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G-d said to Moses: "…On the fifteenth day of the seventh month is the seven day festival of Sukkot… you shall celebrate it as a festival for seven days" (23: 34, 41).
The middle section of the Parasha leads through the festive cycle of the year, finishing with Sukkot. These are the "appointed times for G-d", "holy gatherings" (23:4) - when the Israelites were to assemble together in the vicinity of the Tabernacle / Temple (c.f. 23:37).
However in this section the actual word "Chag" - meaning festival, is only used to describe two events in the cycle: Pesach and Sukkot.
But the word Chag is used cursorily with Pesach, and more expansively with Sukkot. Pesach is simply "the feast of matzot to G-d" (23:6). Indeed, elsewhere, there is a sense of getting down to work as soon as it's over: "on the morning after, you may turn back and go home" (Deut. 16:7).
With Sukkot, Chag is used expansively. Like Pesach, Sukkot is described "Chag HaSukkot". But unlike Pesach, that theme is picked up with the directive of "vechagotem" - you shall make it a festival. In the parallel section in Deuteronomy, we are told twice to "rejoice" on the festival of Sukkot (Deut. 16:14,15), but the Torah does not mention joy at all in connection with Pesach. Moreover, Sukkot is immediately followed on with a separate festival in its own right: Shemini Atzeret (Num. 29:35, as explained in Talmud Sukkah 47a-48a). The Rabbis bring the tradition that that final festival represents G-d not telling the Israelites to go home straight afterwards, but to stay and celebrate an extra day with G-d Who finds it hard to say farewell to you after the Sukkot celebrations.
The difference between the Torah's treatment of Pesach and Sukkot gives us an insight into human nature. When do people tend to turn to G-d for help, and when indeed do people turn others? Typically in times of fear, concern, and help. It is natural to turn to G-d in times of trouble. It is less natural to turn to G-d - or sincerely thank others - when you're having a good time. You're too busy enjoying what you have, to think much about how you got there in the first place.
The Torah, however, emphasizes the importance of gratefulness: as the Psalms put it "How can I pay G-d for all the good He has given to me. I will raise my cup to salvation, and call in the name of G-d" (Psalms 116:12).
Pesach is the opening of the food-growing year. The farmer does not take the success of the year's crops for granted. Whatever he does, people depend on his work for food. He has to work extremely hard to cultivate and harvest the crops. He also knows that floods, fires, pest-ravages and other natural disasters can destroy his hard work.
Therefore at the end of Pesach, G-d is saying: "You've been with me long enough. Don't rely on miracles! Get back to work." Thus: "on the morning after, you may turn back and go home. Work hard; have faith."
But by Sukkot, you have reached the stage of "gathering in the crops of your land" (23:39). The growing and harvest seasons have been successful, and you are enjoying the benefits. That is the time to get your perspective and remember G-d instead of mindlessly enjoying your products. That is the time to be truly grateful and happy: hence vechagotem - "and you shall rejoice" is written for Sukkot only. And it is the true joy of hakarat hatov - being grateful that the food growing and harvesting season has worked out well despite the trials, tribulations, and hazards, that leads to the sincere, Sukkot-specific "You shall rejoice your festivals… and indeed be joyful" (Deut. 16:14,15).
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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