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Every Holiday Commemorates the Exodus

May 4, 2015

The holidays are usually described as being in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. The holiday prayers and qiddushim always include the line “zecher l’tziyath miztrayim,” in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. While this is clear with regard to Passover and mentioned explicitly in our parasha with regard to Tabernacles (Leviticus 43:23), in what way are Pentecost, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur connected to the Exodus? What did our sages see? The answer I believe is in the s’michuth haparashiyoth, the connection between the chapter that discusses all the holidays, and the one that immediately precedes it. Leviticus Chapter 23 details all of the biblical holidays, and the last parasha of Chapter 22 describes a number of commandments related to the sacrifices, e.g., that only an animal at least eight days old may be offered, and that an animal may not be slaughtered on the same day as its parent, but then closes with a line which the commentators try to understand in context (22:26-33, 23:1-2):

And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying: When a bullock, or a sheep, or a goat, is born, then it shall be seven days with its mother… And you shall keep My commandments, and do them: I am the Lord. And you shall not profane My holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the Lord who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord.         And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: The appointed seasons of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My appointed seasons.

The sages noticed that the commandments to observe all of the holidays are preceded by this statement, and connected the two.

The parasha of T’tzawweh begins with following commandment (Exodus 27:20-21):

And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring unto you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall set it in order, to burn from evening to morning before the Lord; it shall be a statute forever throughout their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.

A similar command is found at the beginning of Parashath B’Haaloth’cha, and is read on Hanukka along with the 12 offerings of the tribal leaders brought at the dedication of the Tabernacle (Numbers 8:1-3):

And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying: “Speak unto Aaron, and say unto him: ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the candlestick.'” And Aaron did so: he lighted the lamps thereof so as to give light in front of the candlestick, as the Lord commanded Moses.

Rashi (ibid.) cites a Midrash which sheds light on why the commandment to light the menorah is repeated in Numbers:

When you light: Why is the portion dealing with the menorah juxtaposed to the portion dealing with the tribal leaders? For when Aaron saw the dedication [offerings] of the leaders, he felt distressed over not joining them in this dedication–neither he nor his tribe. So God said to him, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you will light and prepare the lamps.” – [Tanhuma B’ha’aloth’cha 3]

Rabbi Soloveichik connected this with the holiday of Hanukka. Years later the lighting of the menorah by the Aharonite priests which marked an even greater dedication of the sanctuary would be repeated by all Jews forever with the lighting of the Hanukka lights.

But Numbers is not the first place where the commandment of the menorah from Exodus is repeated (Leviticus 24:1-3):

And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying: Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. Outside the curtain of the testimony, in the tent of meeting, shall Aaron order it from evening to morning before the Lord continually; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations. He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the Lord continually.

This passage, in the original Hebrew, is almost identical to the passage from Exodus, and everything Rabbi Soloveichik said about the passage in Numbers can also be said about it. The commandment to once again have the priests light the menorah appearing immediately following the chapter of the holidays alludes to a future, extra-biblical holiday that would center around the lighting of the menorah.

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