Of the Ten Commandments, the First and Second are considered those that are primary. The First is positive and states, “I am the Lord your God who has taken you out of the Land of Egypt from the house of slavery.” Exodus 20:2. The Second is negative and states, “You shall have no other Gods before me.” Exodus 20:3. Immediately after receiving the Ten Commandments, it seems that God is repeating the first two. The Torah says, “And God says to Moshe, Thus you shall say to the Children of Israel, ‘you have seen that I spoken with you from the heavens.’” Exodus 20:19. This is a positive statement of what God did. And it immediately follows with a negative corollary, “do not fashion with me gods of silver and gods of gold, do not make them for yourselves.” Exodus, 20: 20.
What was the need for God to repeat these again? The Rabbis were sensitive to this issue and attempted to explain that it referred either to those who serve God through the worship of the heavenly constellations or these referred to the construction of the cherubs on the aron. “Do not make an image of my servants who serve before me in heaven.” Rashi, Ad Locum.
The plain meaning of the text, however, even with the Rabbinic interpretation, is that this is another prohibition against idolatry, albeit with a broader definition of idolatry.
The Mishna tells us that even an impoverished Jew on the night of the Seder should eat in a reclining manner, as do free and independent people, on a couch as a demonstration of freedom. In addition, the poorest of the poor, one who only receives one meal a day from communal funds, must strive with all his might to acquire wine, including selling his garments, for four cups during the Seder, if the community does not provide it for him. This is all done to express the concept freedom. Pesachim 99b.
It is interesting that the same effort is not required for the acquisition of Matzah even though eating Matzah is a Torah requirement while the requirement of the four cups of wine is purely Rabbinic. Indeed, the Torah makes no mention whatsoever of the four cups of wine.
The source of this requirement is brought down in the Midrash. “Rav Huna in the name of Rav Benaya said, ‘This (the four cups) is an allusion to the four terms of redemption that are stated prior to the Exodus from Egypt. (God says, I will remove, I will save, I will redeem, and I will take. Shemot, 6, 6-7. )’” Bereisheet Rabba, 88:5.
The most telling moment presented in the Megillah was when Haman discovered that one of the king’s retainers, Mordechai, would not follow Haman’s decree to bow before him. This was aggravated by the fact that Mordechai let it be known that he was a Jew. According to Jewish tradition, it was not just obeisance that Haman demanded, but he declared himself to be a divinity and thus made it impossible for any Jew to recognize that claim.
The Megillah (3:5-6) describes this critical moment in the following manner:
And Haman saw that Mordechai did not bow or prostrate himself before him, and Haman was filled with rage. It was insignificant in his eyes (vayivez b’einav) to strike a blow at Mordechai alone, for they told him who was the nation of Mordechai, and Haman desired to exterminate all the Jews which existed throughout the empire of Achashverosh, the people of Mordechai.
In Jewish tradition we encounter two different traditions about the nature of the Mitzvah which requires us to hear the sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana. According to one tradition, this is a Mitzvah which is incumbent upon the individual. It is no different than the Mitzvah of taking hold of Lulav and Etrog on Sukkot or having Tzitzit upon a garment which one wears, or placing Tefillin upon one’s head or arm.
A different tradition, however, considers hearing the sound of the Shofar as a communal obligation. That obligation is related to communal prayer and is in many respects no different than other communal obligations for example, building the Temple or going to war against specified enemies.
The Rambam discusses both of these aspects. He first states: “How many Shofar blasts is a person (i.e. an individual) obligated to hear on Rosh Hashana?” and he answers, “nine blasts.” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shofar 3:1). Later in the chapter he states, “The community is obligated to hear the sound of the Shofar blasts according to the order of the blessings.” (Ibid 3:7)
From a philosophical and psychological perspective, Tisha B’Av became the most significant Jewish observance over the past two millennia. Tisha B’Av revolutionized the status quo of life, and turned our experience of time on its head. In the normal experience of time, each day, week or month is viewed as predominantly a positive experience in which one desires to continue and partake in what life has to offer. On occasion, a tragic event or interlude interrupts this flow of time and the individual pauses to absorb the tragedy, live through it, and then regain his previous life.
This normal dynamic of life has been totally undermined by the experience of Tisha B’Av which in Rabbinic tradition became an unending experience. Jews feel or should feel a sense of loss which is impossible to be fully healed. Thus, normal life could never be retrieved. In a sense, that loss should be greater than a personal tragedy of death, for even in the experience of losing a loved one, there is law which forbids us to grieve too much. One should not presume to love the deceased more than God.
There is, however, no such application of not grieving too much to the experience of Tisha B’Av. The sense of irredeemable loss becomes part of our normal experience. That continues to be so, until the appearance of the Messiah.
The process of Matan Torah occurred in two stages. Both of these stages were subject to unintended consequences which severely detracted from their impact. The issue of time was a significant factor in the difficult outcome of these stages.
The first stage of Matan Torah was God’s revelation at Sinai and His transmitting the Ten Commandments to Israel. There is a controversy in the Talmud between Rav Yosi and the Rabbis whether this process was of a six or seven day duration.
Rava stated, “everyone agrees that they (Israel) arrived at the wilderness at the first day of the month (Sivan) . . .and all agree that the Torah (Ten Commandments) was given to Israel on the Sabbath . . .they argue about when the new month began. Rav Yossi believed that the new month began on the first day of the week (Sunday) thus the Ten Commandments were revealed on the seventh day of the month, . . .and the Rabbis believed that it (the beginning of the month)was on the second day of the week (thus the Ten Commandments were given on the sixth day of the month.” Shabbat 86b-87a.
In the intervening days between Israel’s arrival and God’s revelation, Moshe conveyed to them (Israel) both God’s covenant and the restrictions that they were to observe before the revelation could occur. If they were to heed God’s word and observe His covenant, they would be His special treasure, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus, 19: 5-6. The people were thrilled by this pronouncement and immediately answered in unison, “everything which God stated, we will do.” Exodus 19:8.
The importance given to Purim by Rabbinic tradition seems way disproportionate than its observance as a minor holiday would merit. Although the Book of Esther is placed in the Tanach in the section of Ketuvim, the Rabbis assign it a significance comparable to the Torah itself.
All the books of the prophets and all the Ketuvim are destined to become nullified at the time of the Messiah, with the exception of the Scroll of Esther. It will continue to exist as will the five books of the Torah, and as the oral Torah which will never be nullified. Even though memory of the earlier sufferings of the Jewish people will become null . . . the days of Purim will never become null for it says, “these days of Purim will not pass away from the Jews and memory of them will not cease from their progeny.” Megillat Esther, 9:28, Mishneh Torah , Laws of Megilla, 2:18
The Raavad explains that the text of the Prophets and Ketuvim will not really cease to exist, but rather, will no longer be read publically, but Megillat Esther will always be read publically. Raavad ad Locum.
In Jewish tradition, there were two types of rabbis which were given different authorities: those who were ordained; and those who were not. Ordained rabbis were called Smuchin or Mumchin. The institution of ordination was initiated by Moshe Rabbenu when he ordained Yehoshua, and from that time on, each ordained rabbi could ordain others. Later on, during a specific period of the Patriarchate from the Second Century C.E. to the Fifth Century C.E., the Patriarch or Nasi was primarily responsible for the ordinations of rabbis. All ordinations could only occur in the land of Israel , and ordained rabbis could engage in all aspects of Jewish law. An ordained court of three who convened in the land of Israel is what the Torah calls elohimA court which was ordained in Israel could extend its authority to anywhere in the world. See Mishneh Torah, Shoftim, Hilchot Sanhedren Chapt. 4, Halachot 1-4 and 12.
Since ordination could not occur outside the land of Israel, what was the underlying authority of a court which was not ordained? The initial authority for courts outside of Israel was the appointment of rabbis and judges by the Head of the Exiles (Reish Galuta) which occurred in Babylonia after the first exile and ended in the Sixth Century C.E. That authority was also valid all over the world, including Israel. Nevertheless, it was far more limited than the authority given to ordained rabbis or courts. One example, is that those appointed by the Reish Galuta did not have the power to levy fines (Knassot). Ibid, 4:14.
In the absence of a Reish Galuta or his ability to appoint rabbinic courts, an interesting analysis is presented in the Talmud.
At the beginning of chapter 8 of the Book of Bamidbar, Moshe informs his brother Aharon that God had commanded Aharon to light and clean the menorah. This section of the Torah follows the description of the gifts that were offered by the leaders of all the tribes at the dedication and sanctification of the altar. Utilizing the Midrash, Rashi asks the following question:
“Why is the section of the Torah which deals with the Menorah juxtaposed with the section that declares the gifts of the tribal leaders (Nesi’im)? Because when Aharon witnessed the dedication of the Nesi’im, he became dejected because he was not included with them, not he and not his tribe. God thus said to him, I swear to you that your offering will be greater than theirs because you will light and clean the menorah.”
The Ramban explains why the lighting of the menorah is the greater gift. It is based upon another Midrash in which God commands Moshe to tell Aharon, “there is another dedication where there is the lighting of candles and it will be given to Israel through your descendants. This is an occasion of miracles salvation and dedication . . .this is the dedication of the sons of the Hasmoneans. Thus there is this juxtaposition between this section of lighting of the menorah and the dedication of the altar. The celebration or observance that we call Chanukah thus has great standing in our tradition. It continues for thousands of years after the destruction of the Temple and is observed and is continued by the Jewish people well into their exile and ultimately their return to the land of Israel. It was ordained by God and directly transmitted to Moshe.
The Torah calls the festival of Shavuot “Yom Habikurim” or the day of the ripening of the first grains of the wheat harvest. Bamidbar, 28:26. Rashi explains the text as follows, “the festival of Shavuot is called the first ripening of the wheat which was cut, because of the two loaves of bread (Shtei Halechem) which were the first offering of wheat which comes from the new wheat.” Rashi on Bamidbar 28:26. The Torah calls this offering of the Shtei Halechem, “Mincha Chadasha” or the “New Offering.” Vayikra, 23:17. It was only after the Shtei Halechem were brought that any of the new wheat was permitted to be used as a Mincha (wheat sacrifice). The Shtei Halechem always had to be the first offering of the new wheat.
The Rambam elaborates on this festival and tells us:
On the fiftieth day from the counting of the Omer is the festival of Shavuot and it is Atzeret, (i.e. that is the completion of the holiday time frame that began with Pesach) . . . and also we bring over and above the normal musaf sacrifices on this day a new meal offering, the two loaves. . .
Mishneh Torah, T’midim Umusafim, 8:1.
The Torah sets several conditions for this offering: The wheat must be cut from crops that are grown in the land of Israel; it should be from new wheat (Chadash) of the current year which is valid for use only after the 16th of Nisan; finally, and most unusual the two loaves, unlike all other meal offerings, must be leavened (Chametz) and as a result, are unable to become a burnt offering on the altar. There is a major controversy in the Talmud as to whether the Shtei Halechem may be brought from Yoshon (last year’s wheat) if Chadash is not available. See Menachot 73b. There also seems to be a controversy on this issue between the Rambam and the Raavad where the Rambam rules that in the absence of Chadash the Shtei Halechem may be brought from Yoshon. See Mishneh Torah, T’midim Umusafim, 8:2. There is no question that the Shtei Halechem must be Chametz for the Torah clearly states, “they are to be baked Chametz.” Vayikra 23:17. The consequence of making the Shtei Halechem into Chametz is that they could not be brought upon the altar. Mishneh Torah, Maaseh Hakorbanot, 12:3. See also T’midim Umusafim 8:9.