by R. Gidon Rothstein
The end of the parsha, 24;10, tells the tragic story of a man, the product of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, who gets into a fight and “blesses” God.
Character Will Out: Prone to Fighting
Kli Yakar claims the verse withholds the names of either party to the fight because both were too quick to argue. He considers anyone who jumps to have a fight pagum, flawed, no longer fit to have his/her name shared in the Torah. All such people count as benei beliya’al, literally, “people lacking in utility,” Kli Yakar adding they are benei beli shem, sons without names, known only by the names of their parent, the one as ben isha Yisre’elit, a son of an Israelite woman, the other an ish ha-Yisre’eli, an Israelite man.
They started fighting, he is saying, because that’s the kind of people they were, and it led to the worse sin of blasphemy, “blessing” God. To Kli Yakar, it explains the next section, where after Hashem tells Moshe the punishment of this Jew, of those who blaspheme, the Torah moves to murder or causing a permanent disfigurement to someone else. It’s all about fighting, he says, which never leads to peace, only brings about death and destruction, of people and property.
Character Will Out: It Was Bubbling Up Inside Him
The man’s father was an “ish Mitzri, an Egyptian.” Kli Yakar identifies him as the Egyptian Moshe Rabbenu killed, for beating a Jew. The son held his anger over the incident—and his intent to blame God for it, as it were, by blaspheming—inside all these years (it’s a lot of years, because Moshe was a young man when that happened, and is now at least eighty).
Avot 4;4 says whoever desecrates God’s Name in private will find their sin publicized, an idea Kli Yakar applies here: by continuing to hold his father’s death against Moshe and God [an interesting commentary on how we choose with whom to identify, what we see as right and wrong], the man was privately committing sacrilege, so God brought about this incident for his crime to be known in public.
Shmini Atzeret Is Agricultural
Earlier in the parsha, Chatam Sofer points out the Torah presents the holiday of Sukkot twice. The first time, 23;34, it dates it to the seventh month, seemingly superfluous because we were already discussing seventh month holidays, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. In this presentation, we also do not hear of Shmini Atzeret, an aspect of the holiday introduced a few verses later, when the Torah retells us of Sukkot, this time with an agricultural focus.
To strengthen the question, tradition considers Shmini Atzeret a time for a special connection between God and the Jewish people, to the exclusion of non-Jews. Shouldn’t that have been mentioned up front?
Chatam Sofer says the two tellings reflect Sukkot’s being part of two different cycles of holidays. While Pesach and Shavuot have an agricultural and historical aspect (spring and harvest, Exodus and Giving of the Torah), Sukkot also comes hard on the heels of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. To avert our thinking it is unrelated to them, the Torah says it happens in “this seventh month,” the month of those other two holidays, when our sins were forgiven, when Hashem is happy with us for repenting.
The joy of the first seven days of Sukkot is in Heaven and on earth, for our renewed clean slate. It also has an agricultural component, where the Jews celebrate God’s munificence with the food they just finished growing. The two aspects of Sukkot are separated to make clear God rejoices in us, for our repentance, and we rejoice in God, for the bounty we receive, and we have a principle not to mix times of joy [I think he means when they are different; we always mix the historical and agricultural joy].
We bring it all together on the eighth day, when we rejoice with God alone.
Another Version of Holidays For God
Ha’amek Davar also notices an attribution of the holidays to God. The introductory verse, 23;2, has God say “eleh hem mo’adai, these are My appointed times,” words that seem unnecessary. Ha’amek Davar suggests it is making a point similar to Chatam Sofer’s, only about all the holidays.
In his view, it means these are times God inserted into the natural order, for example four cycles of the year, with new years for each, an idea we learn in the first Mishna of Rosh HaShana: the one we all know, on Pesach for grain, Shavu’ot for trees, Sukkot for water. Hashem commands us to make mikra’ei kodesh, a term Netziv will explain in a moment, on days God had previously defined to be significant, “His” times.
It changes the way he reads the word eleh in verses close to each other. In verse four, eleh introduces a list of holidays, where here, in verse two, eleh informs us Hashem has created these times for our benefit. The content of the holidays includes eating and drinking special foods, wearing special clothing, having gatherings to serve God in groups (he attributes this to Ramban), that we call it a holy or sanctified day, an idea found in Torat Kohanim, with a commandment to pray on those days, according to Rashi in Shevu’ot 13a (he says).
Holy days are embedded in God’s Creation, Ha’amek Davar thinks our verses tell us, it being our responsibility to manifest this truth in the way we treat those days.
What’s inside of us comes out, Kli Yakar said, and what’s inside the holidays God set up will come out as well, whether from its role in our historical and agricultural lives, or deeper, its role in the natural order, Ha’amek Davar’s view.