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Torah Sparks

July 14, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Num. 25:10-30:1; Hertz Chumash, p. 686.
Triennial Cycle III: Num. 28:16-30:1; Hertz Chumash, p. 695
Haftarah: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3; Hertz Chumash, p. 699

(Num. 25:7-18) Pinhas is rewarded for his quick action, killing an Israelite who was consorting with a Midianite woman and worshipping Baal. He and his descendants after him will be the High Priest. The Midianites are condemned as enemies of the Jewish people.

(26:1-65) The second census, prior to occupying the Promised Land. God tells Moses how the land will be distributed; the location of the tribe's territory will be determined by drawing lots, but the size will be according to the size of the tribe. The Levite clans are listed separately because they did not receive a portion of the land.

(27:1-11) The daughters of Zelophchad want to inherit his portion of the land, for he left no sons. God agrees that they may inherit.

(27:12-23) Joshua is appointed to succeed Moses as leader of the people after Moses' death.

(28:1-15) The daily sacrifices offered on behalf of the community; the additional (musaf) sacrifices offered on Shabbat and on Rosh Hodesh.

(28:16-30:1) The additional sacrifices offered on Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. This section provides the maftir readings for all the festivals, and passages from it are also included in the Musaf Amidah, which takes its name from these Musaf sacrifices.

Theme 1: Festival Daze

In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, there shall be a passover sacrifice to the Lord, and on the fifteenth day of that month a festival. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. (Numbers 28:16-17)

  1. Rabbi Zera said: Logic supports Rabbi Assi; for we are now well acquainted with the fixing of the new moon and, nevertheless we do observe two days. Abaye said: Logic supports Rab for we have learned: In early times they used to light bonfires, but on account of the mischief of the Samaritans the Rabbis ordained that messengers should go forth. Now if the mischief of the Samaritans ceased we would all observe only one day. But now that we are well acquainted with the fixing of the new moon, why do we observe two days? Because they sent word from there (Palestine) "Give heed to the customs of your ancestors which have come down to you; for it might happen that the government might issue a decree (that all books be destroyed and the method of calculation would be lost) and it will cause confusion in the ritual. (Talmud, Betzah 4b)
  2. The question has arisen in recent times whether there is still sufficient reason to retain the second day. Would it not be hypothetically possible to restore the original way of determining the calendar? A court in Jerusalem could declare the beginning of the new month, and with modern means of communication, the news could soon be flashed to the entire world. Or perhaps we could rely completely on the fixed calendar, since the fear expressed in the Talmud would not apply today... the practical considerations are economic and social. However, if a change is to be made, it would be unwise to do it unilaterally (see the responsum of Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal in the archives of the Committee on Law and Standards). It is suggested, however, that the second day should not be a mere repetition of the first, but should be given special significance. (Isaac Klein; A Guide to Religious Jewish Practice; p. 101)

Discussion Sparks:

Why do we have eight days of Pesah when the Torah only commands seven? What purpose did the extra day serve in ancient times? Does it serve any real purpose today? Should a change of this caliber be made unilaterally by the Conservative movement or should we wait (for how long?) for the Orthodox movement to join us in the change? Does modern mass communication make the second day of a Festival obsolete?

Theme 2: The Water Libation and Joy

And their drink offerings... (verse 19)
And the drink offerings thereof... (verse 31)
And their drink offerings... (verse 33) (All from Numbers 29)

Note the changes in the Hebrew spelling of "drink offerings" in these verses.

  1. The three verses (above) contain the letters "mem" "yod" and "mem" and thus spell the word, "mayim" (water) This is an allusion to the pouring of water derived from the Bible, during the Festival of Sukkot. (Rashi on 28:18)
  2. The ceremony (of the pouring of water) that was performed on Sukkot is hinted at in the spelling of the word "unisacheha" which is found in the description of the Temple service for the sixth day of the holiday... Everything is a gift from Hashem, and we must properly appreciate the value of these gifts by recognizing that Hashem Yisbarach gave them to us, and thanking Him for them. This is the message of the drawing of the water. We must feel an appreciation even for water, which Hashem has granted to us in great abundance because of the great need for it. Although water is usually abundant and easily available, we cannot belittle the importance and value of water. Therefore we pour three login (approximately one and an half quarts) of water on the Altar with greatest joy to remind us that the importance of water is not diminished because of its ready availability... this is the lesson of the drawing of water. To properly appreciate this lesson and fix it in our minds, we prepare for the final seal of the judgment by performing the ceremony the day before Hoshana Rabba, the sixth day of Sukkot, and then perform the ceremony once again on Hoshana Rabbah itself. (Moshe Feinstein; Darash Moshe Vol. 2; p. 209-210)

Discussion Sparks:

According to the Talmud (Sukkot Chapter 5) "He who has not seen the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing has never in his life seen true rejoicing." Have you ever heard of this celebration (Simhat Beit Hasho'evah) before? Compared to most other religious approaches, would you say that Judaism emphasizes joy more than they do?

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