Chag Yeshua

Chag Yeshua 

(The Feast of Yeshua (Deliverance)

What is Chag Yeshua?

The Feast of Deliverance or “Chag Yeshua” is an ancient festival once kept by the Jewish people.  Chag Yeshua is not a feast from the Torah, it is instead comparable to the feasts of Purim and Channukah.  These feasts were established in and through Scripture by the authority of the Elders.

What is the background of this festival? After the Battle of Raphia in 217 B.C.E. Ptolemy IV sought to enter the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem, but was miraculously repulsed (3Macc. 1:1-2:24). Upon returning from Egypt he seeks to punish the Jews there for his humiliation. He lowers their political status and seeks to impose paganism on them (3Macc. 2:25-33) and tortures and kills those that refuse to renounce Judaism (3Macc. 3:1-5:51) An elder priest named Eleazar prays for the deliverance of his people (3Macc. 6:1-25), YHWH intervenes bringing about the repentance of the king and the deliverance of the Jews (6:16-7:23) The Jews declared an annual festival called “The Feast of Deliverance” (Chag Yeshua) as an annual celebration of the salvation of the Jews in Egypt at this time. The festival enacted from the 8th to the 14th of the Egyptian month of Epeiph. The Egyptian calendar was a Solar Calendar and these days correspond to 19 August 217 BCE on the Julian Calendar and this was 12th Elul 3544 on the Hebrew calendar. This festival should be observed beginning on the 12th of Elul each year.

And there is another element in this festival for us as believers in Messiah. The Hebrew word for “deliverance” is YESHUA so we have here “The Feast of Yeshua”. The deliverance of the Jews from the hand of Ptolemy IV points us forward to the deliverance of Israel by the Messiah Yeshua. This feast gives us another important theme, Messiah and the deliverance of Israel.

How to Celebrate the Feast

What do we do on Chag Yeshua? The text of 3 Maccabees tells us that the day was celebrated with rejoicing and they “were crowned with all kinds of fragrant flowers.” The text also tells us that they:

1. A celebratory meal called “The Banquet of Deliverance” or “The Banquet of Yeshua”. This should not be confused with the Passover Sader and would be more akin to a “Thanksgiving Dinner”, or this time of year, a barbeque. (3Macc. 6:31)

2. Traditional songs (“Songs of their fathers”) and praising Yah as “savior”. Particularly appropriate are songs about “Salvation” or which speak of Yah’s defense as our shield. (3Macc. 6:32)
Recommended Chag Yeshua songs:

Deliverance/Protection/Victory Theme:
Behold!
And it Shall Come to Pass
Melech Ozair
As the Mountains
Shield about Me
In the Shadow of your Wings
Shouts of Joy

Yeshua (the Messiah) Theme:
Do You Know Yeshua?
In Yeshua’s Name
Rejoicing Theme:
He Put Laughter into My Soul
He has Made me Glad
Roni Bat Tzion

3. Traditional Hebraic Dance (3Macc. 6:35)

4. Obviously the festival should involve recounting the story of 3 Maccabees.

Since the festival is in the summer (at least in the northern hemisphere) this points obviously to summer festivities. Modern activities could include barbeques and pool parties.

So plan your own Chag Yeshua events for Chag Yeshua

A Time for Intercessory Prayer
While the general theme of 3rd Maccabees (deliverance) is common in the Scriptures (deliverance from: Pharaoh, Haman, Antiochus Epiphanies etc.) the Chag Yeshua story is unique because it names only two protagonists. These two “heros in named in the Chag Yeshua story of 3rd Maccabees are Simon the High Priest and Eleazar the Priest are both prayer warriors. This is no accident, the lesson of the Chag Yeshua story is the power of prayer, it is a book whose two heroes are prayer warriors.

Simon’s prayer is found in 3rd Maccabees 2:1-20. This Simon, “Simon the Righteous” (219-196 B.C.E.), was one of the last members of the Great Assembly which had been established by Ezra. The Mishna says:

Simeon the Righteous was of the remnants
of the Great Assembly. He used to say, “On three
things the world stands: On the Torah,
On the [Temple] Service,
and on acts of piety (chasidim).
(m.Avot 1:2)

Ben Sira calls him “the leader of his brothers and the pride of his people.” (50:1) and dedicates an entire chapter to his good reputation (Sira 50). Simon was the earliest post-biblical sage cited in the Mishna.

The climax of the story follows a prayer by Eleazar the Priest (3Macc. 6:1-15)

The story lays out the deliverance from Israel and the place that intercessory prayer played in that deliverance.

This is a great time of year to engage in intercessory prayer for the salvation of all Israel and Judah!

The Amidah and Chag Yeshua

Over 2,000 years ago Ptolemy IV Philopater attempted to destroy the Jewish people.  YHWH intervened on our behalf when El’azar of Alexandria stood up and prayed for YHWH to intercede for the Jewish people saying:

1 And El’azar, an illustrious cohen of the country, who had attained to length of days, and whose life had been adorned with virtue, caused the Elders who were about him to cease to cry out to the set-apart Elohim, and prayed thus:
2 O king, mighty in power, most high, Almighty Elohim, who regulate the whole creation with your tender mercy,
3 look upon the seed of Avraham, upon the children of the sanctified Ya’akov, your sanctified inheritance, O Father, now being wrongfully destroyed as strangers in a strange land.
(3Macc. 6:1-3)

Note how these words have an uncanny parallel the opening prayer of the Amidah (called “AVOT” the fathers):

Baruch Atah YHWH Eloheynu v’Elohey a vo taynoo.
Elohey Avraham, Elohey Yitzchak V’Elohey Ya a kov,
Ha EL Ha Gadol, Ha Geebor, v’Ha Nora,
El Elyon, go mail chasadeem toveem, v’konay ha kol.
v’zo care chas day ahvot oo mayvee go ail leevnay v’nay hem
l’ma an sh’mo b’a havah.
Melech Ozair U’MaSHEEAH u OO ‘MAGEN
Baruch Atah YHWH, Magen Avraham!

Blessed Are You YHWH, our Elohim and Elohim of our fathers;
Elohim of Avraham, Elohim of Yitzchak, Elohim of Yaacov,
the great and mighty and awesome Elohim, the most high Elohim,
who bestows grace and creates all
and remembers the kindnesses of the fathers
and brings a Redeemer to their children’s
children, for His Name’s sake with love.
O King, helper Savior and Shield!
Blessed are You YHWH. Shield of Avraham.

Let us each recite this prayer in honor of Chag Yeshua, invoking YHWH to protect His people from the designs of the Enemy. Psalm 27 is Prayed both in Morning and Afternoon.

Psalms Chapter 27 תְּהִלִּים

א  לְדָוִד:    יְהוָה, אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי–מִמִּי אִירָא;
יְהוָה מָעוֹז-חַיַּי,    מִמִּי אֶפְחָד.
1 [A Psalm] of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
ב  בִּקְרֹב עָלַי, מְרֵעִים–    לֶאֱכֹל אֶת-בְּשָׂרִי:
צָרַי וְאֹיְבַי לִי;    הֵמָּה כָשְׁלוּ וְנָפָלוּ.
2 When evil-doers came upon me to eat up my flesh, even mine adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell.
ג  אִם-תַּחֲנֶה עָלַי, מַחֲנֶה–    לֹא-יִירָא לִבִּי:
אִם-תָּקוּם עָלַי, מִלְחָמָה–    בְּזֹאת, אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ.
3 Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise up against me, even then will I be confident.
ד  אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-יְהוָה–    אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ:
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה,    כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי;
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-יְהוָה,    וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ.
4 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in His temple.
ה  כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי, בְּסֻכֹּה–    בְּיוֹם רָעָה:
יַסְתִּרֵנִי, בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ;    בְּצוּר, יְרוֹמְמֵנִי.
5 For He concealeth me in His pavilion in the day of evil; He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock.
ו  וְעַתָּה יָרוּם רֹאשִׁי, עַל אֹיְבַי סְבִיבוֹתַי,    וְאֶזְבְּחָה בְאָהֳלוֹ, זִבְחֵי תְרוּעָה;
אָשִׁירָה וַאֲזַמְּרָה,    לַיהוָה.
6 And now shall my head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me; and I will offer in His tabernacle sacrifices with trumpet-sound;
I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.
ז  שְׁמַע-יְהוָה קוֹלִי אֶקְרָא;    וְחָנֵּנִי וַעֲנֵנִי. 7 Hear, O LORD, when I call with my voice, and be gracious unto me, and answer me.
ח  לְךָ, אָמַר לִבִּי–בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָי;    אֶת-פָּנֶיךָ יְהוָה אֲבַקֵּשׁ. 8 In Thy behalf my heart hath said: ‘Seek ye My face’; Thy face, LORD, will I seek.
ט  אַל-תַּסְתֵּר פָּנֶיךָ, מִמֶּנִּי–    אַל תַּט-בְּאַף, עַבְדֶּךָ:
עֶזְרָתִי הָיִיתָ;    אַל-תִּטְּשֵׁנִי וְאַל-תַּעַזְבֵנִי, אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׁעִי.
9 Hide not Thy face from me; put not Thy servant away in anger;Thou hast been my help; cast me not off, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
י  כִּי-אָבִי וְאִמִּי עֲזָבוּנִי;    וַיהוָה יַאַסְפֵנִי. 10 For though my father and my mother have forsaken me, the LORD will take me up.
יא  הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה, דַּרְכֶּךָ:    וּנְחֵנִי, בְּאֹרַח מִישׁוֹר–לְמַעַן, שׁוֹרְרָי. 11 Teach me Thy way, O LORD; and lead me in an even path, because of them that lie in wait for me.
יב  אַל-תִּתְּנֵנִי, בְּנֶפֶשׁ צָרָי:    כִּי קָמוּ-בִי עֵדֵי-שֶׁקֶר, וִיפֵחַ חָמָס. 12 Deliver me not over unto the will of mine adversaries; for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out violence.
יג  לוּלֵא–הֶאֱמַנְתִּי, לִרְאוֹת בְּטוּב-יְהוָה:    בְּאֶרֶץ חַיִּים. 13 If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!–
יד  קַוֵּה, אֶל-יְהוָה:    חֲזַק, וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ; וְקַוֵּה, אֶל-יְהוָה. 14 Wait on the LORD; be strong, and let thy heart take courage; yea, wait thou for the LORD.

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Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech / פרשת נצבים־וילך

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe continues to address the Jewish people and to impress upon them the importance of keeping the Torah properly, and the reward which will be afforded to those who do, and on the flip side, the severity of the recompense a person will receive for not adequately abiding by the Torah’s holy laws.  However, there is one particular equation in this week’s Parsha which does not seem to add up correctly.  The Torah says that if a person says to himself, “I will go upon my path, everything will be okay”, Hashem will not forgive him and the verses go on to say the terrible punishment he will receive.  I believe that this “non-commensurate” response requires a bit of explanation.

The famous Mashgiach, R’ Chazkal Levenstein explains beautifully that when a person says to himself that he will embark on his path and everything will be fine, he is lacking the most rudimentary and fundamental trait that a Jew is required to possess – the fear of Heaven.  A person who fosters a cavalier attitude about his life and his actions has no hope of ever returning to Torah observance, whereas a person who visualizes the consequences of his actions assumes a true level of responsibility for his misdeeds, and will do everything in his power to ensure that his mistakes are not repeated.  It is specifically for this reason that the Torah tilts all the punishment dials to the right when it comes to this kind of stance.  It is to show us how far we need to stay away from this casual approach and how necessary it is for us to work on our level of fear of retribution for our actions.  We have to always drive home the reality that if we sin, there will be very real and very unpleasant countermeasures for that sin, and allow the fear of those countermeasures to always motivate us to do the right thing.

The famous Tosafos in Shabbos (88) ask a fantastic question.  The Gemorah teaches us that in order for Hashem to have ensured that the Jews would accept the Torah properly, He held a mountain over their heads and said, “If you accept the Torah, then fine, and if you don’t, you will now be buried”.  Needless to say, they accepted the Torah.  Tosafos ask if the Jews accepted the Torah at Sinai with the famous remark “נעשה ונשמע” – “We will do, and then we will hear”, why was it necessary for Hashem to then go and hold a mountain over their heads?  Tosafos give their own answer, but The Maharal from Prague answers that although the Jews at Sinai were enthused with a predominant desire to do the will of Hashem forever the moment they uttered that famous declaration, we all know that when the inspiration which led to that moment would begin to die down with time, their resolve may not hold as strong as it once was.  I am sure that many of us can testify to the truth of this statement of the Maharal in our own lives.  It was precisely for this reason that Hashem held a mountain over their heads.  It was to teach them that although inspiration is wonderful, it is not enough.  We need to always maintain a constant level of trepidation at the thought of transgressing the word of the Torah.  This fear and this alone will be instrumental in helping us to keep our lusts in check during a time of temptation.  When we feel a pull toward a particular sin, there is a specific commandment in the Torah to arouse ourselves to feel terrified about the retribution we will receive if we cannot hold our excitement for that sin at bay, and the Torah is teaching us that only this type of fight will truly be effective at curbing our passions.

R’ Yitzchak B’lazar asks a fascinating question.  He proposes that if fear of Heaven is so integral to our service, then it should have been hardwired into our system, much the same way fear of danger or survival instincts is.  Why wouldn’t Hashem have built us with these components if He expected us to succeed in our service of Him?  R’ Yitzchak explains that had we possessed the same fear of Hashem that we do of worldly dangers, we would essentially be robots.  The factor which makes us human, and differentiates us from every other inhabitant of this earth, is our ability to choose right from wrong.  If we would fear Hashem like we do a shark, there would be no room for us to err.  You don’t find many human beings swimming in shark infested water.  Although it is difficult to reach this level of fear, this is exactly what we were created to do.

What are some practical methods a person can use to achieve a higher plane of consciousness in this area?  Firstly, it goes without saying that learning Mussar with great enthusiasm and fervor is certainly effective in increasing one’s general level of awareness of Hashem.  Another powerful tool one can implement is to boost his feeling during the prayer and blessings he recites during the day.  But I would like to share with you something R’ Nachum Zev from Kelm used to do.  He would go every week to visit the sick people in the hospital in order to help enhance his fear of Heaven.  He would explain that although we all know that Hashem is running the world, and we could be sick or healthy at any time of day based on His say so, Chazal says we cannot compare knowing something to seeing it.  When one sees the terrible disfigurements and suffering a human being can become exposed to based on no bad choices of his own, one will certainly begin to inculcate a very real sense of reward and punishment, and how vulnerable we really are at any given time.

During this period we find ourselves in, fear of Heaven is probably the most precious commodity a human being can have in his possession.  Although it is somewhat difficult to come by, let us look to the Gedolim for some examples of outstanding success in achieving fear of Hashem.  The famous Rebetzin Yaffe writes about her father the Beis Halevi; “During the month of Elul, my father was virtually inaccessible.  There was a palpable fear in the air as if there were some capital court case about to happen, and my father was on trial, and if he lost, he would be taken out to the gallows to be hung publicly.”  One of the Brisker Rav’s students once asked him whether or not all the scary feelings Chazal write about the month of Elul are to be taken literally.  The Brisker Rav responded, “of course they are.  In fact, two week’s before Rosh Hashana, I can’t even taste any of my food!”  Once another student met the Rav on the street shortly before Rosh Hashana and asked him how he was feeling.  The Rav responded that he was feeling a little scared about the upcoming judgment and that he needed to repent.  The student asked the Rav in surprise if even the Rav needed to repent.  The Rabbi looked at the man like he was crazy, and asked his Gabbai to check if the student had suffered any sort of brain injury, and remained upset at that question the rest of the day.  Although these giants clearly were able to attain an extremely heightened sense of fear of Heaven, and we are perhaps just taking baby steps to make inroads into our development, it behooves us to do everything in our power to avoid the attitude we described above in this week’s Parsha that everything will be fine, regardless of our actions, and instead replace it with one of genuine concern that our behavior is not quite up to par, and return to Hashem with all of our hearts.

May we all merit to work on our level of fear of Heaven and earn a wonderful sweet new year filled with every blessing!

LESSON SEVEN: ACTS PART 2

“Also the sons of the foreigner [l‘beni ha-nakar] who join themselves to HaShem, to serve Him, and to love the Name of HaShem, to be His servants – Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant – Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
Isaiah 56:6-6

Introduction

  • The book of Acts is a transitional book, but not in the way that is most often referenced. Acts is not about Christianity taking over from Judaism. It is not about “Grace” over the “Law.” It is not about the “Church” replacing Israel.
  • It is a chronological account of the believers in the early-to-mid-First Century and shows how G-d added Gentiles into His family of Israel.

The Conflicts in the Apostolic Scriptures

  • In the past, many have considered the conflicts in the Apostolic Scriptures to be:
    • Christian vs Jew
    • Christian vs Pharisee
    • Scripture vs Tradition
    • Grace vs Law
    • Faith vs Works
  • These conflicts are largely an anachronistic reflex from the Protestant Reformation; and earlier from a perceived completion between Christianity and Judaism.
  • The major conflicts in the Apostolic Scriptures in reality were:
    • Kingdom of Light vs Kingdom of Darkness
    • Inclusion vs Exclusion of Gentiles

Background

  • Genesis 12:3: The blessing of the Nations, through Israel.
  • Exodus 12:38; 43-50: A mixed multitude, including gerim [sojourner]. Not for those known as “bein” [stranger].
  • Num 15:28-29: One Torah [Law] for Israel and gerim.
  • Ezra 10:3: After Babylonian Captivity, separation from pagan.
  • By the Second Century, a formal process for Gentile inclusion was formulated: ritual conversion.
  • Separation from all Gentiles was assumed by all pious Jews.

Gentiles Added to the Commonwealth of Israel

  • Acts 10:1-5: Cornelius was not a convert to Judaism, but he worshipped the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and in the manner of Judaism. Yet, he was forbidden the eat the Passover.
  • Acts 10:28: Peter thinks it is “unlawful” to be in company with a Gentile. What “law”?
  • Acts 10:9-16: What was this vision about; what was its purpose? It is not about “Grace vs Law” – it is about Gentiles being grafted in!
  • Acts 10:28; 11:18: 15:1-16: Gentile inclusion was the big “shock” for the first disciples. It confirmed the promises to Abraham and David.
  • Acts 21:20-29: Gentile inclusion was also a big shock to nominal Judaism, and a primary complaint against “the Way.”
  • Eph 2:10-19: Good news for gerim… Through Messiah, you are in the household of HaShem! Not by the “works of men” (i.e. ritual conversion), but by grace through faith.

Summary

  • The two principle contests of the Apostolic Scriptures are in a way the same as the TaNaKh, namely how one can move from the Kingdom of Darkness, into the Kingdom of Light… through redemption by Messiah.

Parashat Shoftim / פרשת שופטים

When the Torah tells us two things in practically the same breath, we can be sure that they are very closely related. Yet sometimes the connection is somewhat obscure, and we are completely dependent on the guidance of the Talmud to enlighten us.

In this week’s Torah reading, we are instructed to appoint judges of the highest integrity, people who are honest, upright and unwavering, people who would never consider taking bribes or otherwise corrupting the process of justice. Side by side with these laws is the prohibition against planting an asheirah tree, a species commonly worshipped in the pagan societies of the Near East.

What is the connection between these two apparently unrelated topics?

The Talmud tells us that the appointment of an unworthy judge is comparable to planting an asheirah tree.

Illuminating but not completely enlightening. The corruption of justice and idolatrous practices are both unarguably very grave transgressions, but how are they related to each other? What specific kinship places them on a common ground?

The commentators explain that the asheirah tree has marvelous natural beauty, as do all the other trees the Creator implanted in this world. But through their idolatrous practices, people have transformed this thing of pristine beauty into an abomination. Although the asheirah tree still retains its enchanting exterior, its very essence has been corrupted, and therefore, it is forbidden to plant such a tree. The Torah compares people to “the trees in the field.” People are also dominant and exceptionally beautiful fixtures on the natural landscape of the world. Some of them, endowed with special talents and abilities, are even more outstanding. They exude an aura of wisdom and integrity that seem to make them ideal choices to serve as the magistrates of society.

Beware, warns the Torah. Do not be taken in by exterior appearances. This seemingly ideal candidate for judicial office may be nothing more than an asheirah tree. If he is guilty of the slightest bribery or any other subversion of perfect justice, he has become an abomination, and all his cleverness, wisdom and charisma mean nothing.

A king was seeking a suitable candidate for a ministerial office which had become vacant. He invited a number of promising government officials to his palace for a conference on the pressing problems facing that ministry. The most knowledge official would be offered the post.

The king prepared a royal table for his guests, with the finest foods and beverages and an assortment of exotic fruits which could not be found anywhere else in the realm.

At the conference, one official, in particular, stood out among all the rest. He was a highly personable man who spoke with eloquence, wisdom, and wit. His grasp of the issues and problems was exceptional, and the solutions he offered were clever and insightful. After an hour, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would be chosen, but to everyone’s surprise, the king chose another man.

The disappointed candidate approached the king. “Your majesty, why was I passed over for the post? Am I not the most qualified by far?” “Take out what you have in your right pocket,” said the king.

The man flushed crimson. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a persimmon. “Your majesty, for such a minor matter I lost the post?” he said. “It is nothing but a tiny fruit that I wanted to take home to my family.”

“It is indeed a very minor thing,” said the king. “And if you had asked, I would surely have given you a basketful to take home. But when I saw you slip that persimmon into your pocket I knew I could never trust you.”

In our own lives, we are all impressed by the glittering people we encounter, people who sparkle with personality, wisdom, talent and extraordinary accomplishment. But those are not necessarily the best people. We wouldn’t buy a car without taking a good look under the hood. In the same way, we should not invest admiration in this glitterati without asking ourselves if there is true goodness behind the façade if there is kindness, humility, and integrity. Those are the qualities we should admire and emulate. Those are the qualities that will make us better people. Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.

Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.

Parashat Re’eh / פרשת ראה

Parsha Summary for Parshas Reeh

Note: The Shabbos Torah Reading is divided into 7 sections. Each section is called an Aliya [literally: Go up] since for each Aliya, one person “goes up” to make a bracha [blessing] on the Torah Reading.


1st and 2nd Aliyot: Moshe instructs the Chosen People to eradicate any remnant of idolatry and strengthen all aspects of service to G-d. All offerings must be brought to the “Chosen” place, the Bais Hamikdash, so that worship is an act of humility and selflessness, rather than a self-indulging “need”. An even greater danger to our uniqueness is the innate desire to compromise and assimilate Torah values with other forms of worship. (the Chanukah bush syndrome)

3rd and 4th Aliyot: Moshe forewarned the Jews against incorporating any pagan practices, and against the false prophet, idolatrous missionaries, and the Ir Hanidachas – the Apostate City. These must be destroyed along with their material belongings. When using the wo​_rld in accordance with the wishes of the Creator, we declare the existence of a Creator who has a divine purpose for creating the material world. When we misuse the physical in the service of “gods who are not G-d”, we negate the Creator’s purpose for creating the universe. Therefore, they and all their belongings must be destroyed.

5th, 6th, and 7th Aliyot: The remainder of the Parsha, details those Mitzvos that set us apart from all other nations: Kashrus; Maasros – Tithes; the Shmitah – sabbatical year; the laws regarding lending money; the Eved Ivri – a Jew who is a slave; the consecration of the first-born animal, and a review of the main Yomim Tovim – holidays: Pesach, Shavouth, and Succoth.

Rav S.R. Hirsch points out that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are not reviewed in Sefer Divarim because there were no changes in the practices of those Yomim Tovim when living in the desert or living in Eretz Yisroel. (Intro. to Divarim)

Parashat Re’eh (פרשת ראה): The Three Pilgrimages…

By Rav. PhilJ Alcide, PhD

Blessing before reading the Torah:   

 

Praise Hashem, to whom our praise is due! Praised be Hashem, to whom our praise is due now and forever! Blessed is Hashem our God, Ruler of the universe, who has chosen us from all peoples by giving us the Torah. Blessed is Hashem, Giver of the Torah.

Reading: “שלוש פעמים ׀ בשנה יראה כל־זכורך את־פני ׀ יהוה אלהיך במקום אשר יבחר בחג המצות ובחג השבעות ובחג הסכות ולא יראה את־פני יהוה ריקם איש כמתנת ידו כברכת יהוה אלהיך אשר נתן־לך”

Transliteration

  • “shalosh pe’anim bashanah yera’eh kal zekhurekha et penei adonai eloheikha bamaqom asher yivchar b’chag hamatzot ub’chag hashavuot ub’chag hasukkot v’lo yera’eh et penei adonai reqam ish kematenat yado k’birkat adonai eloheikha asher natan lakh ” (Devarim 16 : 16-17)

Translation:

  • “Three times a year all your males should appear before Hashem your God in the place that He will choose: on the Festtival of Matzot, on the Festival of Shavuot, and on the Festival of Sukkot. And he shall not appear before Hashem empty-handed, everyone according to what he can give, according to the blessing that Hashem, your God, gives you.” (Deut.16: 16-17)

Blessing after reading the Torah:

Blessed is the Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has given us a Torah of truth, implanting within us eternal life. Blessed is the Lord, Giver of the Torah.

This week’s Parshah covers a lot of material. We would be dizzy if we were to go over them all right now. We would be amazed as well. Yet, I choose to focus on a very small section that will do just as much. Please, accept my apology. Why three times a year? Why only male must appear? Where is the place to appear? Why not empty-handed? These are some of the questions that I will explore with you but before that let us make a b’rachah (say a blessing):

  • Baruch Atah adonai eloheinu Melekh ha-Olam yihyu l’ratson imrei-fi v’hegyon libi l’fanecha adonai tsuri v’goali [Amen]
  • Blessed are you Hashem our G-d, king of the universe. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you Hashem, my Rock and my Redeemer [Amen]

It is interesting to note that during the forty years that the Israelites lived in the wilderness they were never commanded to appear before Hashem any number of times a day, a week, a month, or a year. However, it is only before they enter the Promised Land that they are reminded to present themselves three times a year “before Hashem” and “at the place He will choose.” This command is known in our circles as “shalosh regalim” or three pilgrimages.

Pilgrimage

What is a pilgrimage? What purpose does it serve? In the Encyclopedia Britannica (2011) we read:

  • “A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken for a religious motive. Although some pilgrims have wandered continuously with no fixed destination, pilgrims more commonly seek a specific place that has been sanctified by association with a divinity or other holy personage…Given its presence in so many different cultural and historical contexts, no single meaning can be attributed to the act of pilgrimage. Structural similarities are discernible, however, across disparate traditions of sacred travel. Pilgrimage usually entails some separation (alone or in a group) from the everyday world of home, and pilgrims may mark their new identity by wearing special clothes or abstaining from physical comforts. Frequently, pilgrimages link sacred place with sacred time…Apart from involving movement across physical and cultural landscapes toward a sacred goal, pilgrimages frequently involve ritual movements at the site itself…A factor that unites pilgrimage locations across different religions is the sense, variously expressed, that a given place can provide privileged access to a divine or transcendent sphere…In all religious traditions, hierarchies of sites are evident, as some places are regarded as more sacred than others.”

Why three times a year?

In the book of Joshua we read:

  • “So the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities in seven divisions in a book, and they came to Joshua to the camp at Shiloh. And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the LORD, and there Joshua divided the land to the sons of Israel according to their divisions.” (Josh.18: 9-10)

This establishes the Israelites as sedentary people now. They are no longer wandering in the wilderness. In the book of Ecclesiastes we read,

  • “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Eccl.4: 12)

The number three here seems to serve at least two purposes in relation to the pilgrimage. The first one is that it is an opportunity for the Israelites to show gratitude to Hashem. The second one is an opportunity to show that they have confidence in Hashem as a partner in the covenant (Exod.34: 24). A third one is to confirm the everlasting character of the covenant through the principle of the three witnesses (Deut.19: 15). Therefore, the three pilgrimages are the eternal witnesses and testimony of what Hashem has done for the Israelites. This is very important to remember.

Why only male must appear?

The ancient Israelites never understood this to exclude women. In fact, in the book of Samuel we read:

  • “There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” (1 Sam.1: 1-7)

If women were not allowed appear before Hashem, then why did Penninah and Hannah go up with their husband Elkanah? Who was this man anyway? Why didn’t any of his wives ask him to leave the other as the ultimate proof of his love for her? Does the Torah forbid a man to have more than one wife? We must be very careful not to read in the Bible what is not there, things that are informed by anti-Bible biases. Interestingly, the text says:

  • “When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.” “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good his word.” (1 Sam.1: 21-23)

Here, as you can see, Hannah chose not to appear before Hashem simply because she was nursing a newborn child. However, she made clear that she would continue to appear before Hashem when the boy is old enough. Her husband agreed with her. He didn’t tell her that she was not commanded to go. What we understand is that women are exempt from performing certain mitzvot simply because of who they are, which determines the role that they play in the community. Men, on the other hand, do not enjoy the privilege of exemption under any circumstance. Therefore, the omission of women in the text is not due to sexism but to accommodate their exalted status. It is that simple. One must read the text in its context, as a Hebrew would read it in the light of his tradition. Also, men that were ritually unclean could not present themselves before Hashem even if they were commanded to appear.

Where is the place to appear?

Traditionally, the place has always been where the priesthood is quartered. The first place was Shiloh. After that, it became Jerusalem. Should we really focus on a particular place, a physical location? In the time of exile, as right now, and before that during the Babylonian captivity, where is the place? We cannot go to Jerusalem because we do not have a Temple there nor a priesthood. Yet the power of pilgrimage as a metaphor may be retained even in contexts apparently unfavorable to its practice. We must, therefore, understand why Hashem commanded us to appear before Him three times a year. Is there a place that Hashem is not? David, in Psalm 139, answered with a resounding “no”. The point of the pilgrimages then is to bring people together. It is not the physical place that is really the focus but the “unity of people”. Wherever people are united this is where Hashem chooses. This idea is clearly stated in Psalm 133, where it is written:

  • “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Ps.133: 1-3)

The Three pilgrimages have one thing in common. They are all “Shabbat days”. In other words, they are set apart for a particular purpose. The place is “in time” because it is time that Hashem “made holy”. Man made a place holy. Which is greater: what G-d sanctifies or what man sanctifies? A place can be destroyed but time cannot be destroyed. We will always have the opportunity to appear before Hashem as long as we are alive. Let us briefly look at each pilgrimage:

Pesach or Passover began and remains a family holiday. It symbolizes in words and deeds the ideal of freedom (Gen.1: 26-27). It is associated with the Exodus from Egypt. On this holiday we are commanded not to eat yeast. The sages taught:

  • “Leaven represents the evil impulse of the heart” (Talmud, Berachot 17a)

Pesach, therefore, teaches us to subdue our appetite and control what we eat.

Shavuot or “feast of weeks” is traditionally known by many names each of which reflects the agricultural nature of the holiday celebrated in the Spring. The Bible nowhere associates the holiday of Shavuot with G-d’s revelation on Mount Sinai. The Talmud (Pesachim 68b), however, does make an association between the two. The connection was established when scholars, following the biblical account, calculated that the dates of the agricultural festival of Shavuot and the event at Mount Sinai coincided. In this Parshah, the reason for the observance of Shavuot is that “we were once slaves in Egypt”.

Sukkot or “feast of booths” was originally an agricultural holiday. We are told to remember that the Israelites people lived in booths when G-d took them out of Egypt. It marks the beginning of the rainy season. Therefore, it became known as a Day of Judgment for Rain.

Why not empty-handed? 

All three pilgrimages refer to the Exodus from Egypt, which is G-d’s greatest act of love to the Israelites. G-d gives because He loves. Therefore, we must demonstrate our love by giving back. This is the law. Therefore, Solomon taught:

  • “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of your crops.” (Prov.3: 9)

The three pilgrimages give us a framework to test our own obedience and gratitude. They provide us with an opportunity for spiritual growth. They invite us to take journeys without leaving our physical place. We are to go into the depth of our soul each time to meet with our G-d. Also, the pilgrimages provide us with opportunities for redemption. What are we to be redeemed from? Our sages, by linking Chametz (yeast) to the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination), teach us that we are to be redeemed from our evil inclination, the Yetzer Hara. Who can redeem us and how? G-d answers, saying:

  • “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen.4: 7)

G-d has already provided for us in all aspects of our lives. He gives us opportunities to prove ourselves worthy. He gives us the Torah, a Covenant of Peace, a Pact of Friendship. Now it is up to us to show Him how much we love him. Notice that out of 365 days we are only commanded to make three pilgrimages. The rest of the year concerns our treatment of others. We cannot present ourselves before G-d favorably if we neglect our neighbor or oppress them in any way. We are different and receive differently from G-d. Therefore, we cannot look at what others give to G-d when we want to present gifts to Him. How good has G-d been to you? How much has He given you? How much does he ask you to give Him?

Shabbat Shalom,

Reference

pilgrimage. (2011). Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.

Parashat Eikev / פרשת עקב

Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 -11:25

Moshe continues his discourse guaranteeing the Jewish people prosperity and good health if they follow the mitzvot, the commandments. He reminds us to look at our history and to know that we can and should trust in God. However, we should be careful so that we are not distracted by our material success, lest we forget and ignore God.

Moshe warns us against idolatry (the definition of idolatry is the belief that anything other than God has power) and against self-righteousness — “Do not say because of my virtue that God brought me to possess this land … but because of the wickedness of these nations that God is driving them out before you.” (Deut. 9:5). He then details our rebellions against God during the 40 years in the desert and the giving of the Second Tablets (Moshe broke the first Tablets containing the Ten Commandments during the sin of the Golden Calf.)

This week’s portion dispels a common misconception. People think that “Man does not live by bread alone” means that a person needs additional foods beyond bread to survive. The quotation in its entirety is, “Man does not live by bread alone … but by all that comes out of God’s mouth” (Deut. 8:3).

The Torah then answers a question which every human being has asked of himself: What does God want of you? “Only that you remain in awe of God your Lord, so that you will follow all His paths and love Him, serving God your Lord with all your heart and with all your soul. You must keep God’s commandments and decrees … so that all good will be yours” (Deut. 10:12).