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|On the fifteenth day of the seventh month… you shall celebrate a festival to G-d for seven days. You shall offer… thirteen young bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs in their first year… (29:12-13).
The public korbanot (offerings) for Succot, the Festival referred to above, appear to be out of rhythm with the korbanot for the other Festivals. All Festivals including Rosh Chodesh feature bulls, rams, and lambs. However the numbers are much fewer – a maximum of two bulls, one ram, and seven lambs. The first day of Sukkot, by contrast, involves seven times as many bulls, and twice the number of rams and lambs. In addition, unlike Pesach, the number of bulls does not remain the same, but goes down by one for each day of the Festival, until the last day of Sukkot where the number of bulls has been reduced to only seven. Why therefore do the korbanot for Sukkot differ from the others in these two ways?
The Talmud (Sukkah 55b) answers that these bulls (which total seventy) were offered to solicit G-d’s protection for the seventy gentile nations (enumerated in Gen. 10). As the R. Yochanan puts it:
"Woe to the Nations who lost and did not know what they lost! While the Temple was standing, the altar atoned for them. Now, who will atone for them?"
Indeed a well-known Midrash (would a kind reader help me to locate the reference?) states that if the Nations had realized how much they benefited from those offerings, they would have sent legions to surround Jerusalem and guard it from attack.
This explanation raises several points of interest:
1. What is special about Sukkot that it should be the occasion in the year that involves advancing the welfare of the Gentile nations?
2. Why is it of importance that the Nations should join with the Israelites at all? Yet the Prophet Zechariah states that even after they have fought against us in the days preceding the Redemption, their survivors will have to make an annual Sukkot pilgrimage to Jerusalem – with drastic consequences if they fail to attend:
"And it shall come to pass, that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the L-rd of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Sukkot. And it shall be, that whoever will not come up of all the families of the earth to Jerusalem to worship the King, the L-rd of hosts, upon them shall be no rain. And if the family of Egypt does not go up, and does not come, they will have no rain. This shall be the plague, with which the L-rd will strike the nations that do not come up to observe the Feast of Sukkot." (Zach. 14:16-18)
Surely it would be better if Jerusalem never saw those people ever again! Why should they be compelled to attend once a year? Why should the city they attempted to destroy be the source of their salvation? And why, according to the Talmud, should korbanot be offered to solicit G-d’s protection for them?
In looking at these points, consider the two things that make up Jerusalem. They are the (physical and human) environment and the people. Each will be considered in turn.
The period of Redemption on which Zechariah focuses will bring a full realization that G-d is the Creator and King:
"The L-rd shall be King over all the earth; on that day the L-rd shall be one, and His name one" (ibid:14:9).
Both the physical and human environments of the Holy City will be in harmony with that end. Physically they will have more water than the Shiloach (Silwan), the one reliable spring today:
"It shall be on that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the eastern sea, and half of them toward the western sea; in summer and in winter shall it be" (ibid. 14:8).
Moreover, G-d will ensure that Jerusalem’s human environment will also experience unparalleled tranquility:
"And men shall dwell in it, and there shall be no more utter destruction; but Jerusalem shall dwell secure. And this shall be the plague with which the L-rd will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem: their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their sockets, and their tongues shall consume away in their mouths" (ibid: 11-12).
So people of whatever background who visit Jerusalem when Zechariah’s prophecy is realized will understand that G-d is the exclusive source of power. They will modify their conduct so that they serve humanity rather than destroy it (for example with Molech worship involving human sacrifices), according to His Principles. Thus the Almighty will spiritually improve and elevate the Gentiles through the City of Jerusalem.
This still does not explain why the Nations should visit Jerusalem specifically on Sukkot, or why communal korbanot are ordained on their behalf on that Festival. For that, consider the next aspect of Jerusalem – the people that live there.
On the seven days of Sukkot the Israelites are, ideally, on the highest spiritual level in the whole year, as they ‘serve G-d with joy’ (Psalms 100:2). The Torah states twice that one should be happy on Sukkot: ‘On the festival of Sukkot… you shall rejoice… you will be completely joyful’ (Deut. 16:13-15). It is a time when we serve G-d out of happiness with both our spiritual and physical being. Spiritually - our sins have been forgiven on Yom Kippur and we enter Sukkot on a clean sheet: we no longer think on the lines of ‘today the world stands, in being judged’ (Declaration following the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah). Physically - the harvest is completed – we don’t think about whether we will have what to eat or not. Indeed the Sukkah and the Four Species make uses of various items from the harvest in praising and giving thanks to G-d. So the Nations will come to Jerusalem when its people are showing the most attractive face of Torah teaching – being happy – in the positive way. Serving G-d happily and out of genuine gratitude is the message of Sukkot to the Nations.
When they see that the Israelites are serving G-d out of happiness and gratitude rather than out of fear it will make an impression on them. They will understand that the physical and human environments are in harmony with those who do not indulge in the barbaric practices involved in idolatry, but with those who serve him out of genuine gratitude for His largesse, and with those for who serve Him through joy.
This will therefore help to spiritually elevate the various Nations to participate in Redemption. Praying for their welfare (through the korbanot) prays for the ideal that worthy people of the Nations will play their essential parts. The time of the sacrifices – Sukkot – is the time when the Nations, through having made the effort to come to Jerusalem and take part in the festivities, are in the greatest state of grace before Him. And the reducing number of the bulls reflects that only some, but not all, will be found worthy to take part.
“May all (the Nations) accept the yoke of Your Kingdom, and may You reign over them for ever” (Concluding prayer to all three daily services).
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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