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Parshat Emor 5755


6+1 in the days of the week, and in the Jewish holidays

Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, "These are the holidays of Hashem, which you shall declare as holy; these are My holidays. Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a total Shabbat, a holy day; no work may be done.... These are the holidays of Hashem, which you shall declare in their set times. On the fourteenth of the first month, in the afternoon, it is Pesach unto Hashem...."
(Vayikra 23:1-5)
In this week's Parasha, we find a brief listing of the year's Jewish holidays. Starting with the quote cited above, the Torah describes all of the holidays of the year. There is, however, an obvious problem with these verses. The Torah says that it is about to list all the holidays ("Moadim") of the year (v. 2). So why does it begin with a description of the Shabbat? The Shabbat, which comes every week, can hardly be described as a "Moed" (= holiday, or set season)! It seems to be completely out of place here. This question is dealt with by many of the classical commentators.

The Vilna Gaon suggests a brilliant, novel way of dealing with this problem. He proposes that the "Shabbat" mentioned in vv. 2-3 does not refer to Saturday, the weekly Shabbat described numerous other times in the Torah. Rather, it refers to the Holy Day of Yom Kippur. Like Shabbat, Yom Kippur is also referred to in the Torah as "Shabbat Shabbaton" (translated here as "a total Shabbat") -- see Sh'mot 31:15 and Vayikra 23:32. And Yom Kippur is certainly one of the Moadim.

But if the "Shabbat" of the verse is Yom Kippur, then what are the six other days mentioned here? The Gaon explains that these are the other six Yomim Tovim [= major holy days, holidays when most work is prohibited]: Rosh Hashanah, the 1st and 8th days of Succot, the 1st and 7th days of Pesach, and Shavuot. The meaning of the verse is thus, according to the Gaon's interpretation: "On the [other] six days [mentioned in this section], [certain types of] work may be done (i.e. the cooking and preparation of food, which is permissible on festival days), but on the seventh day [of the holidays under discussion], there is a total Shabbat, a holy day; *no* work (i.e. not even cooking, etc.) may be done...." Instead of describing the six *days of the week* which culminate in Shabbat, the verse is actually speaking of the six *festivals* during which some work is permitted, which culminate in the "total Shabbat" of Yom Kippur! The Torah thus introduces its description of the holidays with a broad statement about the Moadim in general. It is telling us that one of the seven days under discussion is more holy than the other six.

(The comparison of the seven holidays to the seven days of the week -- without mention of our Parasha -- can also be found in the Maharsha, Chidushei Aggadot, Yoma 2a. See also Parasha Page Vayakhel 5754).


The 7 holidays & the Passover mnemonic

Following through on this theme, we may suggest that the seven holidays of the year are equal not only in number to the days of the week. They parallel *in content* the seven days of the week as well -- as we shall soon explain. There is, in fact, another context where the various holidays are presented in the context of consecutive days of a week, and that is in the Tur's discussion of the Jewish calendar (O.C. 428). The Tur points out that if one knows on which day of the week Pesach begins in a given year, he can determine what day of the week the other holidays will occur in that coming year. This is accomplished through a mnemonic based on "At-Bash", as follows:

"At-Bash" is a system in which each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is paired up with the letter on the "opposite side" of the alphabet. The first letter (Aleph) is associated with the last letter (Tav), the second (Bet) with the second to last (Shin), etc. Each consecutive day of Pesach is assigned a letter from the beginning of the Alphabet - Aleph, Bet, Gimmel, etc. The first day of Pesach (Aleph), the Tur demonstrates, will always fall out on the same day of the week as the holiday whose name begins with Tav - Tisha B'Av. The second day of Pesach (Bet) falls out on the same day as the holiday that begins with Shin - Shavuot. The third day (Gimmel) - becomes Resh, for Rosh Hashanah. The fourth day (Dalet) - becomes Kof, for K'riat HaTorah (that is, the holiday observing the start of the new cycle of the reading of the Torah - Simchat Torah. Note: This one only works in the Diaspora; in Israel Simchat Torah falls out on the same day of the week as the *third* day of Pesach.) Finally, the fifth day of Pesach (Heh), which corresponds to Tzadeh, predicts the day of the week of Tzom [=the Fast of] Kippur.

[Actually the Tur continues to say that the sixth day (Vav) determines the day of the week for the Rabbinic holiday of Peh=Purim, but this refers to the *previous* Purim, not to the coming Purim. Modern-day pundits add to the Tur's list that the seventh day of Pesach (Zayin) matches the day of the week of the pseudo-holiday of Ayin - Etzim ("Trees" - Tu Bishvat, which works only in non-leap years; or Tu B'av, day of the Korban Etzim wood offering celebration).]

Thus every one of the Moadim is accounted for by this system. As noted above, this mnemonic system only works for the Diaspora (perhaps because the fixed lunar calendar was only instituted after the main population center of the Jewish nation had shifted to the Diaspora). It should also be noted that when the end of a holiday is pinpointed, the very last day of the holiday is used, and not the day before last, although it is more significant. Thus the *ninth* day of Succot (Simchat Torah) is marked, and not the more substantial *eighth* day.

If we look carefully at the arrangement of holidays in this "At-Bash" mnemonic, we see that not only are all the holidays accounted for, but they are arranged in perfect chronological order, beginning with the first holiday of the year -- Pesach itself!

Take note:

  1. The Aleph is the day of the week on which the first holiday of Pesach falls, obviously.
  2. It also shows the day for the *last* day of Pesach (in the Diaspora), for that is the same day of the week as the first day.
  3. The Bet sets the day of the week for Shavuot, as the Tur demonstrated.
  4. The Gimmel determines which day Rosh Hashanah will come.
  5. Succot always falls on the same day of the week as Rosh Hashanah, so this is also determined by the Gimmel.
  6. The Dalet shows the day of the week for Simchat Torah.
  7. The Heh corresponds to the day of the week for Yom Kippur.

The order of holidays determined by the days of Pesach is thus: First day Pesach, last day Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Succot, Simchat Torah (i.e., the last day of Succot), Yom Kippur. This represents the exact order these holidays occur during the course of the year -- except that Yom Kippur, which is out of chronological order, is number seven.

After the month-by-month declarations of sightings of the new moon by the Sanhedrin [= Supreme Jewish Court] ceased, the present calendar established. The Rabbis apparently arranged the system of holidays in such a way that each consecutive holiday would fall on a consecutive day of the week (where possible, and on the same day as the previous one where it was not), and all these holidays would correspond alphabetically to the days of Pesach. The exception was Yom Kippur, to show that it is the seventh day, the culmination (in terms of degree of holiness) of the seven day holiday cycle. This system obviously parallels the Gaon's interpretation of the verse in our Parasha - that the six other holidays are the "weekdays" that precede Yom Kippur, just as the six days of the week precede Shabbat!


A Day by day comparison:

Upon further examination, it can be seen that the relationship between the six holidays and the six days of the week is even more profound. Each one of the consecutive holidays, beginning from the first -- Pesach -- can be shown to parallel its corresponding weekday.

  1. The first day of Pesach parallels the first day of creation, the day that is called by the Torah "Yom Echad" [= the Day of the One]. It is so called, explains Rashi (based on the Midrash), because this was the only day that Hashem was truly the only Being in the Universe. Even the angels were not created until the second day.

    On Pesach, too, we find that Hashem Himself, without the medium of any Heavenly Agent, went forth to strike at the Egyptians and free His people from their bondage.

    "Thus says Hashem: At midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die..." (Sh'mot 11:4)." `I' and not an angel; `I' and not a seraph, etc."
    (Passover Haggadah)
    Such divine intervention was actually requisite for the Plague of the Death of the Firstborn. Only Hashem Himself could distinguish between those who were actually firstborn to their fathers and those who were not (Gemara Bava Metzia 61b). Thus, on Pesach eve Hashem demonstrated to the world His oneness, performing an act that only He alone -- not even an administering angel -- could have done.

    Furthermore, on the first day light was created. A certain element of this primordial light was judged to be too divine for this material world. It was "hidden away," reserved for a time when Hashem would reveal Himself to the righteous (Rashi Bereishit 1:4). On the night of the Exodus, however, the divine light of the first day of creation shone bright (Zohar 2:38a, see also Parasha-Page, Passover 5756).

  2. On the second day of creation the "firmament" [Rakia] was created in order to "divide between the one water and the other water."

    There is an obvious parallel here to the second of the Moadim, the seventh day of Pesach, which commemorates the splitting of the Red Sea into two! (See Rashi Megilla 31a, s.v. Vayehi. I developed this theme further in the Parasha-Page for the 7th of Pesach, 5754.)

  3. The third day of creation saw the origin of fruit-bearing trees (Bereishit 1:11).

    According to the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16a) Shavuot, the third of the Moadim, is the day on which Hashem passes judgment on the quality of the fruit harvest of the coming year. It is for this reason that Shavuot was also the first day on which Bikkurim, or first-fruit offerings, were allowed to be brought to the Temple.

    Furthermore, the Torah, which was given to the Israelites at Mount Sinai on Shavuot, is known as the "tree of life" (Mishlei 3:18). Moreover, the third day of creation is distinguished by being the only one of the days of creation on which the phrase "Ki Tov" [= It was good] was declared twice. According to the Gemara the Torah is often referred to as "Tov" [= the good] -- see Mishlei 4:2, Berachot 5a.

  4. On the fourth day of creation the heavenly bodies were created - the sun, the moon, the stars, etc. It marked the beginning of the lunar and solar cycles.

    Rosh Hashanah, the fourth Moed, marks the beginning of our yearly cycle (Gemara Rosh Hashanah 2a -- see also Parasha-Page, Rosh Hashanah 5756).

  5. The fifth day of creation has a thematic connection with Succot, the fifth Moed. It was on the fifth day that the water "issued forth crawling living things and birds to fly in the heavens" (Bereishit 1:20). All of that day's creations issued from the waters (ibid.).

    One of the major themes of the Succot holiday is the supplication for rain at the beginning of the rainy season. It is at this time that Hashem passes judgment regarding the amount of rain which will fall during the coming year (Rosh Hashanah 16a). Succot is the holiday during which special libations are performed and prayers recited (and branches waved) to beseech Hashem for an adequate supply of water, the life-giving elixir that will preserve all of the creatures of the world during the coming year. (See also Parasha-Page, Shavuot 5754.)

    Furthermore, the Torah gives special mention to one creature of the sea that was created on the fifth day - the Leviathan (Bereishit 1:21 and Rashi). As we are told, at the onset of the Messianic era Hashem will "make a *Sukkah* out of the hide of the Leviathan for the righteous" (Bava Batra 75a).

  6. The sixth day of creation is the day on which man was created.

    Rashi in Bemidbar 29:35 tells us that the entire theme of the Shemini Atzeret holiday (of which Simchat Torah is a part) is the uniqueness of the People of Israel. On Simchat Torah we celebrate having received the Torah and the observance of its Mitzvot, because it is the Torah that sets the Jews aside from all the other nations. The Torah thus makes us a spiritual people. On this holiday we celebrate the creation of the "spiritual man."

    Furthermore, all the other days of creation are called "*a* second day," "*a* third day," etc. Only the sixth day is called "*the* sixth day." This, comments Rashi, alludes to the fact that the Torah would be given on the *sixth day* of a month (Sivan) many centuries later. It was as if Hashem stipulated with all of creation that its existence was conditional upon the acceptance of the Torah by Israel at Mount Sinai, Rashi explains. If so, it is fitting for the sixth holiday of the year to be dedicated to celebrating our possession of the Torah.

  7. There are several parallels between Shabbat, the seventh day, and Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the only one of the holidays during which *all* manner of work is forbidden (i.e. even work relating to the preparation of food is prohibited). This cessation of creative activity mirrors the laws of the Shabbat, the day that Hashem "rested" from creating the world.

    Furthermore, it was on the seventh day that Hashem forgave Adam for eating the forbidden fruit and allowed him to live. This was the first, and hence the archetypal, case of atonement for sin. The Midrash tells us that it was Adam who composed the "Psalm for the Shabbat Day" (Psalm 92), translating the opening verse as "It is good to *confess one's sins* before Hashem" (Midrash Socher Tov ad loc.). Similarly, Yom Kippur was the first time that Hashem granted forgiveness to Israel as a nation. As Rashi tells us (Devarim 9:18), this was the day Hashem forgave the Bnai Yisroel for the sin of the Golden Calf -- which is why Yom Kippur was singled out as a day of atonement for all times.


The "spiritual week"

Perhaps the idea underlying the parallelism between the holidays and the days of the week is the following. The seven Moadim represent seven aspects of the formation of the spiritual world, just as the seven days of the week represent seven stages in the creation of the physical world. Perhaps through the observance of these seven holidays, we can elevate the mundane, material world of the seven days of creation to a higher, more spiritual plateau.

May we merit to observe the Torah's Moadim properly, and create a unique, spiritual dimension in our lives!

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