Monday, August 18, 2014


Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17

Rabbi Eric Mendelsohn for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

"Be Happy!"

"Remember the month of Aviv and keep the Passover ...". In Parshat Re'eh we are given a description of the three major pilgrim festivals, Pesah, Shavuot, and Sukkot. These are the Chagim. Chag is a correlative of the word Haj. Just as Haj to Mecca is a requirement for the Moslem (if one can afford it) so is the Chag to Jerusalem if one is a Jew.

The grandchildren of the great medieval Jewish commentator Rashi, building on his commentary, note that the word "Simcha" which like "V'ahavta" is an imperative - "Be happy !" occurs three times in the description of Sukkot (and with the extra command "Ach Sameach" - "Also be happy", it is almost like a parents' reminder -- "Have a good time and by the way, have a good time.") On the other hand - "Simcha" is mentioned only once for Shavuot, and not at all with regard to Pesah.

The agricultural basis of these holidays provides a simple explanation. Passover is the time of lambing and the sign of spring, but there is great apprehension about the crops to come. The winter wheat is in but the barley and vegetables will take seven more weeks. At Shavuot - the barley is in and one can breathe somewhat easier. But Sukkot is the grand Thanksgiving feast, at which rich and poor alike are assured enough sustenance. Judaism teaches that one has the right to enjoy the material benefits of this world and we are enjoined to rejoice in having them.

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