A large part of this week's parashah is devoted to the laws of
the festivals - Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Hakippurim. These laws are introduced by the verse, "G-d's
appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy
convocations." This verse teaches, the Gemara comments, that
"you" - the bet din - are to designate when the festivals will
occur. (This was done by hearing the testimony of the witnesses
who saw the new moon and declaring which day would be Rosh
Chodesh.) Even if the bet din were to miscalculate and declare
Rosh Chodesh to be on the wrong day - even if bet din were to
intentionally declare Rosh Chodesh on the wrong day - its
declaration would be binding.
This halachah is reflected in a number of Midrashim. They
record, for example, that the angels ask G-d, "When is Rosh
Hashanah?" "I do not know," G-d responds. "Let us all go down
to the bet din and see what they have decreed." This is
reflected also in our Yom Tov prayers, in which we recite the
blessing, "Who sanctifies Yisrael and the festivals." This
reflects the fact that G-d sanctifies Yisrael, and Yisrael
sanctifies the festivals. In contrast, the parallel blessing on
Shabbat is simply, "Who sanctifies the Shabbat." Yisrael is not
mentioned because we have no role in determining when Shabbat
R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l (1903-1993) notes that G-d has
literally given some of His dominion to us. Rosh Hashanah is the
day when He judges us, yet we decide when Rosh Hashanah will be!
In what other court system does the defendant enjoy that
privilege? This power of the Jewish people sheds light as well
on the Jewish view of kedushah / holiness, says R' Soloveitchik.
Kedushah is not some magical force that appears on its own; it is
something that we create through our deeds. Man can imbue time
with kedushah and man can imbue objects with kedushah. Without
our mitzvot, there would be no kedushah. (Divrei Hashkafah
"Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them, ` Mo'adei Hashem / G-
d's appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy
convocations, these are My appointed festivals. For six
days labor may be done, and the seventh day is a day of
complete rest, a holy convocation . . ."
Why does the Torah say that it will speak about the festivals,
but before doing so, it speaks about Shabbat? R' Aryeh Leib Zunz
z"l (Poland; died 3 Iyar 1833) answers:
Our Sages say that a person's annual budget is determined on
Rosh Hashanah except for what he spends in honor of Shabbat and
Yom Tov. The Arizal states that this is alluded to by the word
"mo'ed" / "appointed festival" (spelled "mem-vav-ayin-dalet").
Specifically, the gematria of the letters `vav-ayin-dalet' equals
twice `mem' -- indicating that a person's wealth will be
multiplied after he begins to honor the mo'ed. This, explains R'
Zunz, is why Shabbat had to be mentioned here, so that it too
would be considered a "mo'ed."
"In the seventh month, on the first of the month, there
shall be a rest day for you, a zichron / remembrance with
shofar blasts, a holy convocation." (23:24)
R' Yaakov Ba'al Ha'turim z"l (Spain; 14th century) writes: The
word "zichron" appears three times in the mesorah (i.e., the
traditional spelling of words in Tanach): here; in the verse
(Kohelet 1:11), "As there is no remembrance of the first ones . .
."; and in the verse (Kohelet 2:16), "For there is no comparison
between the remembrance of the wise man and of the fool at all .
R' Gavriel Ze'ev Margolis z"l (1848-1935; rabbi in Lithuania
and Boston) writes that this mesorah teaches the following
lesson: Our verse states that blowing the shofar will cause G-d
to remember us favorably. One might ask: Why won't G-d remember
us favorably in any case, in the merit of our ancestors? The
answer may be found in Chazal's teaching that the merit of prior
generations protects their descendants only when the later
generations follow in their ancestors' footsteps. In contrast,
blowing the shofar, which inspires repentance, causes G-d to
remember us favorably no matter what our deeds have been. Thus,
the mesorah may be read as a give-and-take, as follows:
"There shall be a rest day for you, a zichron / remembrance
with shofar blasts." Why are the shofar blasts necessary? "Is
there no remembrance of the first ones" - i.e., of the merits of
our ancestors?" The answer is, "No! For there is no comparison
between the remembrance of the wise man" - who follows in his
ancestors' footsteps and who will be protected by their merits -
"and of the fool" - who sins, and who will not be helped by the
merits of his ancestors.
"The son of an Israelite woman went out . . . The son of the
Israelite woman pronounced the Name and blasphemed . . ."
The Midrash asks: "From where did he go out? He left his
world." R' Pinchas Horowitz z"l (rabbi of Frankfurt, known as
the Hafla'ah; 1730-1805) explains: Commentaries ask how this
blasphemer could have been executed, since it is clear that he
was not warned. (A warning is a halachic prerequisite to
execution, yet the Torah is clear that before this incident
occurred, Bnei Yisrael did not even know what the punishment for
blasphemy was.) The answer is that a person may be executed if
he is warned that he will receive a harsher punishment then he
actually deserves, and he says, "Even so, I will sin." This
blasphemer was warned that he would forfeit his share in the
World to Come if he blasphemed, and he accepted that punishment.
"He left his world," as the Midrash says. Therefore, he could
receive the less harsh punishment of stoning.
"Rabbi Elazar Ha'modai says, `One who desecrates sacred
things, who disgraces the Festivals, who humiliates his
fellow in public, who nullifies the covenant of our
forefather Avraham, or who perverts the Torah [by
interpreting it] contrary to the halachah - though he may
have Torah and good deeds, he has no share in the World to
(Chapter 3, Mishnah 15)
R' Gedaliah Silverstone z"l (1871-1944; rabbi in Belfast,
Ireland and Washington, D.C.) writes that this mishnah is
speaking of talking in shul. Firstly, those who talk in shul
desecrate those holy places. On Shabbat and Festivals, when
children come to shul and see their fathers behaving thus, the
Shabbat and Festivals themselves end up being disgraced. What do
people discuss in shul? Much of it is lashon hara - humiliating
their fellows in public. The effect of all of this is to drive
people away from shul, with the result that those children
discard the covenant of the Patriarchs and pervert the Torah.
"He [Rabbi Akiva] used to say, `Everything is given on
collateral, and a net is spread over all the living. The
shop is open; the Merchant [G-d] extends credit; the ledger
is open; the hand writes; and whoever wishes to borrow, let
him come and borrow. The collectors make their rounds
constantly, every day, and collect payment from the person
whether he realizes it or not. They have proof to rely
upon; the judgment is a truthful judgment; and everything is
prepared for the banquet'."
(Chapter 3, Mishnah 20)
The "banquet" is a reference to the final reward after death.
Why is it called a banquet? R' Simcha of Vitry z"l (see below)
quotes R' Meshulam ben Klonimus of Rome z"l who explains that
just as at a banquet, each person is assigned a seat according to
his rank, so in Gan Eden, each person is given a "seat"
commensurate with his performance of mitzvot. In this light we
can understand the verse (Kohelet 12:5), "So man goes to his
eternal home." Each person has his own home in the World to Come
appropriate to what he accomplished during his life.
R' Simcha of Vitry z"l
R' Simcha ben Shmuel of Vitry was one of the outstanding
disciples of Rashi. R' Simcha's work, Machzor Vitry, records
many of the halachic decisions regarding prayer and other
subjects that he heard either directly from Rashi or from his (R'
Simcha's) colleague R' Shemariah in their teacher's name.
Machzor Vitry also cites rulings by earlier authorities including
R' Amram Gaon, R' Hai Gaon, Rabbeinu Gershom Me'or Hagolah and
R' Yitzchak Alfasi.
Together with the siddur of the aforementioned R' Amram Gaon,
Machzor Vitry is one of the foundations of our prayer-book. It
begins with the laws of prayer and berachot followed by the
Shabbat liturgy and the laws governing work on Shabbat. Another
section defines the 39 categories of prohibited labor on Shabbat.
The machzor also contains a commentary on Pirkei Avot, though
some attribute this to a different author. Other sections
discuss kashrut, family purity, tefilin, mezuzah and ethics.
Some aggadic sources, including quotations from the Jerusalem
Talmud, are not found in any other source. Many later halachic
works quote from Machzor Vitry.
R' Simcha's son, R' Shmuel, married Rashi's granddaughter
Miriam (daughter of R' Meir ben Shmuel and Rashi's daughter
Yocheved). Their son was the Tosafist R' Yitzchak of Dampierre,
commonly known as "Ri" or "Ri Hazaken."
R' Simcha died in the year 1105.
In Machzor Vitry, R' Simcha offers the following advice for one
who wishes to improve his concentration during his prayers:
Pronounce each word carefully, one word at a time, and
concentrate on the meanings of the words. Although the words
appear as many separate units that address many different
topics, they are all share one purpose.