Parashat Emor 5774, 2014:
Shabbat’s Role in the Festivals
Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, Chaim Mordechai Hakohen ben Natan Yitzchak, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Shmuel David ben Moshe Halevy, and the refuah shlaimah of Yosef Shmuel ben Miriam.
One of the most prominent segments of our parasha is known as Parashat HaMoadim (Section of the Festivals). It comprises the entire 23rd chapter of Sefer Vayikra, and serves as an encyclopedic presentation of the biblically-based yamim tovim (Festivals). It begins exactly as we would expect: “And the L-rd spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: The L-rd's appointed [holy days] that you shall designate as holy occasions. These are My appointed [holy days]’” (23:1-2, this and all Bible and Rashi translations, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach) Rashi’s (1040-1105) comment, referring to the role of the Sanhedrin (Jewish high court), is equally straightforward: “Designate [the times] of the Festivals so that [all of] Israel will become accustomed to them…”
Following the words, “These are my appointed [holy days],” one would anticipate a listing and exposition of the yamim tovim - beginning with Pesach and concluding with Succot. Yet, the next verse somewhat inexplicably refers to Shabbat: “[For] six days, work may be performed, but on the seventh day, it is a complete rest day, a holy occasion; you shall not perform any work. It is a Sabbath to the L-rd in all your dwelling places.” (23:3) This, in turn, is followed by the introduction to the Festivals that one would have anticipated: “These are the L-rd's appointed [holy days], holy occasions, which you [i.e. the Sanhedrin] shall designate in their appointed time.” (23:4)
Rashi, recognizing the anomalous nature of the inclusion of Shabbat in the midst of the yamim tovim, highlighted it in his quote from the Sifra (the halachic Midrash to Sefer Vayikra): “Why does the Sabbath [designated by G-d,] appear here amidst the Festivals [designated by the Sanhedrin?]” (23:3) Rashi’s answer is a classic example of Rabbinic exegesis:
To teach you that whoever desecrates the Festivals is considered [to have transgressed as severely] as if he had desecrated the Sabbath, and that whoever who fulfills the Festivals is considered as if he has fulfilled the Sabbath, [and his reward is as great]. — [Be’er Basadeh ; Sifra 23:144]
In sum, Rashi emphasized the singular import of the yamim tovim by noting their halachic standing, and near equivalency, to Shabbat. This, then, is Rashi’s answer as to why Shabbat appears in a parasha dedicated to presenting the chagim (Festivals).
Rabbi Yitzhak Karo (1458-1535, the uncle and teacher of Rav Yosef Karo) asks the following questions in his Torah commentary and magnum opus Toldot Yitzhak:
1) Why is the mitzvah of Shabbat mentioned here if it is not a moed (festival)?
2) Since Shabbat and its dual mandate of shamor (guard by refraining from its desecration, mitzvat lo ta’seh) and zachor (remember via positive acts, mitzvat aseh) have already been mentioned in the Torah on numerous occasions, why mention Shabbat once again?
Rav Yitzhak Karo’s answer is quite revealing and sheds a good deal of light on the relationship that obtains between Hashem and the Jewish people:
The answer as to the inherent intention in mentioning Shabbat in the context of the Festivals is the following: The Festivals that you [the Jewish people] sanctify, and in your calculation (l’da’atchem) declare to be “holy occasions,” they, indeed, are My appointed holy days. The Shabbat, however, is not dependent upon your [the Jewish people’s] sanctification, and you have not declared it to be holy [since you cannot, that power resides solely with Me]. Therefore the verse states: “It is a Shabbat to Hashem.” (23:3, translation and brackets my own)
According to Rav Karo’s compelling analysis of our question, G-d accepts His people’s designation of certain days as being authentically appointed holy days. This is not the case, however, regarding Shabbat; its kedushah (holiness) remains, from the moment of Creation and for evermore, solely within His purview.
The leading 14th century Talmudist and posek (halachic decisor), Rabbi Yaakov ben Moshe Levi Moelin (Maharil, 1365-1427), has a beautiful kabbalistically-infused explanation as to why Shabbat is found in the midst of Parashat HaMoadim:
We find in the Zohar (Emor 95:1): “Shabbat is called “kodesh” (“holy”) but not “mikra kodesh” (“holy occasion”). Yom Tov (a festival day), however, is called a mikra kodesh.” There is a contradiction here! It states in Parashat Emor: “[For] six days, work may be performed, but on the seventh day, it is a complete rest day, a holy occasion (mikra kodesh); you shall not perform any work. It is a Sabbath to the L-rd in all your dwelling places” – Shabbat is also called a “mikra kodesh!” This seeming contradiction, however, can be explained in the manner that we have already written: Yom Tov receives [kedushah] from Shabbat. This means that within Shabbat there is an aspect of Yom Tov to enable Shabbat’s [kedushah] to positively flow into Yom Tov… Now we understand why Shabbat is called “mikra kodesh” – in order to allow Shabbat’s [kedushah] to flow into and affect the Festivals. (Likutei Maharil, Sefer Devarim, Parashat Vayelech, s.v. v’nireh li, translation and brackets my own)
In my estimation, the Maharil’s answer to our question is the most spiritually edifying one of all. He teaches us that each Yom Tov, although designated by man, nonetheless contains aspects of kedushat Shabbat (the holiness of Shabbat). As such, each festival day has the potential to draw us near to our Creator so that we may experience His Divine beneficence. With Hashem’s help, may we be zocheh (merit) to feel G-d’s presence every Shabbat, every Yom Tov, and every day of our lives. V’chane yihi ratzon.
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