Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei 5761/ March 24, 2001- Parashat Hahodesh

A. The Clouds of Glory and the Tabernacle

Dr. Aviezer Yisraeli
Research Authority

Two festivals were established in commemoration of the exodus from Egypt: the spring festival, namely Passover, which is celebrated in the season when the Israelites left Egypt; and the festival of Booths, or Sukkot, in which the Israelites dwelled in the desert, which we celebrate in the fall. Ostensibly the date for the festival of Sukkot is not connected with events of the exodus from Egypt. One of the commonly given explanations is that if the commandment to dwell in the Sukkah were fulfilled in the spring, when the exodus took place, the festival would not have had much impact. For in the spring and summer people generally make themselves booths for shade, and therefore building a sukkah would not have been acknowledged as a commandment of the Creator. Therefore Sukkot was set in the fall, at the time of year when people generally leave their booths and return to dwell in their homes (Tur, Orah Hayyim 725). Still, this generally accepted argument does not explain why the fifteenth of Tishre was chosen as the date for the festival of Sukkot.

All the festivals that appear in the Bible are mentioned in conjunction with an historic date. Passover takes place on the date of the exodus from Egypt, Shavuot takes place forty-nine days after Passover, and is also known as the festival of receiving the Torah. Rosh ha-Shanah indeed is called in Scripture a day of commemoration, but it is generally accepted that this was the day of Creation, as we note in our prayers on Rosh ha-Shanah. The Day of Atonement is the day on which the sin of the golden calf was forgiven, the day Moses descended from Sinai after the Lord had said, "I pardon, as you have asked" (Num. 14:20).

Sukkot commemorates the Israelites' dwelling in booths in the wilderness, as it is written, "I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 23:43). Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva differed regarding the question of what exactly were these sukkot or booths: "For it is taught, 'I made the Israelite people live in booths' - Rabbi Eliezer says these were the Clouds of Glory. Rabbi Akiva says they made themselves actual booths" (Sukkah 11b).

Rabbi Akiva's opinion was more broadly accepted. Commentators such as Rashi quote only his view, and the Shulhan Arukh concurs. Nevertheless, there are many arguments for preferring Rabbi Eliezer's view,[1] but it seems that the best explanation is related to the answer as to why Sukkot falls precisely on the fifteenth of Tishre.

Identifying Rosh ha-Shanah as the day on which the world was created is actually the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer in his disagreement with Rabbi Joshua. Rabbi Eliezer said that the world was created in Tishre, whereas Rabbi Joshua said in Nissan.[2] In other words, the juxtaposition of Rosh ha-Shanah to an historical event follows the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer; therefore, it is reasonable to look for an historical event associated with Sukkot in what he says. The author of Divrei Eliyahu finds this connection in the Torah sections that we have been reading these weeks.

When the Israelites made the golden calf the Clouds of Glory disappeared, not to return until they began building the Tabernacle. Moses descended from Mount Sinai on the Day of Atonement with the tidings that the Lord had forgiven them the sin of the golden calf. The following day, on the 11th of Tishre, "Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community" (Ex. 35:1) and commanded them concerning contributions for the Tabernacle. The people brought their contributions on the 12th and 13th of Tishre, according to the midrash in Numbers Rabbah (ch. 12): "For two mornings they brought every freewill offering, as it is said, 'these continued to bring freewill offerings to him morning after morning' (Ex. 36:3)." After these two days Moses ordered "this proclamation made throughout the camp: 'Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!' So the people stopped bringing" (Ex. 36:6). In other words, Moses gave this order on the 14th of Tishre. On the 15th they began building the Tabernacle, and then the Divine Presence returned to dwell in their midst. It was then that the Clouds of Glory returned. Therefore we were commanded to celebrate the festival of Sukkot on the 15th of Tishre, the day on which the Israelites were rewarded by the return of the Clouds of Glory.

Thus Rabbi Eliezer's opinion is reinforced, for both Rosh ha-Shanah and Sukkot are associated with historical events: on Rosh ha-Shanah the world was created, and on Sukkot, which falls on the 15th of Tishre, the Israelite people had the privilege of dwelling under the wings of the Divine Presence, in Sukkot, which are the Clouds of Glory. [Editor's note: see Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, "The Glory of the Lord"]

[1] See the article by Rabbi Neriah Guttel, Daf Shavua no. 307.
[2] Genesis Rabbah, Ch. 22.
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