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Shabbat Sukkot 5772

Parashat Hashavuah: This Month

Harav Daniel Mann

The Torah reading (Vayikra 22-23) for the first day(s) of Sukkot presents the mitzvot of Sukkot in an interesting manner. It goes through the year’s holidays, of which Sukkot is the last, in order, focusing on the korbanot. After summarizing the year of chagim, the Torah returns to say: “But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month…” (Vayikra 23:39) and details the non-Beit Hamikdash mitzvot: the four species and then sukka. A strange pasuk separates between these latter elements: “You shall celebrate it as a festival seven days in the year; an eternal statute for your generations, in the seventh month you will celebrate it” (ibid. 41). Why say that it will be celebrated in the seventh month if it just said the holiday begins on the fifteenth of the seventh month? Also, why does this pasuk of summary and/or introduction come in between the two mitzvot?

There are two overarching elements to Sukkot. One is the commemoration of a historical event: Hashem’s sustaining of a new nation in the desert. The other is the idea of chag ha’asif, giving thanks to Hashem at harvest time. Harvest is during a specific time of the year, and with our hybrid lunar/solar calendar it is always close to Sukkot, but not always perfectly so. Unlike Pesach and Shavuot, where the holiday comes at the time of the event we commemorate, our being sustained in the desert is not connected to a specific time of year. Therefore, it would be logical if harvest time would be more important in setting the time of the holiday.

The Netziv points out that Yeravam, the first king of the Kingdom of Israel (The Ten Tribes) made this point and actually patterned a holiday after Sukkot in the eighth month. The Netziv said that the harvest came out late that year, and he decided to push off Sukkot. While Yeravam’s logic was reasonable, the Torah works on “eternal statutes,” not human logic.

We can now explain the break in the p’sukim. The Torah talks about the four species, which are at the heart of Sukkot’s harvest element. It reminds us not to celebrate at the most agriculturally appropriate “seven days in the year” but specifically in the seventh month. The explanation follows. This holiday is linked to the element historical commemoration, highlighted by the sukka. While this could in theory be done at any time, the Torah had its reasons to put it in the seventh month, in the same month as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. This connection is hinted at earlier when the time for Sukkot (and for Yom Kippur) is called “on this seventh month” (Vayikra 23:34). Would one think it is a different seventh month? No, but the Torah is stressing that the same month that starts with Rosh Hashana continues with Yom Kippur, and finishes with Sukkot. The agricultural element of the holiday is important. However, the eternal timing of the holidays takes into the account the intertwined spiritual lessons of the season and uses that to set the time of the agricultural festivities as well.

May we merit taking in all of the lessons at the right time and in the desired manner.

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