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Emor 5765

By: Rav David Milston

This shiur is dedicated to our brothers who have fallen in the defense of the State of Israel. It is dedicated to every soldier, every fighter, every family who has sacrificed in order that we may live the dream of the return to Zion. To our Soldiers to their families,to the countless victims of terror, we will be forever indebted to you all. In last weeks parasha we were commanded to be Kedoshim – our fallen heroes will forever be Kedoshim. A day must not go by without us remembering the eternal sacrifice that many have given in order that the State of Israel exist – yehi zichram baruch.



Chapter 23 of Vayikra deals with ‘Moadei Hashem’.


Having introduced the parasha with Shabbat, the Torah goes right through the ‘National Calendar’, specifically dealing with Pesach, Sefirat Haomer, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and albeit very briefly – Shemini Atzeret.


This parasha is somewhat repeated in Sefer Devarim in the parasha of Reeh (Chapter 16), though perhaps due to the emphasis there being on Yerushalayim and the mitzvah of ‘aliya leregel’, only Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot are mentioned, though there is a brief reference to Sefirat Haomer.


We often look at Pesach Shavuot and Sukkot as one block – ‘the three foot festivals’; this is possibly due to the way that they are presented in Sefer Devarim, and also due to the fact that these were the three times in the year that there was a specific mitzva for Am Yisrael to come to the Bet Mikdash.


However, in this shiur I would like to suggest a slightly different way of understanding our Moadim.


On seder night, just a few weeks ago, we were confronted by the rebellious statement of ‘the wicked son’. In response to his outburst, we explain to those still sitting around the table, that had he (the rebellious son) been in Mitzrayim he would not have been redeemed. 


This is a statement that has always troubled me. How do we know that this is true? We do know that according to Chazal many Jews died in the plague of darkness prior to the exodus from Egypt, nevertheless, we also know that the ‘erev rav’ left Mitzrayim with Am Yisrael as well as Datan and Aviram, so how can we be certain that this ‘rebellious son’ would not have accompanied us out of Egypt.


I am equally troubled by the phrase ‘redeemed’. We state very clearly that had he been there he would not have been redeemed (Nigaal), yet usually we talk of coming out of Egypt (Yetziah), so why do we not retort – had he been there he would not have come out with us? 


A possible approach in answering the above questions is:


When a people have suffered many years of slavery, the process of redemption must be in stages - as the Torah itself shows us with the four ‘leshonot hageulah’ at the beginning of Sefer Shemot. When a person leaves a country, he may have physically left that country, however, the habits and cultures of that country will remain with him for many years to come.


There were two stages to leaving Egypt. The first stage was the physical ‘coming out’ of Egypt – this is celebrated on Pesach. On the first night we celebrate crossing the borders of Mitzrayim, whilst on the seventh night we celebrate the absolute conclusion of our physical slavery with Kriyat Yam Tsuf.


Yet at this stage, our people are simply ‘freed slaves’, they do not yet have a derech, a way of life; they do not yet have a real alternative to the Egyptian culture that has, over the years, become an implicit part of who they are. Hence a period of seven weeks commences, the moment that the borders are crossed. During these seven weeks, the people will try and cleanse themselves of all the negativity that the culture of Mitzrayim represented, whilst at the same time preparing themselves for a new derech, the true derech - derech HaTorah. Each day that we distance ourselves from Mitzrayim we draw ourselves nearer to kabalat HaTorah.


Shavuot is in fact the last day of Pesach, it is known in Chazal as Atzeret in the same way that Shemini Atzeret is known as the end of Sukkot. Even the name Shavuot is a reflection of the ‘weeks’ of preparation that have preceded the great day of receiving our derech.  


Pesach and Shavuot are thus in reality one chag. You cannot celebrate Pesach without Shavuot, because to wander in the midbar with no real purpose, with no real direction in life is no real cause for eternal celebration, even though it may well be a cause for celebration when it actually happens. Yet on the other hand, you cannot celebrate Shavuot without Pesach, simply because you cannot reach Shavuot without slowly but surely following the developing educational process that both Pesach and Sefirat HaOmer initiate and develop.


Once we understand this reality, we can fully understand our response to the rebellious son. Had he been in Egypt of course he would have ‘come out’. To achieve physical freedom from Egyptian slavery on that very night, all you needed to do was pack your bags and cross the border; however, he would not have been redeemed. Redemption is Shavuot! In order to be redeemed on Shavuot you need to be prepared to say ‘Naase VeNishma’, there needs to be total commitment to the word of G-d, whatever it may demand of us, irrespective of our ability to truly comprehend the purpose of any given commandment. The rebellious son has stated clearly that he is not prepared to accept such a reality – ‘what does this service mean to you’ he states. When we say that the rebellious son would not have been redeemed, we are simply explaining to those around the table what the direct natural consequences of his religious standing would have been; seeing as he is not prepared to totally commit himself, it is clear for all to see that he may well have come out of Egypt but he would not have been redeemed – he is not the kind of person who would say ‘Naase VeNishma’.


In truth Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret run parallel to Pesach and Shavuot. In the same way that Pesach deals with our physical release from slavery Sukkot relates to our leaving of Mitzrayim and our physical existence in the Midbar under the protection of Hashem. Shemini Atzeret on the other hand, is paralleled to Shavuot and deals with spiritual redemption. It is of extreme significance and only emphasizes our suggestion when we see that Simchat Torah is almost the natural extension to Shemini Atzeret. In fact the Daat Zekainim Mbaalai Hatosfot suggest in an extraordinary remark, that there should have been fifty days separating the first day of Sukkot from Shemini Atzeret in the same way that fifty days separate the commencement of Pesach and Shavuot, but that due to the days of winter that are about to begin the Torah had mercy on Am Yisrael, and did not require of them to return to the Mikdash during the foreseeable difficult weather.


The Jewish year therefore has one cycle that is in fact two. We have a National year that begins in Nissan, and the year of man, an individual’s year, that starts in Tishrei. In Nissan we celebrate our National year with Pesach and Shavuot, whilst in Tishrei, we celebrate the individual within Am Yisrael with Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.


Thus our calendar represents the double role that every G-d fearing Jew lives. On the one hand we are an inseparable part of Klal Yisrael, yet on the other hand we are expected to act as individuals, not only rejoicing national freedom, but also in celebrating the physical freedom and spiritual redemption of each and every individual member of Klal Yisrael.


On a different note; the Sfat Emet of blessed memory, says that each of our Rabbinical festivals – Purim and Chanuka, runs parallel to the festivals that we celebrate that our directives from the Torah.


Shavuot, the festival that we celebrate the giving and receiving of the Torah is paralleled to Purim. This is in obvious reference to the Gemara in Shabbat 88a, where the Talmud tells us that on Purim Am Yisrael accepted the Torah in an even more elevated way than they had done on Shavuot.


Sukkot is paralleled with Chanuka. This is not simply due to the fact that both festivals are eight days long, but in obvious reference to the Gemara in Shabbat 21b, where the debate between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai regarding the number of candles to light each day refers to the sacrifices of Sukkot. Sfat Emet also refers to the theme of Emunah that runs through Sukkot and Chanuka respectively. The faith that it takes to abandon our permanent houses to sleep in temporary huts outside, together with the faith of the few whose ultimate belief in Hashem inspired them to overcome the many and restore independence to Am Yisrael, whilst miraculously succeeding in the rededication of  the Bet HaMikdash


Yet regarding Pesach, Sfat Emet simply says that the parallel does not yet exist, but will do so bezrat Hashem in the near future.


For those of us who have merited to live and see the realization of the two thousand year old dream of a return to Zion, it is not difficult to suggest what the third ‘Rabbinical’ festival that parallels Pesach should be.


Of course there will be those who stand astounded at my audacity at suggesting that Yom Haatzmaut can in any way be compared to the real Rabbinic festivals of Purim and Chanuka, nonetheless, as a believing Jew who endeavors to follow the path of Avraham Avinu, and who strongly believes that the Almighty is directly involved in what happens in this world generally, and in the fate of Am Yisrael specifically, I cannot help but overly and openly rejoice at the fact that we have independence in our homeland after years of exile and chorban.


I cannot help but rejoice after having spent over a week with my students on my third trip to Poland, after having once again seen and once again tried to comprehend exactly what happened to our people over sixty years ago. When I see Israeli, Jewish soldiers  - modern day Maccabim; after so many years of running for cover we have our own Government (irrespective of whether or not we agree with certain policies), we once again have Malchut Yisrael.


In all honesty, as I have said time and again, and will continue to say – the question is not why do we say Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut, the question is why do we not say Hallel every day of the year. The Rambam decreed upon himself and his family that the very day that he visited Hebron and Har HaBayit would be a chag in his family forever more. What would the Rambam have said had he witnessed what we have witnessed and continue to witness?


The cynics will retort, with a list of imperfections, no one can deny that this list exists; no one can deny that we have not reached the absolute messianic period, but why not try and be a part of making those imperfections good, why not get more involved? The easiest thing for any individual to do is to sit on the sidelines and criticize, the time has come for all of Am Yisrael to get up and do, to take this wonderful, wonderful, gift of Medinat Yisrael and make it work. If we come together, if we start realizing prayers that we say three times a day, then we have the ability to make this country, our country, our only country, into exactly what it should be.


We all know what we don’t have, but let us remember, and remember well, what we do have. Let us remember and remember very well, exactly where the Jewish people stood sixty years ago – who could have dreamed that we would be where we are today? The State of Israel is to my mind a living miracle; it is our Kriyat Yam Suf. I know that others feel otherwise, but for me to deny the hand of G-d in the creation of our State is tantamount to denying His involvement in the world – Heaven forbid.


There is so much to do, so many problems to deal with. In the next few months’ Israeli society will be facing one of the hardest dilemmas that it has ever faced. We must stand together, even in our disagreements. We must show tolerance and understanding, sensitivity and maturity, if we are to move forward. We all believe in what we are doing, and we all believe in the State of Israel, we must unite in the truest sense of the word. We must live together with respect and strive towards the future.


If as religious Jews we really believe in Shivat Tzion, we really want Mashiach, then we must transform our words into actions.


To those of us living here already, we must do more and more and more to enhance the education and understanding of the true destiny of our people. We must learn how to explain ourselves, learn how to present ourselves, learn how to teach. We must show our youth that there is no need to travel to the Far East in search of spirituality, it is right here in Hebron, in Yerushalayim. Everywhere that you go in the Land of Israel is holy and holiness. We must show our irreligious brothers that Halacha is not the enemy, that Rabbis are not corrupt. We must reach out with the love of Hillel to our brethren to reveal to them the great treasures that lie right here in front of every one of them.


And to those of us who have as of yet not merited to return home, there is no time like the present. We, as olim, know only too well of the difficulties that leaving your country of birth entail. I can obviously only speak for myself when I say that in my fifteen years of living in Israel, I have never once, not for one minute ever had a moments regret. There are huge mountains to climb when you come back to Israel, but the gift that we receive in return is incomparable to any treasure that we could have been given over the last two millennia. Once you live here, you become part of the fulfillment of the prophecies of Yeshayahu HaNavi, you become part of Shivat Tzion. Every day that you wake up here, you are living and fulfilling the dream of every Jew throughout our history. You are living a mitzvah, whatever you do wherever you may be doing it.


Let us for this one day in the year ‘forget’ the trials and tribulations that lie ahead, let us come together and celebrate our modern day Purim, our modern day Chanuka. Let us openly exclaim our thanks to the Almighty G-d for having brought us home. And let us promise to ourselves, each and every one of us that we will do whatever we can possibly do to make sure that these sparks of redemption realize themselves into a pillar of fire that will conclude with the rebuilding of our Bet Hamikdash.


Chag Atzmaut Sameach 


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