing of the shofar on the New Year, 5653 (1893), he dwelled on the connection between the sound of the shofar and the giving of the Torah, as it appears in the verses read in the Shofarot service.  He asked:  “Why is accepting the Lord’s dominion and recalling us for good dependent specifically on the shofar?”[2] He explained that when a person hears the blast of the shofar he discovers his deepest inner desire.  He hears the sound of the shofar, and at that moment the great event at Mount Sinai envelopes him; and naturally this is the hour that a person’s inner will seeks to uphold the Torah, as in the words, “we will do and obey.”  Rav Kook defined this hour as a “an opportune moment for firmly embedding in the heart staunch consent to comply with the Torah and its commandments the entire year.”[3]

In the light of Rav Kook’s remarks we can explain why Rosh ha-Shanah comes before the Day of Atonement.  Before repenting, we must establish our direction in life and determine the objective of our actions.  On Rosh ha-Shanah we proclaim the Holy One, blessed be He, king over the entire universe, and of course over ourselves.  This proclamation of dominion signifies that “there is none beside Him” most absolutely.  This position connects us with the Theophany at Mount Sinai, where we were told:  “If you accept the Torah, ‘tis well; if not, there shall be your burial” (Shabbat 88a).  In other words, there is no sense or significance to life without the Torah.  Therefore, Rosh ha-Shanah is devoid of all signs of confession and mention of sin, for on this day we clarify for ourselves the proper way.  “My light” is Rosh ha-Shanah, for on this day we illumine our way forward.  As Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, explained, on Rosh ha-Shanahwe look ahead to the new year.[4]

The Day of Atonement is like “deliverance.”  After we determine our way, we need deliverance for the past.  We look back and regret the things we have done that do not accord with the ways of the Torah.

He will shelter me in His pavilion” is the next stage in the course of the Month of the Mighty.  After determining the direction of our lives, to the sound of the shofar, after cleansing ourselves of our sins on the Day of Atonement—at last we turn joyously to the commandments of the Feast of Tabernacles.  The midrash asks how it is said, “On the first day you shall take…” (Lev. 23:40), when it is actually on the fifteenth day (of the month), and answers:

From the Day of Atonement until the Festival, all Israel are busy with the commandments, one person building a sukkah, another taking a lulav.  On the first festive day of the holiday they take their lulavs and etrogs in hand, and give praise to the Holy One, blessed be He; and the Holy One, blessed be He, says to them:  I have forgiven you for the past, but henceforth ponder your transgressions.  Therefore it says “on the first day”—the first day when the fresh accounting of sins begins, from the beginning of the festival onwards.[5]

Herein lies the joy of the Feast of Tabernacles, when a person has chosen his or her way in life on Rosh ha-Shanah, has been delivered from transgression on the Day of Atonement, and marches forward joyously to observe the Feast of Tabernacles with its numerous commandments.

The last stage in the Month of the Mighty is Simhat Torah. While a person needs a sukkah and the Four Kinds for joyous celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, on Simhat Torah one can simply fulfill the idea of “exulting and rejoicing in Thee,” as the midrash notes:

Rabbi Abin opened a discourse with the text:  This is the day that the Lord has made, let us exult and rejoice in it—bo (Ps. 118:24).  Said Rabbi Abin:  We do not know in which we have to rejoice, in the day or in the Holy One, blessed be He?  Solomon, however, came and made it clear to us:  We will exult and rejoice in You (Heb. bakh) —in the Holy One, blessed be He; in You—in Your salvation; in You—in Your Torah; in You—in fearing You.  Rabbi Isaac said:  Bakh (bet-kaf) means in the twenty-two letters which You have written for us in the Torah.  Bet is two, kaf is twenty, making up the word bakh.[6]

This brings us back to the moments of the shofar blasts, reminding us of standing at Mount Sinai where, once more, we accept the Torah.  However, in Simhat Torah we accept the Torah after the spiritual soul-seeking of Rosh ha-Shanah, after being delivered of our sins on the Day of Atonement, and with “rejoicing in your festival.”

This fits in with the saying attributed to the Rebbe of Kotzk:  The entire progression of the month of Elul, the days of Rosh ha-Shanah, the Ten Days of Repentance, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles is so that we can arrive at the climactic moment with the ark is opened on Simhat Torah and we proclaim joyously:  “It has been clearly demonstrated to you that the Lord alone is G‑d; there is none beside Him” (Deut. 4:35).

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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