Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Emor

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Ba’chodesh ha’shevi’i b’echad la’chodesh yih’yeh lachem Shabbason Zichron Teruah Mikra Kodesh (23:24)

The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (29b) points out that in Parshas Pinchas (Bamidbar 29:1), the Torah refers to Rosh Hashana as Yom Teruah – the day of blowing the shofar – while Parshas Emor calls it Zichron Teruah – a remembrance of the shofar blasts. The Gemora explains that Parshas Pinchas discusses a scenario when Rosh Hashana falls out during the week and the shofar is actually sounded. Parshas Emor, on the other hand, refers to a year in which Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos, on which there are no shofar blasts but only the remembrance of them. This enactment was made due to a fear that a Jew may be unfamiliar with the proper way to blow the shofar. To learn how to do so, he may carry it to the house of the Rabbi, in the process violating the prohibition against carrying in the public domain on Shabbos.

The Aruch L’Ner, Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, writes that upon examining Jewish history, he discovered a very peculiar phenomenon. The years which were the best for the Jewish people were all years in which Rosh Hashana fell on Shabbos. However, he also noticed another anomaly. All of the years in which the Jews suffered the most from attacks and persecutions were also years in which Rosh Hashana fell on Shabbos. Why should Jewish history be so dependent on this seemingly arbitrary association, and why it should sometimes be so beneficial and at other times so detrimental to our nation?

Rav Ettlinger compares this phenomenon to the case of a king who had two servants who were caught engaging in treasonous activities. At the trial, they were both found guilty, and each was sentenced to death for attempting to rebel against the king’s authority.

Prior to their executions, each of their wives, who also worked in the king’s palace, approached the king to beg him to mercifully spare their beloved husbands’ lives. Each woman argued that although her husband had indeed committed an egregious crime, she had done no wrong. As she had faithfully served the king and didn’t deserve to suffer the pain of losing her husband, each woman beseeched the king to spare her husband’s life.

Because the king prided himself on his reputation as a just and fair ruler, he listened to their arguments and considered their petitions. After some thought, he turned to the first woman and informed her that he had accepted her request and would spare her husband’s life. To the second woman’s chagrin, he then announced that her husband’s sentence would stand.

Sensing their confusion over his differing verdicts to their seemingly identical pleas, the king explained that as a merciful and benevolent ruler, he couldn’t help but be swayed by their powerful emotional arguments and was therefore prepared to grant their requests, which he indeed did do the first woman. Upon looking at the face of the second woman, however, he was taken aback by the numerous bruises that testified to the beatings she suffered at the hands of her abusive husband. He therefore concluded that a husband who sins both against the king and against his wife is undeserving of mercy.

Similarly, when the Day of Judgment arrives, the prosecuting angel recounts before Hashem all of the sins that the Jewish people committed in the previous year. Just when everything is looking bleak, the spouse of the Jewish people – Shabbos (Bereishis Rabbah 11:8) – comes to our rescue and beseeches Hashem not to leave her all alone without the partner enjoyed by the other days of the week.

Even if our sins are numerous and overwhelming, Hashem may still commute our sentence and give us another opportunity in the merit of the pleas of Shabbos. If, however, Hashem sees that Shabbos is black-and-blue, beaten up and abused by her beloved spouse, He feels compelled to throw the book at us. Let us resolve to give our beloved spouse the honor which she deserves, and in that merit she should always come to our defense.

B’chamisha asar yom la’chodesh ha’shevi’i ha’zeh Chag HaSukkos shivas yamim l’Hashem bayom harishon Mikra Kodesh kol meleches avodah lo sa’asu (23:34-35)

Parshas Emor introduces us to the Yomim Tovim. The last festival listed chronologically is Sukkos, although curiously, it is not described in the same manner as all of the other holidays. Regarding each of the other Yomim Tovim, the Torah mentions its date and then states what we are commanded to do at that time, such as eat matzah on Pesach, and blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. However, when the Torah initially discusses Sukkos, it makes no mention of how it should be celebrated, stating simply that its duration is seven days and no work should be done on the first day. The Torah then digresses to state (23:37) that this concludes the list of all of the Yomim Tovim, at which point it reverts to discussing the laws of Sukkos (23:39-43) and mentions the requirements to dwell in a sukkah and take the four species. Why is the section discussing Sukkos split up in this peculiar manner?

Rav Menachem Tzvi Taksin suggests that the Torah is hinting to us that during the time that the Jewish people were in the wilderness, they were not obligated to sit in sukkos or to take the four species on Sukkos. The Torah explains (23:43) that the purpose of dwelling in booths is in order to remember the sukkos in which Hashem placed our ancestors after He took them out of Egypt. According to this reasoning, there would be no purpose in building temporary huts to remember something that they were experiencing on a daily basis. Similarly, the command to take the four species on Sukkos is predicated on (23:39) entering the land of Israel and gathering its produce, in which case it wasn’t applicable as long as the Jewish people were wandering in the wilderness and hadn’t yet entered Eretz Yisroel.

Rav Taksin adds that this understanding is alluded to by the fact that the Torah initially emphasizes (23:34) that the festival of Sukkos is to be celebrated in this seventh month – but when it repeats the mitzvos of dwelling in the sukkah and taking the four species (23:39), it refers to them being done in “the” seventh month. Rav Taksin explains that initially, Moshe was speaking to his contemporaries about the Yom Tov that they would observe on the 15th day of the seventh month of that year, and for that reason he mentioned only that the first day is holy, as that was the primary commemoration of Sukkos in the wilderness. He then declared that he had summarized all of the Yomim Tovim that they would be observing, at which point he added that in the future, after they entered the land of Israel, Sukkos would also be celebrated by sitting in booths and taking the four species.

When this chiddush (original Torah thought) appeared in a Torah journal in 1928, it generated quite a controversy, as several learned readers argued that it was too novel to be relied upon without the support of earlier sources. At that point, Rav Yisroel Veltz, the head of the Rabbinical court in Budapest who had authored the original article in which he quoted Rav Taksin, attempted to come to Rav Taksin’s defense by citing the explanation of the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:43) that the reason for the mitzvah of taking the four species is to express our joy at coming out of the barren wilderness to the verdant land of Israel. In order to commemorate this, Hashem commanded us to take beautiful and fragrant fruits which grew in great abundance in Eretz Yisroel at that time and could easily be attained, which seems to support the claim that the mitzvah of taking the four species did not apply in the wilderness.

However, even with the apparent support of the Rambam, skeptics persisted in challenging Rav Taksin’s chiddush, at which point Rav Veltz wrote to Rav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg for his opinion on the matter. Rav Waldenberg responded by citing additional sources to support Rav Taksin’s position, including the Abarbanel, who writes that the reason for including aravos as one of the four species is because they were not found in Egypt, and certainly not in the wilderness, so Hashem commanded the Jews to rejoice with them when they entered Eretz Yisroel, where they grow in large quantities.

Regarding Rav Taksin’s claim that the mitzvah of dwelling in sukkos also did not apply in the wilderness, Rav Waldenberg cited the Mabit, who writes (Beis Elokim Shaar HaYesodos 37) that although the Jewish people observed Pesach and Shavuos in the wilderness, they were unable to celebrate Sukkos because they were surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, and they were unable to fulfill their obligations by sitting in a sukkah which rested underneath another sukkah (Sukkah 1:2). He adds that this is alluded to by the Torah’s emphasis (23:43) that we should sit in booths so that future generations should remember that Hashem placed our ancestors in sukkos when they left Egypt, which implies that the obligation was not incumbent immediately, but only upon future generations.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Mishnah in Gittin (90a) contains a dispute regarding when a man may divorce his wife. Beis Shammai maintains that he may do so only if she commits an immodest act, while Beis Hillel opines that he may do so even if she merely burned his food, and Rebbi Akiva posits that he may do so even if he finds another woman who is more attractive. According to Beis Shammai, why does the Torah need to forbid (21:7) a Kohen to marry a divorced woman when she would be forbidden to him regardless as a harlot? (P’nei Dovid, Har Tzvi 22:13, Derech Sicha Vol. 2)

2) The Torah commands us (21:8) to sanctify the Kohanim and to treat them respectfully, giving them precedence in all spiritual matters. If a Kohen and a Yisroel ask a mohel to circumcise their sons on the same day, is there a mitzvah to circumcise the son of the Kohen before the son of the Yisroel? (Keren Orah Horayos 12b, Rav Shlomo Kluger quoted in Bishvilei HaParsha)

3) Can a person fulfill his obligation to count the Omer (23:15-16) by writing that day’s count on paper? (Shu”t Rav Akiva Eiger 29-32, Shaarei Teshuvah O. C. 489:1, Shu”t Yabia Omer 4:43)

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