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by Mordecai Kornfeld
of Har Nof, Jerusalem
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Parashat Emor 5757


In this week’s Parasha the Torah delineates the three "Regalim" (pilgrimage festivals) of the Jewish year. The dates of these Regalim are observed as Chagim, or times of rejoicing, during which all of the Jewish people would go to the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) to rejoice as a nation in the kindness which Hashem has bestowed upon His people.

The Torah tells us that these Regalim were meant to commemorate events that took place in the history of the Jewish nation at the time of our Exodus from Egypt. On the festival of Pesach (Passover), the Torah tells us (Shmot 13:3,6), we commemorate the fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt at that time of the lunar year. On the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), as we read in this week’s Parasha (Vayikra 23,43), we remember Hashem’s care for us as we wandered through the Wilderness on our long journey from Egypt to Eretz Yisroel, during which we lived in the shelter of protective tents.

The Torah refers to the festival of Shavuot in a number of places, but never associates it explicitly with any event from the time of the Exodus, or from any other time, for that matter. We are told in the Gemara (Pesachim 68b), however, that the sixth day of the month of Sivan (i.e. Shavuot) was the day on which we received the Torah at Mount Sinai -- a point that we mention several times during the Shavuot prayers as well. On Shavuot, then, we commemorate the Receiving of the Torah which took place shortly after our Exodus from Egypt.

The early commentators point out that the Torah does contain discrete allusions to the fact that a festival is observed to commemorate the Receiving of the Torah. In Shmot (3:12), when Hashem assures Moshe that his mission to take the Jewish people out of Egypt will succeed, He promises Moshe that upon their exodus from Egypt, the redeemed nation "will worship G-d on this mountain." Rashi explains that this "worship" means the receiving of the Torah. Later, when Moshe speaks to Pharaoh, he tells Pharaoh that the entire nation will be leaving Egypt, the young and the old, even the cattle, because "We have a holiday ("Chag") of Hashem to celebrate." Ibn Ezra (Vayikra 23:11) explains that Moshe meant that the Jews were going to receive the Torah (as Hashem said they were to do on their way out of Egypt), and the day of that great event would be celebrated as a Chag. We thus find that a holiday is indeed to be designated to commemorate the Receiving of the Torah. As we have explained, that holiday is Shavuot. Another event associated with the Regalim of Pesach and Shavuot is the Counting of the Omer, which we are in the midst of now. Beginning on the second day of Pesach, we count forty-nine days and declare the fiftieth day as the holiday of Shavuot, as the Torah tells us in this week’s Parasha (Vayikra 23:15). The Chinuch (Mitzvah #273) explains that the we count the days to Shavuot in order to demonstrate that from the moment we left Egypt with the knowledge that we were on our way to receive the Torah, we eagerly counted the days until that moment arrived. Our annual Omer-count, too, is a sign of our longing for the Torah. Consequently, the Omer-count serves as an introduction to the festival of Shavuot.

Shibbolei Haleket (3:236) explains that the Torah hints at this association between the Omer-count and the Receiving of the Torah in the verse cited above. Hashem tells Moshe that the people "will worship (*Ta’avdun*) G-d on this mountain" (i.e., they will receive the Torah). There is an extra letter "Nun" at the end of the word *Ta’avdun*. The letter "Nun," which has a numerical value of fifty, was added to the word to show that *fifty* days after the Jewish People left Egypt, they would receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. These 50 days are the forty-nine days of the Omer-count, and Shavuot.


We find, however, an entirely different theme in the three Regalim mentioned elsewhere in the Torah. In Shmot (34:18) the Torah tells us that the festival of Pesach is to be celebrated in *Chodesh Ha'aviv,* the time during which produce sprouts forth from the ground. (*Aviv* means the beginning of growth, when the produce of the earth begins to sprout.) Regarding Shavout, the verse tells us (Shmot 34:22) that it is observed at the time of the year during which wheat is normally harvested. Of Sukkot, we are informed (in Shmot 34:22 and again in this week’s Parasha, Vayikra 23:39) that it is to be celebrated at the time of the in-gathering of the produce. (After the harvest, grains and certain fruits were left out in the fields to dry. When they were fully dry, they were brought into the house for eating or grinding into flour.) This time, the three holidays are associated with seasons in the agricultural cycle. At each major point in the cycle a holiday is celebrated, during which we thank Hashem for what our fields have given us so far.

It is interesting to note that at least one commentator (Shibbolei Haleket, ibid., quoting Rebbi Yehudah Hechasid) even associates the counting of the Omer with the farming seasons. He explains that normally, the supreme Jewish court in Yerushalayim decides on which day the new month will begin by accepting testimony on the sighting of a new moon. Messengers were then sent throughout the Land of Israel to announce the day they chose for the new month to begin, so that people would know on which days to celebrate the holidays of that month. In the months following Pesach, however, Jews would be so busy working in their fields and harvesting their produce that it would be hard for the court to find enough messengers to inform the people of all the small towns when the new month was to begin, and thus when to observe the holiday of Shavuot. The Torah therefore tells us to celebrate the holiday based on a count of forty-nine days from the second day of Pesach. Since Nisan, in which Pesach is observed, is announced before the "busy" season, this would make it simple for all to determine on their own exactly when Shavuot was to be observed.

The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem ch. 46) points out another association between the Omer-count and the agricultural seasons. The day following the first day of Pesach, the Torah tells us (Devarim 16:9), is the first day of the barley harvest. (Barley, which ripens sooner than does wheat, is the first grain to be harvested each year.) The Omer-count is therefore related to Shavuot, the holiday of the harvest, because the Omer-count spans the entire harvest season, from the first grain harvest to the last.


These two themes of the Regalim -- the commemoration of the Exodus and thanking Hashem for the agricultural seasons -- seem to be two completely disparate themes that coincide in the three Regalim. The Maharal (ibid.), however, offers a brilliant explanation to demonstrate that, to the contrary, the two themes are intimately related:

The three parts of the agricultural cycle are the *Aviv* (sprouting season), which marks the beginning of the new growth; the *Ketzir* (harvest season), when the new produce is mature and its growth is completed; and the *Asif* (the in-gathering season), during which the now lifeless and dry produce is removed from the fields. In a similar manner, the world as a whole, and the Jewish nation as a microcosm, also have three stages of growth: a time of creation; a time of maturity; and the End of the Time, at which point Hashem will bring an end to existence as we know it and all of Creation will return to be one with its Creator.

The three Regalim, suggests Maharal, represent these three times in the growth of the Jewish nation, as we shall now explain.


The holiday of Pesach is the holiday of the creation of the Jewish nation. It was on the night of Pesach that the Jewish nation was formed, as the Jews gathered together and left Egypt as a nation with a leader at its head. The holiday which marks the beginning of growth for the natural world is also the holiday which marks the beginning of growth for the Jewish people. It is the holiday of Creation.

Shavuot, the harvest festival, is the holiday celebrating the maturity of the produce. As a nation, we reached our maturity and completion on the day that we received the Torah -- the guidebook upon which our daily lives for the rest of history are based. On the day upon which we received this instruction book from Above, the world as a whole and the Jewish people in particular realized the purpose for which were created, just as the purpose of the planting season is realized at the time of the harvest.

The third agricultural stage is the stage of the in-gathering of the produce, when the dry and lifeless produce and is removed from the fields. At this point in the agricultural season we observe the festival of Sukkot, during which we remembering that each of us -- and the world as a whole -- will leave this existence and return to Hashem, when He takes from us our life-source.

How does Sukkot commemorate this destiny? As we mentioned, on Sukkot we remember that Hashem sheltered us with tents in the Wilderness when we needed protection from the elements. These protective tents are symbols of the frailty of Creation and the need all creatures have for Hashem’s protection in order to continue to exist. When the time comes and Hashem no longer provides us with His protection, we will be removed from this world and return to Hashem, our Creator and Protector.

Sukkot is thus the holiday of human frailty. Every year, we leave our houses during Sukkot to live in a scanty Sukkah, a temporary dwelling with twigs or pieces of wood on top in place of a proper roof. In this manner, we remember that mankind is not here forever, that we depend on Hashem’s protection and His continuing grants. This coincides with the season of the in-gathering, during which the produce of the fields is taken from the fields in which it grew and brought into the home. Similarly, on this holiday we remember that Hashem will take us out of this world and "bring us home," i.e. He will bring our souls to their final destination.

May Hashem grant us to live a true Torah life and to find inspiration in every day of the year and in every part of Creation.

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