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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Emor (64)

Chapter 23 in this week's sedra discusses the festivals of the year.

Leviticus 23:3

Six days shall work be performed and on the seventh day it is a Sabbath of resting, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work .It is a Sabbath for Hashem in all your dwelling places.


Six days: RASHI: What is the connection between the Sabbath and the festivals? To teach you that who ever profanes the festivals is considered as though he profaned the Sabbath and whoever keeps the festivals is considered as though he kept the Sabbaths.


In this Rashi-comment, there is no need to search for what is bothering Rashi. He says so himself when he asks "What is the connection between the Sabbath and the festivals?" This section begins with the verse "These are the appointed times of Hashem which you shall proclaim them as holy assemblies; these are My appointed times." Clearly this section is speaking of the festivals (i.e."the appointed times"), why then is the Sabbath mentioned?


Both the Sabbath and the seven festivals of the year (which are discussed further on in this Chapter 23) entail prohibitions regarding work. The Sabbath is stricter, no work (as defined by the Sages) may be done on the Sabbath. On festivals, on the other hand, preparing food is permissible. Also the punishments for the two categories differ. Sabbath desecration is punishable by death while the festival desecration is punishable with lashes. There is another difference between the Sabbath and the festivals. The Sabbath is a fixed day in the calendar - every seven days since Creation has been the Sabbath. The festivals, on the other hand, are dates in the month and these depend on the Rosh Chodesh, the beginning f the month. Rosh Chodesh itself is determined by the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem. It can be on the 30th day since the last Rosh Chodesh or the 31st day. So, the exact day the festival falls out on is ultimately determined each year by the Rabbinical court. That is, it is man-made so to speak, as opposed to the Sabbath which G-d made.

Now we can question Rashi's comment.

Your Question:


A Question: How can Rashi say "who ever profanes the festivals is considered as though he profaned the Sabbath, etc."? Certainly profaning the Sabbath is much worse than profaning the festivals, as can be seen by the different punishments.

A difficult question.

Your Answer:

An Answer: Perhaps the message is that while in fact desecration of the festival is not as severe as desecration of the Sabbath, yet it is "considered as if one profaned the Sabbath" because obeying the legal opinions of the Rabbis - in this case, observing the festival on the day the Rabbis determined - is itself G-d's will.


This is a basic and profound principle in Judaism. Basic, because it places the decisions of the Sages as central to the form and practice of Judaism. Profound because it shows that Torah observance is ultimately determined by laws created by a partnership between man and G-d.

Several times in the Talmud this is elucidated and emphasized. There is a dramatic case where (Talmud Rosh Hashanah 25a) Rabbis Yehoshua and Rabbi Gamliel disagreed as to when the new moon appeared in the Month of Tishrei (when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall out). Rabbi Gamliel, being the leader, the Nasi, required Rabbi Yehoshua, who was on the Beis Din of Jerusalem, to come to him with his money and his walking stick on the day that was, according to Rabbi Yehoshua, Yom Kippur. Rabbi Akiva explained to the greatly distressed Rabbi Yehoshua, that if Rabbi Gamaliel so determined it, it would be no transgression of Yom Kippur. He cited our verse to show that the Rabbi's determination decides which day is actually Yom Kippur.

That observing the legal decisions of the Sages is actually G-d's will, is taught to us by a another dramatic Tamudic passage in Babba Metzia (59b) There we find that Rabbi Yehushua differed with his colleagues in a legal matter. He brought miracles and even a Bas Kol ( a voice from Heaven) to support his point. Nevertheless the law was determined against him, by the majority rule in the Court. Since Rabbi Yehoshua had support from a voice from Heaven, it would seem that the Sages who disagreed with him were disagreeing with G-d Himself! The Talmud concludes that episode by saying that G-d rejoiced that day saying "My sons have been victorious over Me. My sons have been victorious over Me!"

These two passages clearly show the unique partnership between G-d and His sages in determining Jewish practice - including the festival laws.

This is what Rashi is teaching us. Observing the festivals - determined by the Rabbis - is equal to observing the Sabbath - which is determined by G-d. Precisely because G-d ordered us to obey the Sages' decisions, even when they seem to go against G-d's own opinion.

This too is the meaning of the Blessings we say in the Shemoneh Esry on the Sabbath on the festivals. On the Sabbath we say" Blessed are You Hashem who sanctified the Sabbath." Because G-d is the one who determines when the Sabbath is. On the other hand, on the festival we say "Blessed are You, Hashem, Who sanctified Israel and the festivals." First Israel, meaning its Sages, were sanctified by G-d and then in turn they sanctified the festivals.

Shabbat Shalom

Avigdor Bonchek

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