Passover, the Incomplete Festival

Most Jews don't understand that the Exodus we celebrate at Passover is only a prelude to the main event at Mt. Sinai.

BY: David Klinghoffer


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The solution lies in seeing that Hebrew is not only compact but precise. Dayenu-"It would have been enough for us," for us specifically, the "us" who were victims of Egyptian enslavement, escaped being chattel, who would have been happy simply to be out from under the burden of pharaoh's subjugation.

But would it have been enough for God, or for humanity, if the Lord had merely brought us up from Egypt and left us, free, at the foot of Mt. Sinai without giving us the Torah? Human history was meant to be the history of our priesthood in service of mankind. The foundation, the constitution, of our priesthood is Torah. For mankind, a Jewish people freed from slavery but unacquainted with Torah would not have been enough.

That is why Passover is so insistently linked with Shavuot. This, incidentally, helps makes sense of the overall structure of the Jewish religious calendar, which revolves around two clusters of holidays separated by six months, each cluster associated with one of Torah's distinct "new years." One Jewish "new year" comes in the spring with Passover followed by Shavuot. Another "new year," in the autumn, commences the other festival-cluster: Rosh Hashanah followed immediately by Yom Kippur followed immediately by Sukkot.

To put the matter simply: The first cluster (Passover-Shavuot) is about origins-the origins of Torah, hence the birth of the Jewish people whose identity is defined by Torah. The second cluster (Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur-Sukkot) is about continuity: "Now that we're Jews, what are we supposed to do?"

At Rosh Hashanah, God evaluates our performance as His partners in the covenant of Torah. At Yom Kippur we renounce our actions that amount to violations of the contract with God and resolve to improve our level of compliance. At Sukkot, we appreciate God's tender protection and abiding love despite our failures, which is the reason behind our spending the week of this most joyous of festivals camping out in huts (in Hebrew, sukkot), unprotected by the sheltering architecture of our permanent dwellings.

Sukkot is also the apocalyptic Jewish holiday, anticipating the time when the priestly purpose of Jewish existence will be fulfilled, with the world's peoples coming up to Jerusalem's rebuilt Temple "every year to worship the King, the Lord, Master of Legions, and to celebrate the festival of Sukkot" (Zechariah 14:16).

When you step back to a contemplative distance and observe the integrity of the Torah's calendar, it becomes obvious why leaving out any part or element in the whole, perfect structure-like, for example, venerating Passover but blowing off Shavuot leads to the structure's collapse.

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