By Norman Green, August 27, 2022

Our Festival Calendar

It is now Elul, and the Tishrei holidays are looming. So, of course, we’re going to look at the most important holiday of all, Passover.

Chapter 16 of Deuteronomy starts with a 15-verse listing of our Festivals and the principal laws and customs associated with them. This is followed by a two-verse recap that closely parallels the first comprehensive calendar-listing of Jewish holidays in the Torah, which is found in Mishpatim (Exodus Chapter 23):

“Three times a year you shall hold a festival for Me:

You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread—eating unleavened bread for seven days as I have commanded you—at the set time in the month of Abib, for in it you went forth from Egypt; and none shall appear before Me empty-handed; and the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the field.

Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Sovereign, יהוה.”

The two-verse summary in today’s reading opens with almost the same words as the last verse in Exodus:

“Three times a year—on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Booths—all your males shall appear before your God יהוה in the place that [God] will choose. They shall not appear before יהוה empty-handed, but each with his own gift, according to the blessing that your God יהוה has bestowed upon you.”

An obvious principal difference is that in Exodus God is called HaAdon Adonoy, while in Deuteronomy He is called Adonoy Eloheichoh, which is normal for Deuteronomy.

More important, Deuteronomy adds that the appearance before the Holy One, Boruch Hu, is to be “in the place that He will choose,” in other words, at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Both of them refer to the first holiday as Chag HaMatsos.

But the holiday called Chag Hakatzir, Harvest Festival, in Exodus, is called Shavuos in Deuteronomy. And what Exodus calls Chag Ha Asif, is called Sukkos in Deuteronomy; this reflects that the one in Deuteronomy is more recent. Both versions require that the participants not appear empty-handed. And while both versions call the first holiday Chag HaMatsos, only Exodus specifies that we are required to eat Matzos for all seven days. However, that rule is repeated twice in the earlier parts of Deuteronomy Chapter 16.

While this two-verse summary continues the Exodus name, Chag HaMatzos, the preceding portion of the chapter does spend eight verses on Pesach. You can find them on page 1081-1083 of your Chumash.

Hebrew University Professor Emeritus Shimon Gesundheit asserts that the interweaving of rules about the Pesach sacrifice with rules requiring the eating of Matzos and banning of Chametz shows that they were combined rather artificially:

Verses 1 and 2 deal with the month of Aviv and the Pesach sacrifice;

Verses 3, and 4 command us to eat matzoh and abandon chametz;

Verses 5, 6, and 7 tell us where  and  where not to sacrifice and to eat the Pesach sacrifice;

and Verse 8 repeats the command to eat matzoh throughout the week and adds the full festival day at the end of it, which can be observed at home.

The five verses about the Pesach sacrifice mention Adonoy Elohechoh no less than five times; the middle two do not mention Him at all. Adonoy Eloheichoh is named at the very end of Verse 8 in connection with the closing Festival day.

Documentary theorists believe that the Pesach offering was originally tied closely to the required sacrifices of first-borns, and that the relatively lengthy calendar of holidays in the first part of Chapter 16 was added long after the two-verse summary at its end.

Part of the reason for combining the Pesach and Matsos holidays may be that the descriptions of when they come are identical. It also may be related to the term used to describe their observance, Sh’mor, observe or keep. The first line of Chapter 16 starts, Es Chag HaMatzos tish’mor. And the Exodus listing also has that exact same language.

Der Herr Doctor Professor Minister Reinhard Kratz of the University of Gottingen suggests that the timing and explanation of the two festivals, Pesach and Matsos, may be because they were directed at two different populations. Springtime is when herdsmen have new, first-born lambs and other animals available to sacrifice. It is also when new grain becomes available and growers want to clear out the remainder of their old grain to make way and celebrate the new harvest. So, with simultaneous holidays, when the farmers and the ranchers converge on Jerusalem, all they need is a little Chreyn to make an important feast.

The Torah text, jumping back and forth between the two topics, Pesach Sacrifice and consumption of matzoh, symbolizes the combining of the two traditional holy days into the one complicated and intricate festival that we observe and keep every Spring.

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