Ari Sacher

“When to celebrate” Parashat Emor 5784

The holidays of Passover and Sukkot are as different as can be. On Passover, we eat matzo and drink four cups of wine while on Sukkot, we sit in a sukkah and wave a lulav. Nevertheless, the motivation for the two holidays is more similar than one might think. Passover celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. Sukkot celebrates the same thing [Vayikra 23:42-43]: “For a seven-day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths, in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt.” Sukkot, like Passover, celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. Why do we celebrate the same event twice?

In an earlier essay[1], we suggested that Passover commemorates the change in status from slaves to free men while Sukkot celebrates G-d’s continual protection of the Jewish People during their sojourn in the desert after the exodus: “[Passover] celebrates the actual leaving of Egypt. Sukkot celebrates a new existence after leaving Egypt.” Be that as it may, the two holidays should still fall at the same time of the year – during the Hebrew month of Nissan. Some deconfliction would be required, so that the two holidays would not fall on the same days[2], but why is Sukkot pushed all the way to the fall?

This question is asked by Rabbi Jacob ben Asher[3] in his monumental Tur [Ohr haChaim 525]. He bases his answer on the premise that we sit in a Sukkah to recognize the great miracles that G-d performed in the desert. Were we to leave our homes to sit in a hut during the month of Nissan, which falls in the spring, we would be no different than everybody else who is also heading outdoors to take in some spring air after a long winter cloistered indoors. And so Sukkot is celebrated in the month of Tishrei in the fall, at the onset of the rainy season. While the rest of the world is moving back indoors to prepare for the winter, Jews leave their homes to spend some quality time with the Divine.

The explanation of the Tur is by far the most well-known explanation as to why Sukkot is celebrated in the fall. A lesser-known explanation is proposed by the Vilna Gaon[4]. The Gaon asks why would we have thought that G-d would not have protected the Jewish people in the desert. He points to the episode of the Golden Calf (egel) and the ensuing punishment in which G-d tells Moshe that He will no longer offer personal protection to the Jewish people but, rather, will from now on work through an agent [Shemot 23:20]: “Behold I will send an angel before you to protect you on the way.” Eventually, G-d agrees to return His Presence in the form of the Tabernacle (Mishkan). The Vilna Gaon performs some calculations using a number of verses from scripture and a few comment made by our Sages in the Midrash that Moshe came down Mount Sinai the second time on Yom Kippur in order to prove that work began on the Mishkan on the fifteenth day of Tishrei, which just happens to coincide with the first day of Sukkot. The Gaon concludes, “For this reason G-d commanded us to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot on the fifteenth day of Tishrei because on that day we merited sitting under the Wings of the Divine Presence.”

There is one glaring hole in the explanation of the Vilna Gaon. While work on the Mishkan might have begun in Tishrei, the Mishkan was not completed until the first day of Nissan. On that day, a fire came down from heaven, and G-d’s Divine Spirit entered the Holy of Holies and came to rest on top of the Ark of the Covenant. If, according to the Vilna Gaon, Sukkot celebrates the return of G-d’s Presence, then Sukkot still should have been celebrated in Nissan – not immediately after Pesach, but immediately before it.

A comment made by the Rashbam[5] can give us some traction. Sukkot has a dual identity. On the one hand, it has an historical significance, celebrating G-d’s protection of the Jewish people. Simultaneously, it has an agricultural significance, celebrating the gathering of produce from the field. The Rashbam points to a tension between the proximity of Sukkot to the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: “Even though both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are primarily designed to help the people achieve atonement for their sins and their being remembered favorably by G-d, Sukkot is for enjoyment and giving thanks to G-d for having enabled them to fill their barns with good produce at the end of the harvest season.” While Yom Kippur ends with a cathartic feeling of joy and a sense of security that our sins have been pardoned, we do not know for certain if we have achieved atonement. We have no idea what the next year holds. We do not know “Who shall live and who shall die?” Less than two weeks after this past Yom Kippur, the worst massacre since the Holocaust was carried out against the Jewish people. Did we act properly when we celebrated on Sukkot? The Rashbam would say “yes.” We must thank G-d for what we have even though we do not know what will be. The Vilna Gaon would assert that the opposite is equally true: we must thank G-d for what will be, even though we are not yet there. G-d’s promise that He will rest His Divine Presence upon us is sufficient cause for celebration.

I write these words one day before Independence Day. Should we even celebrate Independence Day at all this year? This is the question that was asked by Rotem Izak in an Op-Ed last week in “Yediot Achronot,” Israel’s most popular newspaper. She writes, “On this Independence Day, there is really no reason to celebrate. A ceremony without an audience, entire settlements without residents, hundreds of newly bereaved families next to families whose loved ones are dying in captivity. Celebration is not always strength.” Izak raises some difficult questions and so I waited for the weekend edition of “Makor Rishon” – a newspaper that appeals to the more politically conservative and religiously Orthodox – to see what it would have to say about the issue. The answer: Absolutely nothing. There was not a single Op-Ed that even accidentally touched upon the issue. Instead, “Makor Rishon” chose to place a very different Op-Ed on its front page. Written by Naama Lupo, the Op-Ed is called “Between the Generation of 1948 and the Generation of 2024.” Here is what she had to say: “There is a span of three generations between 1948 and 2024: the Generation of the Founders, the Generation of the Builders, and the Generation of Rebirth… The Generation of the Founders is tied in our memory to the moment of declaring independence… The Generation of the Builders is tied in our memory to dozens of moments of victory: cultural flowering, wars, political upheavals, and economic successes. This was also the generation that solidified our sovereignty. But the Generation of Rebirth we’d never met until recently… After the death and the attacks, this is the generation that revived Israel’s spirit, that reminded us what real power is. In the midst of the darkness that followed the horrors, this generation shined light. It left behind families, children and careers, work and peaceful lives, and went out to defend our home and in order to defeat the enemy. This is the generation that lost friends, evacuated wounded, paid shiva calls – and pressed on. This generation was filled with feelings of guilt, believing it could have done more… This is the generation that transcended the divisions in the people, could tell the difference between what really mattered and what didn’t, between holy and profane. This is the generation that is now promising that we are here, and that we’re not going anywhere… This is not an optimistic column. The divisions in the people are still here. The hostages are still living in hell on earth, and even victory on the battlefield, at least for the moment, is not certain. We’re going to be caring for the wounded for as long as the eye can see, but at least we will know that there arose here a generation in which we can trust. That on the day that we will no longer be alive, there will be those who will guide Israel with confidence. Between 1948 and 2024 span three generations. On this year’s Memorial Day and Independence Day, it is the Generation of Rebirth that is illuminating the path for us. That generation is Israel. And we, all of Israel, are casting our eyes on it.

The reason the editors at Makor Rishon did not consider not celebrating Independence Day this year is because it sees Israel very differently than the editors at Yediot Achronot. Yediot still sees Israel as the Generation of the Builders while Makor Rishon sees it as the Generation of Rebirth. As the Generation of Rebirth, we believe that Israeli sovereignty cannot be measured merely by the results on the battlefield. After two thousand years of exile, Israeli sovereignty is nothing less than a modern-day miracle. To look at today without looking at the context of the past two thousand years and of the next two thousand years will lead to despair. Make no mistake: The ingathering of the exiles from the four corners of the earth, the greening of the desert, the startup nation – these are not the end goals. They are markers, signposts along the way to something that is much greater than ourselves. Each day we take another step down that path.

My son put it very succinctly. The extent of the massacre of October 7 was mind-boggling in two ways: First, how did thousands of Hamas terrorists manage to breach an “impenetrable” wall? Second, why did it take so long – in some cases, more than a day – for the IDF to send troops into the embattled towns and kibbutzim on the Gazan border? Why didn’t they send attack helicopters to shoot at the mob as they stormed in? Why didn’t they send a tank battalion to rescue our citizens? In short, we asked, where was the IDF? My son reminded me that in World War II, in the fires of Auschwitz and in the battle for the Warsaw Ghetto, no Jew was able to ask, “Where was the IDF?” To live in a world in which the Jewish people have the ability defend themselves and their country, and to fight for their own future, is a cause for great celebration.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5784

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Sheindel Devorah bat Rina and Esther Sharon bat Chana Raizel

[1] Sukkot 5761

[2] Sukkot could conceivably be celebrated immediately after Pesach, when the Jewish people crossed the Reed Sea and entered the Desert of Shur.

[3] Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, known as the “Ba’al Ha’Turim,” lived in Germany and Spain around the turn of the 14th century.

[4] Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon, lived in Vilnius, Lithuania, in the 18th century, The explanation is brought by Rabbi Gershon ben Abraham, the nephew of the Vilna Gaon, in “Avodat HeGershuni” on Song of Songs [3:4].

[5] Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, known by his acronym “Rashbam,” was the grandson of Rashi, and lived in France in the 12th century.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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