According to Leviticus 23, the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot, including Shmini Atzeret) lasts for eight days. Creative labor, however, is prohibited only on the first and the eighth days. Why then will Jews around the world (except in Israel) celebrate the first two days and the eighth and ninth days as festival days, refraining from creative labor?
Shortly after the Israelites encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, they agreed to accept the Torah and do all that God had commanded. And so, God declared that He would bring Himself, in the form of a thick cloud, close to the people, that they might hear Him speak. First, however, God instructed Moses that the people must prepare themselves.
On the first day of Sivan in the year 2448 (Jewish calendar), only seven weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites reached the Wilderness of Sinai. On the desert plain around the mountain, they set up camp and watched as Moses set off toward the mountain to hear God’s will.
There is an oft-cited Midrash (Sifrei, Dvarim 343) describing how God offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. According to this Midrash, the first nation to whom He offered the Torah asked what was in it. When God told them about the law prohibiting stealing, they couldn’t fathom a life without theft. The next nation reacted incredulously to the prohibition of adultery; they were horrified at the idea that God would monitor people’s bedroom behavior! Another nation was unable to accept the prohibition of murder, and so on. When God asked the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah, there were no questions. They declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma” (“We will do and we will listen”).
The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs.
Shavuot, which we begin celebrating Saturday night (May 26th), is the only holiday in the Torah not listed by the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah teaches that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer). The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.
In 1947, when the United Nations approved the plan to partition the British Mandate of Israel into a Jewish state and an Arab state, they determined that Jerusalem would be an “international city” for a period of ten years. The plan was approved by the Jews, and the day after it came into effect, the new state was attacked by the surrounding Arab states (as the Arabs had not accepted the partition plan).
“Our Rabbis taught: Seven things are hidden from men… the day of death, and the day of comfort, the depth [extent] of judgment; and man does not know what is in his neighbor’s heart; from what will he earn [a living]; and when the Davidic dynasty will return; and when the wicked kingdom will come to an end” (Pesachim 54b).
Pikei Avot is commonly translated as Ethics of Our Fathers because many of its statements focus on ethical behavior. For those striving to be ethical, “Nittai the Arbelite says: Keep far from an evil neighbor, do not associate with a wicked man, and do not abandon the belief in retribution” (1:7).
May is Jewish American Heritage Month. At first glance, a discussion of the Soviet Jewry Movement may seem like an odd choice for Jewish American history, but the movement had a powerful effect on the American Jewish community.