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Sabbath and Festivals

Emor (Leviticus 21-24 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

Chapter 23 in this week's parsha discusses the festivals of the year.

Leviticus 23:3

"Six days shall work be performed and on the seventh day it is a Sabbath of resting, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work. It is a Sabbath for Hashem in all your dwelling places."



Six days - RASHI: What is the connection between the Sabbath and the festivals? To teach you that whoever profanes the festivals is considered as though he profaned the Sabbath and whoever keeps the festivals is considered as though he kept the Sabbaths.



In this Rashi-comment, there is no need to search for what is bothering Rashi. He says so himself when he asks "What is the connection between the Sabbath and the festivals?" This section begins with the verse "These are the appointed times of Hashem which you shall proclaim them as holy assemblies; these are My appointed times." Clearly this section is speaking of the festivals (i.e."the appointed times"), why then is the Sabbath mentioned?



Both the Sabbath and the seven festivals of the year (which are discussed further on in this Chapter 23) entail prohibitions regarding work. The Sabbath is stricter; no work (as defined by the Sages) may be done on the Sabbath. On festivals, on the other hand, preparing food is permissible. Also the punishments for the two categories differ. Sabbath desecration is punishable by death while the festival desecration is punishable with lashes. There is another difference between the Sabbath and the festivals. The Sabbath is a fixed day in the calendar – every seven days since Creation has been the Sabbath. The festivals, on the other hand, are dates in the month and these depend on the Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the month. Rosh Chodesh itself is determined by the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem. It can be on the 30th day from the prior Rosh Chodesh or the 31st day. So, the exact day on which the festival falls out is ultimately determined each year by the Rabbinical court. That is, it is man-made, so to speak, as opposed to the Sabbath which God made.

Now we can question Rashi's comment.

Your Question:



A Question: How can Rashi say "whoever profanes the festivals is considered as though he profaned the Sabbath, etc."? Certainly profaning the Sabbath is much worse than profaning the festivals, as can be seen by the different punishments.

A difficult question.

Your Answer:

An Answer: Perhaps the message is that while in fact desecration of the festival is not as severe as desecration of the Sabbath, yet it is "considered as if one profaned the Sabbath" because obeying the legal opinions of the Rabbis – in this case, observing the festival on the day the Rabbis determined - is itself God's will.



This is a basic and profound principle in Judaism. Basic, because it places the decisions of the Sages as central to the form and practice of Judaism. Profound because it shows that Torah observance is ultimately determined by laws created by a partnership between man and God.

Several times in the Talmud this is elucidated and emphasized. There is a dramatic case where (Talmud Rosh Hashanah 25a) Rabbis Yehoshua and Rabbi Gamliel disagreed as to when the new moon appeared in the Month of Tishrei (when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall out). Rabbi Gamliel, being the leader, the Nasi, required Rabbi Yehoshua, who was on the Beit Din of Jerusalem, to come to him with his money and his walking stick on the day that was, according to Rabbi Yehoshua, Yom Kippur. Rabbi Akiva explained to the greatly distressed Rabbi Yehoshua, that if Rabbi Gamaliel so determined it, it would be no transgression of Yom Kippur. He cited our verse to show that the Rabbi's determination decides which day is actually Yom Kippur.

The fact that observing the legal decisions of the Sages is actually God's will, is taught to us by a another dramatic Tamudic passage in Babba Metzia (59b). There we find that Rabbi Eliezer differed with his colleagues in a legal matter. He brought miracles and even a Bat Kol ( a voice from Heaven) to support his point. Nevertheless, the law was determined against him by the majority rule in the Court. Since Rabbi Eliezer had support from a voice from Heaven, it would seem that the Sages who disagreed with him were disagreeing with God Himself! The Talmud concludes that episode by saying that God rejoiced that day saying, "My sons have been victorious over Me. My sons have been victorious over Me!"

These two passages clearly show the unique partnership between God and His sages in determining Jewish practice – including the festival laws.

This is what Rashi is teaching us. Observing the festivals - determined by the Rabbis – is equal to observing the Sabbath – which is determined by God. This is precisely because God ordered us to obey the Sages' decisions, even when they seem to go against God's own opinion.

This too is the meaning of the Blessings we say in the Shemoneh Esrei on the Sabbath and on the festivals. On the Sabbath we say, "Blessed are You Hashem who sanctified the Sabbath," because God is the one who determines when the Sabbath is. On the other hand, on the festival we say "Blessed are You, Hashem, Who sanctified Israel and the festivals." First Israel, meaning its Sages, were sanctified by God and then in turn they sanctified the Festivals.


Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek

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