In my search for the deeper meaning of Zion, I began to wonder why our spiritual tradition did not establish a separate sacred festival for all generations which celebrates our entry into the Land of Zion or for gaining political independence in the Land. For example:
1. After enduring a brutal enslavement in Egypt and after wandering in the wilderness for forty years, we finally entered the Land; however, an annual festival was not established for commemorating this event.
2. At a later stage of our history, the Babylonian exile began. Later, with the permission of the King of Persia, we were given permission to return to the Land, and a minority of our people did return; however, an annual festival was not established for commemorating this event.
3. The annual Festival of Chanukah was established by the Sanhedrin – the Supreme Court of our nation whose members were the leading Torah sages of the generation. The Sanhedrin also had the power to enact decrees in order to enhance or protect Torah observance; moreover, they had the power to establish festivals for future generations which all our people are to observe. The Festival of Chanukah was established by the Sanhedrin to commemorate the liberation of the Temple and the miracle of the oil. At this stage, our people had not yet regained political independence in Zion; moreover, parts of Jerusalem and most of the countryside were still under the control of the Syrian Greeks and their Jewish allies, the assimilated Hellenist Jews who wanted the Land to be a center of Greek culture. When we eventually regained political independence, an annual festival was not established to commemorate this development.
Through my Torah study, I discovered that the Festival of Shavuos – the annual commemoration of the giving of the Torah – begins a special season where Jewish farmers commemorate our entry into the Land! This is the season when they bring the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple in Zion.This is one reason why the Festival of Shavuos is also called, “The Festival of the Harvest of the First Fruits” (Exodus 23:16), and “The Day of the First Fruits” (Numbers 28:26).
The Torah states that the farmer should bring the first fruits to the Temple, and he should then commemorate the entry into the Land by saying to the officiating Kohen (Minister):
“I declare today to Hashem, your God, that I have come to the Land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give us” (Deuteronomy 26:3).
Ramban, in his commentary on this statement, explains that the farmer is saying:
“Through this fruit which I have brought, I profess and give thanks to Hashem, your God, Who brought me into the Land which He swore to our forefathers to give us. Thus God fulfilled His words, and I give thanks and praise to His Name.”
The farmer’s declaration is therefore a statement of thanksgiving to Hashem for the gift of the Land. Why, however, does the season for this commemoration of the gift of the Land begin with the Festival which commemorates the giving of the Torah? I would like to suggest that this linkage is to remind us that the Land was given to us for the fulfillment of the Torah, as Moshe proclaimed to our nation:
“See, I have taught you statutes and social laws which Hashem, my God, has commanded me, so that you may act accordingly in the midst of the Land” (Deuteronomy 4:5).
Had there been a separate Festival commemorating the Land, we might have mistakenly assumed that acquiring the Land is an end in itself. By including the commemoration of the Land in the Festival of Shavuos, we are reminded that the Land is a means to the following spiritual and universal goal:
“It will happen in the end of days: The Mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2: 2,3)
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Each year, the farmer is to bring the first fruits to the Temple and proclaim to the Kohen: “I declare today to Hashem, your God, that I have come to the Land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give us” (Deuteronomy 26:3).
What is amazing about this declaration is that the phrase, “I have come to the Land,” is said by the farmers in each generation! We can understand how the farmers who entered the Land after wandering in the wilderness could say such a statement, but how could farmers in future generations, who were born in the Land, be required to say such a statement? I once came across the following answer given by a sage, and I pray that Hashem will help me to rediscover the name of the sage who gave this answer:
The farmer is to feel as if he himself had the experience of entering the Land!
1. This answer reminds me of the following statement in the Passover Haggadah:
“In every generation, one is obligated to regard himself as though he himself had actually gone out from Egypt.”
2. The First Fruits of the Land were brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Within the Holy of Holies of the Temple was the Ark of the Covenant, and within the Ark were the Tablets of the Covenant which we received at Mount Sinai. Within the Ark was also the Torah scroll transcribed by Moshe, and according to another view, this scroll was placed on a board protruding from the Ark (Baba Basra 14a-b).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch therefore reminds us that the Temple is the “House of the Torah”; thus, the bringing of the first fruits to the House of the Torah inspires us to dedicate the produce of our Land to the fulfillment of the Torah (commentary to Exodus 23:19).
3. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato was a leading sage and kabbalist of the 17th century. In the following excerpt from his work Derech Hashem (The Way of God), he discusses the deeper significance of the holy days of the Torah, as well as the holy days which were later established by the leading sages, such as Purim and Chanukah:
“On each of these special days, something happened whereby at this time a great tikun (rectification) was accomplished and a great Light shone. The Highest Wisdom decreed that on every anniversary of this period, a counterpoint of its original Light should shine forth, and the results of its tikun renewed to those who accept it.”
He adds: “Chanukah and Purim also involve this same concept.”
The above quotes are found in Derech Hashem, Part 4, Chapter 7. Feldheim published an English edition of Derech Hashem which was translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. For information, visit: www.feldheim.com .