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G-d instructed Moses to take a census of the Jewish people in the desert. In all, G-d told Moses to count the Jews three times in a forty-year period. Rashi, the famed eleventh century biblical commentator, explained that G-d counts the Jews because He loves them.[1]
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Home » Mishpatim, Yearly Cycle

Mishpatim: Festival And Season

Submitted by on January 30, 2016 – 11:59 pmNo Comment | 730 views

The Name

The Jewish festivals celebrate the miracles of our history. The festival of Passover celebrates the exodus. Shavuot, celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments. Sukkot, celebrates the miracles that our ancestors experienced during their journey through the desert.

The festivals are named according to the miracles that they commemorate. The festival of matzah, unleavened bread, reflects the unleavened bread that our ancestors ate upon their exodus. The festival of Shavuot, weeks, reflects the seven weeks that our ancestors counted after the exodus until they received the Ten Commandments. The festival of Sukkot, booths, reflects the safe cocoon of clouds, that formed a secure booth-like environment, that G-d provided for our ancestors in the desert.

In addition, G-d gave these festivals names that reflect the seasons during which they fall. Passover is called the festival of ripeness, aviv, because it falls in the early spring, when the crop just begins to ripen. Shavuot is called the festival of harvest, katzir, because it occurs in the late spring during the harvest. Sukkot is called the festival of ingathering the crop, asif, because it is celebrated in the fall.[1]

On the face of it, the connection between our festivals and seasons is tenuous. The importance of the festivals are the miracles that they commemorate. The seasons during which they fall appear at first brush coincidental. Yet, the Torah emphasises this link, and goes so far as to manipulate our calendar to ensure that the holidays are always celebrated in their respective phases of the harvest.

The Dual Calendar

The Jewish calendar is lunar based. The Gregorian calendar is solar based. The lunar calendar is elven days shorter than the solar calendar. This means that any given date in the lunar calendar falls behind the solar calendar by eleven days each year.

Since the Jewish festivals are set by the lunar calendar, they should not coincide with the seasons. Each year, the festival should fall eleven days earlier in the season than it did the previous year. Accordingly, the festivals should float around the seasonal calendar and fall alternately in winter or summer. Yet Passover always falls in the spring, Sukkot is always in the fall and Chanukah is always in the winter.

This is because we adjust our calendar every few years to ensure that it coincides with the solar calendar. We do this only because we want to ensure that the Jewish festivals fall in their correct seasons. This tells us that the link between festival and season is deliberate. So much so that G-d gave each festival a name that reflects its season.[2]

In The Seasons Of Life

G-d wanted Judaism to be ingrained in the pattern of life. He did not want our festivals to be remote ecclesiastic exercises, divorced from our daily lives. He wanted the two interwoven; our lives suffused with religion and our religion etched into life.

In plain words this means that He wants us to recognize the approaching festival without needing to consult a calendar. He wants us to see our festivals in the change of the seasons and think of the season, as we consider the festival. He wants life and religion to be seamless.

G-d wants us to see Passover in the melting snow, returning warmth and blooming flowers. When we see full crops and a hot sun, G-d wants us to think Shavuot. When the fields are empty, the winds blow and the rains fall, G-d wants us to feel the approach of Sukkot. When the snow falls and the cold sets in, G-d wants us to think Chanukah. He doesn’t want life activities divorced from religious observance. He wants them to be one; a seamless transition from life to faith and faith to life. He wants us to think of G-d, when we are at work as well as at home, to associate the patterns and seasons of life, with Him. This way we don’t need to step away from life to remember Him. He is present and visible wherever we are.

Seeping Into The World

It is not just about us remembering G-d, It is also about making the world holy.

Of the Ten Commandments that G-d gave at Sinai, five summon us to soulful faith and morality, the other five legislate the bodily enticements of human nature. When G-d taught Moses the rest of the Torah, He began with the legal code for monetary disputes rather than lofty spiritual subjects. This taught Moses that G-d wants us to practice the Torah in the mundane reality of the daily grind, not just on the spiritual pinnacles of worship and devotion. It was only after Moses understood this, that G-d gave our festivals their agrarian names.[3]

G-d’s purpose in giving us the Torah was not to make us more spiritual or more moral. His intention was that we use it to make the world a habitat for G-d. A place that recognizes, G-d, accepts G-d into its fold and is welcoming of G-d. In plain words this means that G-d’s greatest hope is not just that we absorb the message and sanctity of Torah, but that we allow it to seep into the world around us.

A Jewish farmer prepares for Passover by checking that his crop has blossomed. He harvests his crop, to prepare for Shavuot. Gathering in his crop, fills his mind with Sukkot. The harvest is a living part of the festival. The holiness of the festival seeps into the harvest.

Similarly, we don’t go shopping just to fill our cupboards. We go shopping to fulfill the Mitzvah of Kosher. We don’t just clean the home for ourselves, we clean the home to honor Shabbat. We don’t just learn to read and write, we do it to help us study Torah. In every activity, in every event, we incorporate G-d. Every object in a Jewish home becomes a funnel for holiness, a vehicle for a Mitzvah. Every moment in a Jewish day, is suffused with G-dliness. Every day in a Jewish life is sanctified by G-d.

It Is For Us Too

In fact, when our entire life is centered around our Judaism and there is a seamless transition between religion and life, our own commitment is sharpened and our own passion is stoked. When our passion seeps out and inspires others, when our conviction seeps out and touches others, when our holiness seeps out and ignites others, it becomes deeper and more real for us.

We learn this from Abraham. He spent his life lecturing about monotheism to every passerby at every opportunity. But in the process, his own conviction was sharpened. He wanted to call out to G-d, but he wanted to do it with the masses, to merge his call with the call of others. Since others weren’t calling, Abraham resolved to recruit them to the call. Once he got others to call, his own call became stronger. The same applies to us. When we ensure that the world around is holy, our own environment becomes holier and consequently, so do we.

[1] Exodus 23: 15-16 and rashi ibid. The crop was left to dry over the summer and was gathered up in the fall.

[2] The rest of this essay discusses the general link between festival and season, but the following presents the particular link between each holiday and its respective season. The three festivals are synonymous with the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Likutei Torah Pinchas, 76b) Abraham was kind and on Passover G-d kindly took an undeserving people out of Egypt. This fits with the rebirth that occurs in the early spring, a time of nurturing nature back to life and a generous lengthening of daylight. Isaac was firm and on Shavuot G-d set forth a strict regimen that facilitates our ascent to holiness (this is why the shofar at Sinai symbolizes Isaac’s ram). This is synonymous with the summer, when the sun is strong and merciless. Jacob prevailed over every challenge just like the perilous journey through the desert, which was challenging, but we prevailed. (This is why Jacob resided in a place called Sukkot.) This is synonymous with the fall, when the chill of winter begins, yet we step out into the sukkah, meeting and overcoming the challenge.

[3] The names were only given at the of Parshat Mishpatim. See previous footnote. See Likutei Sichos v. 36 pp. 113 – 114

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