The Dual Nature of the Chagim in Parshat Emor

What is a "moed"?

Most of us would answer - a Jewish holiday [i.e. a "yom-tov"].

[Most English Bibles translate "moed" - a fixed time.]

However, earlier in Chumash, the Hebrew word "chag" was used to describe the Holidays (e.g. see Shmot 12:14, 13:6, 23:16).  So why does Parshat Emor prefer to use the Hebrew word "moed" instead? [See 23:2,4,37,44.]

Furthermore, it is just by chance that the same Hebrew word "moed" is also used to describe the Mishkan, i.e. the "Ohel MOED"?  [See Vayikra 1:1, Shmot 30:34 etc.]

In this week's shiur, we attempt to answer these questions by taking a closer look at Vayikra chapter 23.


Even though Parshat Emor discusses all of the Jewish holidays, these same holidays are also discussed in the other books of Chumash as well:

  • In Sefer Shemot: Parshat Mishpatim (23:14-17) & Ki-tisa (34:23);
  • In Sefer Bamidbar: Parshat Pinchas (chapters 28-29);
  • In Sefer Devarim: Parshat Reeh (chapter 16).

However, within these four 'parshiot' we find two distinct sets of holidays:

A) The "SHALOSH REGALIM" [the three pilgrimage holidays] i.e.- chag ha'Matzot, Shavuot, & Succot;

B) The "YOMIM NORAIM" [the days of awe /  the 'high holidays'] i.e.- Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur & Shmini Atzeret.

Sefer Shmot and Sefer Devarim discuss ONLY the "shalosh regalim", while Sefer Vayikra and Sefer Bamidbar discuss both the "shalosh regalim" AND the "yomim noraim".

At first glance this 'multiple presentation' of the chagim in FOUR different books of the Chumash appears to be superfluous. After all, would it not have been more logical for the Torah to present ALL of these laws together in ONE Parsha (and in ONE Sefer)?

However, since the Torah does present the holidays in four different "seforim", we can safely assume that there must be something special about each presentation, and that each relates to the primary theme of its respective "sefer".

Even though our shiur will focus on the chagim in Emor, we must begin our study with the chagim in Parshat Mishpatim, for that 'parshia' contains the first mention of the SHALOSH REGALIM in Chumash.

[As the shiur is very textual (more than usual), it is recommended that you follow it with a Tanach at hand.]

Two Calendars

As background for our shiur, we'll need to first review some basics regarding the 'Biblical calendar'.

Even though we commonly refer to the Jewish calendar as 'lunar', in Chumash, we find the use of both a 'solar' [i.e. the agricultural seasons] and a 'lunar' calendar [i.e. the 29 day cycle of the moon].

The solar calendar in Chumash corresponds to the seasons of the agricultural year (in Hebrew: "tkufot ha'shana").  For example:

  • Spring ="aviv" (see Shmot 13:3 & 23:14), and
  • Autumn ="b'tzeit hashanah" (Shemot 23:16 & Devarim 11:12).

We also find many instances where Chumash relates to a calendar that is based on the monthly cycle of the moon.  For example:

"ha'chodesh ha'zeh lachem rosh chodashim" (Shmot 12:2) & the special korban on 'rosh chodesh' (see Bamidbar 28:11)

These two calendars are 'correlated' by the periodic addition of an 'extra' month to assure that the FIRST month of the lunar year will always correspond with the spring equinox (see Shmot 12:1-2).

With this distinction in mind, let's take a careful look at the calendar which Chumash employs when it describes the holidays.

The Shalosh Regalim in Parshat Mishpatim

Let's take a quick look at Shmot 23:14-17, as this is the first presentation of the "shalosh regalim" in Chumash:

"Three times a year celebrate to Me: (1) Keep CHAG HA'MATZOT, eat matza... at the "moed" [appointed time] in the SPRING [when you went out of Egypt]... (2) and a CHAG KATZIR [a grain HARVEST holiday] for the first- fruits of what you have sown in your field, (3) and a CHAG HA'ASIF [a fruit gathering holiday] at the conclusion of the [agricultural] year... "Three times a years, each male should come to be seen by God..." (see Shmot 23:14‑17)

Note how these three holidays are described ONLY by the agricultural time of year in which they are celebrated .without any mention of the specific lunar date!:

  • Chag HaMatzot: "b'aviv" - in the SPRING;
  • Chag HaKatzir: the wheat harvest - in the early SUMMER;
  • Chag HaAsif: the fruit harvest - in the AUTUMN.

Note as well (in 23:17) that the primary mitzvah associated with each of these three holidays is "aliyah la'regel" - to be seen by God [i.e. by visiting Him at the Mishkan/Mikdash].

[Note that this presentation is repeated in a very similar fashion in Parshat Ki-tisa (see Shemot 34:18-26) when Moshe Rabbeinu receives the second Luchot.  However, that repetition was necessary due to the events of "chet haegel" (see shiur on Ki-tisa), and hence -beyond the scope of this shiur.]

The Shalosh Regalim in Parshat Re'eh

In Sefer Devarim (see 16:1-17) we find a very similar presentation, although a bit more detailed.  As you review that chapter, note that once again:

  • Only the SHALOSH REGALIM are presented
  • Only their agricultural dates are cited, and
  • The primary mitzvah is "aliya l'regel"

However, this unit adds two important details that were not mentioned in Parshat Mishpatim:

  1. WHERE the mitzvah of "aliyah l'regel" is to take place, i.e. "ba'makom asher Yivchar Hashem..." - at the site that God will choose to have His Name dwell there. [See 16:2,6,11,15,16.]
  2. That we must REJOICE on these holidays - not only with our own family, but also with the less fortunate, such as the stranger, the orphan, the widow etc. (see 16:11,14).

The Torah demands that when we celebrate and thank God for the bounty of our harvest, we must invite the less fortunate to join us.

Agricultural Holidays

It is not coincidental the Torah chose to use the solar calendar in its presentation of the SHALOSH REGALIM.  Clearly, the Torah's primary intention is that we must thank God during these three critical times of the agricultural year:

  1. When nature 'comes back to life' in the spring (PESACH)
  2. At the conclusion of the wheat harvest (SHAVUOT)
  3. At the conclusion of the fruit harvest (SUKKOT)

Hence, the Torah describes these three holidays by their agricultural dates, with even mentioning a lunar date.

However, when the Torah presents the holidays in EMOR (Vayikra 23) and PINCHAS (Bamidbar 28‑>29), we will find a very different manner of presentation, as the 'lunar date' of each holiday is included as well.  We will now review those two units, noting how each "chag" is introduced with its precise lunar month and day.

The Chagim in Pinchas

Briefly scan Bamidbar chapters 28 & 29 (in Parshat  Pinchas), noting how it comprises a complete unit - focusing on one primary topic, i.e. the details of the KORBAN MUSAF that is offered (in the Bet haMikdash) on each holiday.  Note how it first details the daily "korban tamid" (see 28:1-8), followed by the weekly and monthly Musaf offering (see 28:9-15) that is offered on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh.  Afterward, beginning with 28:16, ALL of the holidays are mentioned, one at time - introduced with their lunar date, followed by the details of its specific Musaf offering.  Technically speaking, this entire section could also be titled - "korbanot ha'Tmidim v'ha'Musafim" - since that is its primary focus, and it is in that context that the holidays are presented.

As this unit serves as the yearly 'schedule' for offering the korban Tamid and Musaf in the Temple, it makes sense that each holiday is introduced solely by its lunar date.

[Note that the "maftir" reading on each holiday is taken from this unit, and we quote its relevant section every time when we doven tefilat Musaf!]

A Quick Summary

Before we begin our study of the holidays in Parshat Emor, let's summarize what we have discussed thus far:

In the books of Shmot and Devarim, only the "shalosh regalim" were presented, and only according to their solar dates - focusing on our obligation to 'visit God' during these critical times of the agricultural year.

In Sefer Bamidbar, all the holidays were presented according to their lunar dates, as that unit focused on the specific korban Musaf offered on each special day.

In earlier shiurim, we have also discussed the thematic connection between each of these units, and the book in which they were presented:

  • In Parshat Mishpatim - as part of laws pertaining to 'social justice', and hence their thematic connection to the pesukim that precede them in Shemot 23:6-12. [See shiur on Parshat Mishpatim.]
  • In Parshat Re'eh - in the context of the primary topic of chapters 12 thru 17, i.e. "ha'makom asher yivchar Hashem". [See shiur on Parshat Re'eh.]
  • In Parshat Pinchas - as part of the laws of Temidim u'Musafim. [See shiur on Parshat Pinchas.]

In contrast to these units, we will now show how the presentation of the holidays in Parshat Emor is unique, and how it relates to the overall theme of Sefer Vayikra.

The Chagim in Parshat Emor

Review Vayikra 23:1-44, noting how this unit also presents all of the holidays (i.e. the shalosh regalim & the "yamim noraim"), yet unlike Parshat Pinchas, this time they are presented by BOTH their lunar and solar dates!  Furthermore, in addition to certain mitzvot which are common to all of the holidays, we also find a unique mitzvah for each holiday.  For example:

  • Chag Ha'Matzot - the special OMER offering (from barely);
  • Shavuot - the SHTEI HA'LECHEM offering (from wheat);
  • Rosh Ha'Shana - YOM TERUAH - blowing the shofar;
  • Yom Kippur - fasting;
  • Sukkot - sitting in the SUCCAH ...and the ARBA MINIM (lulav and etrog etc.).

To appreciate why these specific details are found in Sefer Vayikra, let's take a closer looks at how these laws are presented, as well as the dates that are used.

'Double Dating'

As we noted above, it is rather obvious how Parshat Emor presents the holidays by their LUNAR dates (month/day).  However, as the following table will now demonstrate, when Parshat Emor introduces the special mitzvah for each holiday, especially in regard to the SHALOSH REGALIM, the agricultural season (i.e. the SOLAR date) is mentioned as well!  For example, note:

Chag HaMatzot - Mitzvat HaOmer

"When you enter the Land... and HARVEST the grain, you must bring the OMER - the FIRST HARVEST to the Kohen (23:10);

Shavuot - Mitzvat Shtei HaLechem

"... count SEVEN WEEKS [from when the first grain becomes ripe], then... you shall bring a NEW flour offering..." (23:16);

Sukkot - the Arba Minim

"On the 15th day of the 7th month WHEN YOU GATHER THE PRODUCE OF THE LAND... and you shall take on the first day a 'hadar' fruit..." (see 23:39).

In fact, look carefully and you'll notice that Parshat Emor presents the agricultural related commandment for each of the "shalosh regalim" in an independent manner!

For example, the agricultural mitzvah to bring the korban "haOmer" and the "shtei halechem" is presented in a separate 'dibur' (see 23:9-22) that makes no mention at all of the lunar date!  Similarly, the mitzvah of the "arba minim"  in 23:39-41 is presented independently, and AFTER the mitzvah CHAG HASUKKOT is first presented in 23:33-38. [To verify this, compare these two sections carefully!]

So why does the structure of Emor have to be so complicated?  Would it not have made more sense for the Torah to employ one standard set of dates, and explain all the mitzvot for each holiday together?

To answer this question, we must first take a closer look at the internal structure of Vayikra chapter 23.

The Common Mitzvot

Even though Parshat Emor presents the special mitzvot of each holiday, it also presents some common mitzvot for all the holidays - immediately after each is introduced by its lunar date.

Review chapter 23 and note the pattern, noting how each holiday is referred to as a "moed", and that we are commanded to make it a "mikra kodesh" [to call out to set it aside for a national gathering] - when work is prohibited - "kol melechet avodah lo taasu"; and that we must offer an korban - "v'hikravtem isheh l'Hashem".

To verify this, note the following pesukim:

  • CHAG HAMATZOT / 23:6-8
  • ROSH HA'SHANA / 23:25
  • YOM KIPPUR / 23:27-28
  • SUKKOT & SHMINI ATZERET / 23:33-36

[Note that in regard to SHAVUOT (see 23:21) a lunar date and the phrase "v'hikravtem" is missing!  For a discussion why, see the shiur on Shavuot.]

Therefore, in relation to the LUNAR date, Parshat Emor requires that on each holiday the nation must gather together [="mikra kodesh"], refrain from physical labor [="kol melechet avodah lo ta'asu"], and offer a special korban Musaf [=v'hikravtem isheh la'Hashem"], as detailed in Parshat Pinchas.

However, within this same unit, we also find that the "shalosh regalim" are presented INDEPENDENTLY with a solar date -within the context of its agricultural mitzvah.

If we take a closer look at those pesukim, we'll also notice that in each instance the concept of a SHABBAT or SHABBATON is mentioned in conjunction with the special agricultural mitzvah of each holiday [i.e. OMER, SHTEI HALECHEM & ARBA MINIM].

Furthermore, we also find the use of the word SHABBATON in the presentation of ROSH HA'SHANA and YOM KIPPUR as well!  [See 23:24,32.]

Finally, note the detail of the mitzvot relating to SHABBATON always conclude with the phrase: "chukat olam l'doroteichem [b'chol moshvoteichem]", see 23:14,21,31,41!

The following chart summarizes this second pattern in which the word SHABBAT or SHABBATON is mentioned in relation to each holiday:

  • Chag Ha'MATZOT - "mi'mochorat ha'SHABBAT" (23:11)
  • SHAVUOT - "ad mimochorat ha'SHABBAT ha'shviit..." (23:16)
  • ROSH Ha'SHANA - "SHABBATON, zichron teruah..." (23:24)
  • YOM KIPPUR -  SHABBAT SHABBATON hi lachem..." (23:32)
  • SUKKOT &           - ba'yom harishon SHABBATON... (23:39) SHMINI ATZERET - ...u'bayom haShmini SHABBATON" (23:39)

Note also that within this parsha, the SHABBAT/agricultural aspect is first introduced by a separate "dibur":

"And God spoke to Moshe saying... When you ENTER THE LAND that I am giving you REAP ITS HARVEST, you shall bring the OMER - the first sheaf of your harvest to God. This OMER shall be waived in front of God... on the day after SHABBAT the Kohen shall wave it...."  (23:9-14)

The most striking example of this 'double pattern' is found in the pesukim that describe Succot. Note how the Torah first introduces this holiday as a MIKRA KODESH by its lunar date:

"On the 15th day of the 7th month Chag Sukkot seven days: on the first day there shall be a MIKRA KODESH... and on the eighth day a MIKRA KODESH..." (23:35-36) [As this is the last MOED, the next pasuk summarizes all of the chagim: "ayleh Moadei Hashem..." (23:37-38)].

Then, in a very abrupt fashion, AFTER summarizing the moadim, the Torah returns to Succot again, but now calls it a SHABBATON:

" 'ACH' - on the 15th day of the seventh month, when you GATHER THE HARVEST OF YOUR FIELD, you shall celebrate for seven days, on the first day - a SHABBATON, and on the eighth day - a SHABBATON." (23:39)

Hence, it appears from Parshat Emor that each holiday is treated as both a "moed" (in relation to "mikra kodesh", "issur melacha", & "v'hikravtem") AND as a "shabbaton" (in relation to its special mitzvah).

A Double 'Header'

Let's take a look now at the introductory pesukim of this entire unit (i.e. 23:1-3), for they appear to allude as well to the double nature of this presentation.

First of all, note how the opening pesukim of chapter 23 appear to contradict each other:

"And God told Moshe, tell Bnei Yisrael... THESE are the MOADEI HASHEM (fixed times), which YOU shall call MIKRAEI KODESH (a sacred gathering) - these are the MOADIM". (23:1-2) "SIX days work may be done, but the SEVENTH day shall be a SHABBAT SHABBATON 'mikra kodesh'... (23:3) THESE are the 'MOADEI HASHEM'...: On the 14th day of the first month - Pesach On the 15th day of the first month - chag ha'Matzot... (see 23:4-6)

Based on this header, it remains unclear if SHABBAT should be considered one of the MOADIM?

If yes, then why does 23:4 repeat the header "ayleh moadei Hashem"?

If not, why is SHABBAT mentioned at all in the first three pesukim?

Furthermore, there appears to be two types of 'mikraei kodesh' in Parshat Emor.

  1. MOADIM - those that Bnei Yisrael declare: "asher tik'ru otam [that YOU shall call] - mikraei kodesh" (23:2)
  2. SHABBAT - that God has set aside to be a 'mikra kodesh' (read 23:3 carefully!).

This distinction, and the repetition of the header "ayleh moadei Hashem" in 23:4, indicate the first three pesukim could be considered a 'double' header: i.e MO'ADIM and SHABBATONIM.

As the unit progresses, this 'double header' reflects the double presentation of chagim in this entire unit, as discussed above.  In regard to the shalosh regalim, the SHABBATON aspect is presented separately. In regard to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the SHABBATON aspect is included in the 'lunar' MIKRA KODESH presentation.

[In regard to the agricultural nature of Rosh hashana and Yom Kippur, see shiur on Rosh Hashana.]

What is the meaning of the double nature of this presentation?  Why does Parshat Emor relate to both the lunar and solar calendars?  One could suggest the following explanation.

The Agricultural Aspect

As mentioned above, Parshat Emor details a special agricultural related mitzvah for each of the shalosh regalim:

  • Chag haMatzot: The Korban Ha'Omer- from the first BARLEY harvest.
  • Shavuot: The Korban Shtei HaLechem, from the first WHEAT harvest.
  • Sukkot: Taking the 'Arba Minim', the four species [i.e. the lulav, etrog, hadas and arava]

These mitzvot relate directly to the agricultural seasons in Eretz Yisrael in which these holidays fall.  In the spring, barley is the first grain crop to become ripe.  During the next seven weeks, the wheat crop ripens and is harvested.  As this is the only time of the year when wheat grows in Eretz Yisrael, these seven weeks are indeed a critical time, for the grain which will be consumed during the entire year is harvested during this very short time period.

Similarly, the ARBA MINIM, which are brought to the Mikdash on Sukkot, also relate to the agricultural importance of the fruit harvest ("pri etz hadar v'kapot tmarim") at this time of the year, and the need for water in the forthcoming rainy season ("arvei nachal").

Therefore, specifically when the Torah relates to these agricultural mitzvot, these holidays are referred to as SHABBATONIM - for the concept of "shabbat" relates to the DAYS of the week, and thus, to the cycle of nature caused by the sun, i.e. the agricultural seasons of the year. They also relate to the natural cycle of the sun.

[Recall that the 365 day cycle of the earth revolving around the sun causes the seasons.]

As these holidays are celebrated during the most critical times of the agricultural year, the Torah commands us to gather at this time of the year in the Bet HaMikdash and offer special korbanot from our harvest.  Instead of relating these phenomena of nature to a pantheon of gods, as the Canaanite people did, Am Yisrael must recognize that it is God's hand behind nature and therefore, we must thank Him for our harvest.

[This challenge - to find God while working and living within the framework of nature - is reflected in the blessing we make over bread: "hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz". Even though we perform 99% of work in the process of making bread (e.g. sowing, reaping, winnowing, grinding, kneading, baking etc.), we thank God as though He had given us bread directly from the ground!]

The Historical Holidays

Even though these agricultural mitzvot alone provides sufficient reason to celebrate these holidays, the Torah finds HISTORICAL significance in these seasonal holidays as well.

The spring commemorates our redemption from Egypt.  The grain harvest coincides with the time of Matan Torah.  During the fruit harvest we recall our supernatural existence in the desert under the "ananei kavod" (clouds of God's glory) in the desert.

Just as the Torah employs to the SOLAR date of the chagim in relation to the agricultural mitzvot, the Torah also employs the LUNAR date of these chagim in relation to their historical significance.  For example, when describing Chag HaMatzot, which commemorates the historical event of Yetziat Mitzrayim, the lunar date of the 15th day of the first month is used (see 23:6). Similarly, when the Torah refers to Sukkot as a Mikra Kodesh, it employs solely the lunar date and emphasizes the mitzvah of sitting in the succah, in commemoration of our dwelling in sukkot during our journey through the desert (see 23:34-35,43).

One could suggest that specifically the lunar calendar is used in relation to the historical aspect, for we count the MONTHS in commemoration of our Exodus from Egypt, the most momentous event in our national history:

"haChodesh haZeh lachem ROSH CHODASHIM..."  This month (in which you are leaving Egypt) will be for you the FIRST month... (see Shmot 12:1-3).

Redemption in the Spring

From the repeated emphasis in Chumash that we celebrate our redemption from Egypt in the early spring ("chodesh haAviv" /see Shmot 13:2-4 and Devarim 16:1-2), it would appear that it was not incidental that the Exodus took place at that time.  Rather, God desired that our national birth take place at the same time of year when the growth cycle of nature recommences.

[For a similar reason, it would appear that God desired that Bnei Yisrael enter the Promised Land in the first month of the spring (see Yehoshua 4:19 & 5:10).]

One could suggest that the celebration of our national redemption specifically in the spring emphasizes its proper meaning.  Despite its importance, our freedom attained at Yetziat Mitzrayim should be understood as only the INITIAL stage of our national spiritual 'growth', just as the spring marks only the initial stage in the growth process of nature!  Just as the blossoming of nature in the spring leads to the grain harvest in the early summer and fruit harvest in the late summer, so too our national freedom must lead to the achievement of higher goals in our national history.

Thus, counting seven weeks from chag ha'matzot until chag ha'shavuot (sfirat ha'omer) emphasizes that Shavuot (commemorating the Giving of the Torah) should be considered the culmination of the process that began at Yetziat Mitzrayim, just as the grain harvest is the culmination of its growth process that began in the spring.

[One would expect that this historical aspect of Shavuot, i.e. Matan Torah, should also be mentioned in Parshat Emor. For some reason, it is not. We will deal with this issue iy"h in our shiur on Shavuot.]

By combining the two calendars, the Torah teaches us that during the critical times of the agricultural year we must not only thank God for His providence over nature but we must also thank Him for His providence over our history.  In a polytheistic society, these various attributes were divided among many gods. In an atheistic society, man fails to see God in either. The double nature of the chagim emphasizes this tenet that God is not only the Force behind nature, but He also guides the history of nations.

Man must recognize God's providence in all realms of his daily life; by recognizing His hand in both the unfolding of our national history and through perceiving His greatness as He is the power behind all the phenomena of nature.

Kedushat Zman

In conclusion, we can now return to our original question, i.e. why does specifically Sefer Vayikra describe these holidays as MOADIM?

The Hebrew word "moed" stems from the root "vav.ayin.daled" - to meet.

[That's why a committee in Hebrew is a "vaad", and a conference is a "ve'iydah". See also Shemot 29:42-43 and Amos 3:3. Finally, note Breishit 1:14!]

The Mishkan is called an OHEL MOED - a tent of meeting - for in that tent Bnei Yisrael [symbolically] 'meet' God.  In a similar manner, the Jewish holidays are called MOADIM, for their primary purpose is that we set aside special times during the year to MEET God.  Clearly, in Parshat Emor, the Torah emphasizes the "bein adam la'makom" [between God and man] aspect of the holidays. Not only do we perform the mitzva of "aliya la'regel", we also perform a wide range of special mitzvot that occupy our entire day during those holidays.

[See Sefer Kuzari ma'amar r'vii in relation to the chagim!]

As we explained in last week's shiur, this is the essence of KEDUSHA - the theme of Sefer Vayikra. We set aside special times, and infuse them with special KEDUSHA to come closer to Hashem.  However, our experience during these holidays provides us with the spiritual strength to remain close to God during the remainder of the year.