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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Emor, Vayikra 23:36. Atzeres and Shavuos

In the Torah, two holidays are called Atzeres.  They are Shmini Atzeres, after Sukkos, as said here (Vayikra 23:36) and in Bamidbar (29:35), and the seventh day of Pesach, which is also called Atzeres (Devarim 16:8),  שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֹּאכַל מַצּוֹת וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עֲצֶרֶת לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה מְלָאכָה.  The only one of the three Regalim that is never called Atzeres in the Torah is Shavuos.  In Shas, however, the word Atzeres refers to one and only one holiday- Shavuos.  For example, (Pesachim 68b),
ר' אליעזר אומר אין לו לאדם בי"ט אלא או אוכל ושותה או יושב ושונה ר' יהושע אומר חלקהו חציו לאכילה ושתיה וחציו לבית המדרש וא"ר יוחנן ושניהם מקרא אחד דרשו כתוב אחד אומר (דברים טז) עצרת לה' אלהיך וכתוב אחד אומר (במדבר כט) עצרת תהיה לכם ר' אליעזר סבר או כולו לה' או כולו לכם ור' יהושע סבר חלקהו חציו לה' וחציו לכם:  א"ר אלעזר הכל מודים בעצרת דבעינן נמי לכם מ"ט יום שניתנה בו תורה הוא

So after citing two places in the Torah that mention Atzeres as referring to the end of Pesach and the day after Sukkos, Rebbi Eliezer uses the unmodified word 'Atzeres' as referring to Shavuos, which clearly demonstrates that in their parlance, the unmodified word refers specifically and unequivocally to Shavuos.
Two questions:

  • 1.  What did Chazal perceive in Shavuos that earned it the title 'Atzeres'?
  • 2.  Isn't it strange that davka the one Yomtov that's not called Atzeres in the Torah is the one that acquired, in Chazal's language, the sole use of the title, to the extent that it supplanted the other uses?  

The Ramban in our parsha (where the Torah calls the day after Sukkos Atzeres) addresses the first question- in what sense is Shavuos an 'Atzeres':
ועל דרך האמת כי ששת ימים עשה ה' את השמים ואת הארץ (שמות כ יא) ויום השביעי הוא שבת ואין לו בן זוג וכנסת ישראל היא בת זוגו שנאמר ואת הארץ והנה היא שמינית "עצרת היא" כי שם נעצר הכל וצוה בחג המצות שבעה ימים בקדושה לפניהם ולאחריהם כי כולם קדושים ובתוכם ה' ומנה ממנו תשעה וארבעים יום שבעה שבועות כימי עולם וקדש יום שמיני כשמיני של חג והימים הספורים בינתים כחולו של מועד בין הראשון והשמיני בחג והוא יום מתן תורה שהראם בו את אשו הגדולה ודבריו שמעו מתוך האש ולכך יקראו רבותינו ז"ל בכל מקום חג השבועות עצרת כי הוא כיום שמיני של חג שקראו הכתוב כן וזהו מאמרם (חגיגה יז) שמיני רגל בפני עצמו הוא לענין פז"ר קש"ב ותשלומין דראשון הוא כי הוא אצילות הראשונים ואינו כאחדות שלהם ולכך יזכיר בפרשת כל הבכור (דברים טז טו) בשלש רגלים חג המצות וחג השבועות וחג הסוכות שבעת ימים ולא יזכיר השמיני כי שם אמר יראה כל זכורך וגו' והנה זה מבואר

The Ramban explains that the Torah tells us to count seven weeks after Shavuos, viewing each week as a day, and those weeks/days are a type of Chol Hamoed between the first week/day (Pesach) and the last and eighth day (Shavuos), the day the Torah was given.  This is why Chazal call Shavuos "Atzeres," because it is like the eighth day of the holiday (Pesach) and so it can be thought of as an Atzeres.  The Atzeres is the refinement and perfection of the holiday it follows.

This explains why Chazal thought of Shavuos as an Atzeres.  But the second question remains, and another question arises: 
  • 2.  Even if you do use the term, why supplant the other uses?
  • 3.  The Torah already gives Pesach its Atzeres- the seventh day of Pesach is called Atzeres.  Why give Pesach another Atzeres?

Psachim 116a
  מתחיל בגנות ומסיים בשבח:  מאי בגנות רב אמר מתחלה עובדי עבודת גלולים  היו אבותינו ושמואל אמר עבדים היינו

The Hagada is begins with a description of the degraded state of our ancestors, and leads up to their redemption.  What 'degradation' is meant?  Rav- that they worshiped idols.  Shmuel- that they were slaves.
To commemorate our redemption from Egypt, Rav and Shmuel emphasize different aspects of the Geula.  Rav says that the primary focus of the Hagada is the redemption from the spiritual debasement of paganism, and Shmuel says that the Hagada should emphasize the deliverance from the brutal horrors of slavery.

The Ramban has told us that Atzeres is the day that the promise of the holiday is fulfilled, that its potential is realized.  Certainly, the Torah talks of the physical degradation and existential danger we faced in Mitzrayim, and the redemption of leaving Mitzrayim saved us from those horrors.  The process thus begun culminated seven days later in the Splitting of the Sea  This is the Atzeres of Pesach, the day that the redemption that began with leaving Egypt, was made absolute by the destruction of the Egyptian pursuers and the unhindered movement towards Eretz Yisrael that began at that point.  This is consistent with Shmuel's idea of the focus of Pesach.  But Rav says that we should think of Yetzias Mitzrayim as a spiritual redemption, as being freed from paganism and spiritual blindness- (Avos 6:8) "והלוחות מעשה אלהים המה והמכתב מכתב אלהים הוא חרות על הלוחות אלתקרא חרות אלא חירות שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה"  Only he who learns Torah is truly free.  According to Shmuel, the culmination of Pesach is Krias Yam Suf.  According to Rav, the trajectory that was begun with Yetzias Mitzrayim reaches its target in Matan Torah; the culmination of Pesach, the apogee that is apparent only to those that make Torah the center of their lives, the Osek BaTorah, is Matan Torah.  For those people, the Atzeres of Pesach is Shavuos.

Not only is Shavuos an Atzeres, it is The Atzeres par excellence.  As Rebbi Eliezer says,  brought above, from Psachim 68b, א"ר אלעזר הכל מודים בעצרת דבעינן נמי לכם מ"ט יום שניתנה בו תורה הוא  :  Among all the yamim tovim, Shavuos deserves complete physical and spiritual rejoicing, because it is the ultimate of geulos and the apex of our national existence.

So why, as Micha asks, does the Torah wait for Chazal to introduce the novel appellation for Shavuos?  Because only from the perspective of a Torah completed by Torah SheBa'al Peh can we say that Matan Torah culminated our spiritual redemption.  We find that the Torah SheBichsav sometimes has a perspective, e.g., yad tachas yad, arba'im yakenu, which is clarified by our Chachamim through Torah SheBaal Peh.  Here, too.  The Torah SheBichsav focuses on the nationalist, on the physical aspect of the Geula.  Only through a Torah comprising Torah SheBichsav and Torah SheBa'al Peh can we say that our spiritual redemption is what made us into true Bnei Chorin.

In short: Shmuel holds that the ikkar sippur of the Geula was our escape from misery and death, and our transformation from a miserable horde into a proud and confident nation.  Rav holds that ikkar of the sippur is our transformation from pagans into malachim, from a people engrossed with their physical desires and superstitions into a truly free people enraptured by spiritual growth.  Shmuel's version of the redemption was finalized at Krias Yam Suf, so the seventh day of Pesach is the realization of the potential of Yetzias Mitzrayim.  Rav's version of the redemption was finalized at Har Sinai, so Shavuos is the realization of the potential of Yetzias Mitzrayim.  Torah SheBichsav expresses Shmuel's idea; Torah SheBaal Peh voices Rav's.

From Harav Moshe Jofen, Rosh Yeshivas Novardok/Beis Yosef in Flatbush.


micha said...

So now, the reverse question: If Pesach only finds its culmination in Shavuos, why does the Torah refer to the 7th day of Pesach as Atzeres rather than using the term for Shavuos? If it's such a great idea, why did it have to wait for Chazal?


b said...

Thank you, Micha. I edited the post to address your he'ara.

It's true, I write like Lord Carnarvon. I open the door and see the marvelous treasure, and the thrill of discovery makes me forget to pick up each piece and analyze it.

Tal Benschar said...

א"ר אלעזר הכל מודים בעצרת דבעינן נמי לכם מ"ט יום שניתנה בו תורה הוא

Side question. Why does R. Elazar say that on Shavuos "hakol modim" that one needs also lachem. Acc. to R. Eliezer, there is a chiddush that even though normally Yom Tov can be spent all in learning and davening, on Shavuos once must also have some physical pleasure.
But acc. to R. Yehoshua, that is always required. So what is special about Shavuous? What is R. Yehoshua agreeing to -- hakol modim?

b said...

I think the expression Hakol Modim sometimes means that the one, R' Eliezer, would agree with the other, R' Yehoshua in this case.

Even notice that R'E, the talmid of Beis Shamai, and R'Y, the talmid of Beis Hillel, have synonymous names but opposite shittos?

b said...

Tal, as I mention in the next post re your he'ara, in Menachos bottom of 48a, the Gemara says מודה רבי אליעזר ור' יהושע שאם יכול להציל ממנה רביעית בטהרה יציל, same people, same structure, and same use of the equivalent of "modim" when it's only a concession by one party.