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   by Jacob Solomon

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You shall rejoice on your festivals - you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your maidservant, the Levite, the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow… (16:14, c.f. 16:11)

Moses reminds the Israelites of the annual observances of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot in the last section of the Parasha. Rashi notes that he lists eight categories of people that should be included in one's own joy and happiness. Four of them are people in need (the Levite, proselyte, orphan, and widow), and four of them are members of one's own household (son, daughter, servant, and maidservant). Moses emphasizes to the Israelites that 'your four' (household members) correspond to 'G-d's four' - the poor. 'If you make my four happy, I will make your four happy' (Rashi to 16:11).

Let us look briefly at 'G-d's four'.

The orphan and the widow need no introduction. These people are alone, yet usually well known to the community as they are well-remembered as having lived in much happier circumstances. They may well feel exceptionally lonely when daily routine stops and family life takes center stage - on the Sabbaths and Festivals. (Single people may also fall into that category.)

The proselyte has voluntarily left his or her roots and joined the Israelite people. As Boaz put it to Ruth: 'You left your father and your mother and the land of your birth (Moabites), and went to a people you had never known' (the Israelites) (Ruth 2:11).

The Levite has a special role among the Israelite people. Though Levi himself had angered his father Jacob with his killing Shechem following the rape of Dinah (34:30), his descendants in the Wilderness used similar zeal and strength of character to refrain from the sins and shortcomings of the other tribes (c.f. Rashi to Ex. 32:26). Thus Moses concluded his words to them with 'May G-d bless his resources and the work of his hands'. The Sforno writes that since the Tribe of Levi had the responsible of the spiritual service of the nation (c.f. Numbers 8:18), it was vital that they would have enough prosperity to be able to devote most of their time to their sacred work. And earlier this week I read (though the exact source eluded me at the time of writing) that today's B'nei Torah - those who are fully occupied in learning Torah or in vital callings which are exclusively Torah-based, are functionally today's Levites.

'If you make My four happy', derives Rashi, 'I will make your four happy'.

Every household develops its own way of doing things. In reaching out to members of G-d's four, it may be suggested that certain 'reasonable' adjustments may be needed to enable them to also 'rejoice on your festivals'. What might be a joy in one's own tight circle might cause anguish to those being brought in to the circle. Examples include:

  • An elderly widow is invited to the Seder. The younger members of the family like to compete with others as to how long they can extend the Seder with detailed discussion on the contents of the Hagadda. A little consideration and need to compromise, so that she does not look back onto the occasion as a social burden and unpleasant ordeal.
  • The family custom is not to wash one's hands at the end of the meal (mayim acharonim). However, the guest yeshiva student does. He should be discreetly made to feel comfortable doing so without having to justify himself or get involved in complex discussion.
  • The widespread custom on Shavuot is to learn Torah all night long. However many people - including those who 'learn' regularly throughout the year find that all-night sittings severely interfere with their orderly sleep patterns and make them feel like washed-out grouches for the next few days. For such people, it is not a joy, it is a burden. A socially imposed one. And the host should tactfully put such guests at their ease enabling them to rejoice in the festivals by not participating…

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: 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:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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