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Torah Sparks

May 8, 2004 - 17 Iyar 5764

Annual: Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23 (Etz Hayim, p. 717; Hertz p. 513)
Triennial Cycle: Leviticus 23:23 - 24:23 (Etz Hayim p. 727; Hertz p. 522)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15 - 31 (Etz Hayim p. 734; Hertz p. 528)

Prepared by Rabbi Jodie Futornick
McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Crystal Lake, IL

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


Laws governing Priestly behavior and the observance of Holy Days.

Triennial I (Lev. 21:1 - 22: 16):

Kohanim must not come in contact with a corpse, or shave smooth any portion of their heads, nor marry a divorced woman. A kohayn with a physical defect may not offer sacrifices.

Triennial II (Lev. 22: 17 - 23:22):

No blemished animal may be offered on the altar. An animal must be at least eight days old before it may be sacrificed. Also, a mother and her young may both be sacrificed on the same day. The beginnings of the sacred calendar are outlined: The weekly Shabbat day of rest, followed by the descriptions of Passover, the seven-week counting of the Omer, and the first fruit harvest of Shavuot.

Triennial III (Lev. 23:23 - 24:23):

The festival calendar continues: The first day of the seventh month, which today we observe as Rosh Hashanah, was to be a special day of convocation. The tenth day of that month is Yom Kippur, followed soon after by Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret, the eighth day of solemn assembly. Moses reminds the people to bring oil to light the Menorah. The portion concludes with the stoning death of a blasphemer, and the universal proclamation that the penalty for blasphemy will be death by stoning.

Topic 1: The Timing of the Jewish New Year

The Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. Mark, the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 23:23-27)

  1. In the commentary on Leviticus in The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Bamberger speculates that the atonement rites of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were originally part of the harvest festival of Sukkot and marked the beginning of the economic year because this was when the harvest was taken to be sold at market. Perhaps this is the reason the Torah does not mention the name Rosh Hashanah (which means the beginning of the year) for the new-year festival, but calls it simply Yom Teruah - the Day of Sounding of the Shofar. The holiday is not called Rosh Hashanah until Ezekiel 40:1, circa 593 B.C.E. As with many other holidays mentioned in the Torah, Rosh Hashanah evolved from the changing Jewish experience. It was not until the time of the Mishnah (circa 200 C.E.) that one particular Rosh Hashanah assumed prominence as the anniversary of the Creation and the onset of the Ten Days of Repentance. (From Teaching Torah, by Sorel Goldberg Loeb and Barbara Binder Kadden, p. 164)
  2. Formulating and formalizing the Days of Awe took almost a millennium and a half. In time, practices once connected only to the priests and the Temple became part of the observance of the entire people. Specific communal rituals and prayers centering on the synagogue supplanted both individual observance and Temple ceremonials. Discrete days originally important because of their attachment to the agricultural festivals, to conception of God's enthronement, and to a ritual of purification eventually became a constellation of days during which the Jewish people prepared for judgment, prayed for forgiveness, and purified themselves from sin and error. Thus the New Year became a time for a new beginning. (From Rabbi Reuven Hammer, Entering the High Holy Days, Jewish Publication Society 1998, page 20)

Questions for Discussion

  1. What a wonderful testimony to the flexibility of Jewish law and tradition that even our holiest days have adapted and evolved over time. Can you think of some of our other holy seasons that have taken on multiple significances over the course of Jewish history? As one example, Shabbat has evolved into a day when we not only remember God's rest on the seventh day of Creation we also use the occasion to celebrate the Exodus from Egypt. There are many other examples of this expansive nature of our ritual, as well as contemporary observances that have been added to commemorate contemporary events (e.g. Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day). The Jewish calendar provides an excellent example of a piece of our culture that retains many ancient traditions while remaining open to expansion and innovation. How does this type of dynamic calendar contribute to the relevance of our ancient tradition?

Topic 2: How seriously should we take guilt?

Anyone who blasphemes God shall bear his guilt. (Leviticus 24:15)

  1. It is difficult to be free of guilt. Perhaps we never should be completely free of it, especially if it keeps us acting responsibly. We sinned. A lot. And we are responsible for what we did. Don't let the guilt drag you down. Let it be an impetus to raise you up. (From Renewed Each Day, Volume 2, by Rabbi Kerry Glitzy and Aaron Z. page 54)
  2. For Ad-nai will not clear one who uses the name in vain. What sort of penalty is this? Only this utterance and the one against idolatry mention a punishment. Why? Because taking God's name in vain often escapes the notice of humanity. You may think you are off the hook, but here is a Judge you cannot deceive, and who believes that what you say matters. (Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kremer, in Broken Tablets: Restoring the Ten Commandments and Ourselves, edited by Rachel Mikveh, Jewish Lights Publishing 1999, page 29)

Questions for Discussion

  1. How ironic to be studying a section on guilt immediately following a discussion of theobservance of the High Holy Days. Over the years, both humorous and serious stories about Jewish guilt have become a hallmark of our tradition. This verse and commentaries come to teach us that guilt is not exclusively a negative quality. When people acknowledge their wrongdoings publicly, before both humanity and God, it is actually a liberating experience that frees us to put the guilty feelings behind us and move forward. What has your guilt inspired/caused you to do? If these verses teach us that guilt can indeed be positive and transformative is it okay to make someone feel guilty? Does guilt operate similarly on a community or historical level?

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