Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, for the next few weeks Eretz Yisrael and Chutz La'aretz will be one Parsha off. Since I am in Eretz Yisrael, I will be following the calender here. This week in Chutz La'aretz they will be laining Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim. For a link to the Dvar Torah, click here. We will continue to be one week off till Parshas Bechukosai.
This week's Dvar Torah is dedicated L'ilui Nishmas my Great-Grandfather, Phillip Grossman פייבל ראובן בן מרדכי, who was niftar this week. Whatever he did, he always, always gave his maximum effort, every single time.
In Parshas Emor, Hashem explains the different Yomim Tovim (Festivals) to Moshe in order for Moshe to tell them over to Bnei Yisrael. The dates, obligations, and a short explanation of each Yom Tov are written by each one. By the holiday of Succos however, a different element is introduced.
In Perek 23 Pasuk 36, the pasuk says, “שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תַּקְרִיבוּ אִשֶּׁה לַי־הֹוָ־ה בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַי־הֹוָ־ה עֲצֶרֶת הִוא” “For a seven-day period you shall offer a fire-offering to Hashem; on the eighth day there shall be a calling of holiness for you and you shall offer a fire-offering to Hashem, it is a restraining (עצרת)…” (Vayikra 23:36). Till this point, only on Pesach do we have a day of Yom Tov followed by five “normal” days, what we refer to as Chol Hamoed, followed by another day of Yom Tov on the seventh day. Succos has this same seven day structure as Pesach but an eighth day is added to the cycle which is also Yom Tov. What is the purpose of this last day and why is it referred to as Atzeres (עצרת)?
The Seforno explains that this word “עצרת", should be understood based on its literal translation, meaning “a restraining”. While we have an obligation to refrain from work on Holidays, we also have an obligation to stop and reflect on the time we are spending in Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. With all the preparations for Yom Tov and the excitement of the Chag itself, it is very easy to lose sight of the opportunity presented by this Holiday, namely, the opportunity to rejoice in our service to Hashem in the holiest spot on Earth. This is especially applicable by the Chagim of Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos where there is an obligation to celebrate in the Beis Hamikdash. By having a day of Atzeres, we can stop and redirect our thoughts towards the celebration of Hashem and the Torah.
But why do we need an entirely new day for this redirection? Why don’t we just do it on the seventh day of Succos? Perhaps we can use Rashi’s explanation on our pasuk to answer this question. He compares the holiday of Succos to a King inviting his son to the palace for a tremendous feast which lasts several days. When the feast is finally over, the King is sad to see his son go and asks him to stay one more day since, “קשה עלי פרידתכם” “Your departure is hard for me” (Rashi on Vayikra 23:36). The day of עצרת is not only the day where we redirect our thoughts towards Hashem, it is also the day where Hashem redirects his thoughts towards us. As a result, this day ends up being a day where both Hashem and the Nation of Yisrael make each other the most special thing to them.
The question arises that after we see how special the eighth day of Succos is, why do we not do the same thing on Pesach? We have mentioned a couple of ways how Pesach and Succos are similar, they both are seven days long with two days of Chag, you are required to travel to Yerushalayim to both of them; so why do we not make an Atzeres on Pesach as well?
The Ramban explains that Chazal in many places refer to Shavuos by a different name, Atzeres. Chazal are teaching us that the fifty days between Pesach and Shavuos are really in the category of Chol Hamoed, all leading up to the day of Shavuos which is really the last day of Pesach! On the day we celebrate the giving of the Torah, what better way is there to celebrate the everlasting bond between Bnei Yisrael and Hashem than having a day of Atzeres where we stop and redirect our thoughts towards Hashem while he does the same towards us.
As we get closer and closer to Shavuos, we are working to get to a level of Kabbalas Hatorah, Acceptance of the Torah, culminating in our celebration on Shavuos. As we prepare ourselves, we must keep in mind that Shavuos is also the day of עצרת, the day where we re-direct and re-commit our thoughts to serving Hashem. Putting all this together, it comes out that Shavuos is one of the most important days of the year! We re-accept the Torah, gather our thoughts back towards Hashem, and Hashem makes an extra commitment towards us, all in one day! If we can prepare ourselves properly for this upcoming Chag, there is no telling how much we can accomplish.
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