“You find three verses [two in this week’s portion] that command you to rejoice in the Feast of Tabernacles….For Passover, however, you will not find even one command to rejoice. Why not?” Several explanations are offered in the commentary for the variations of joy-related commandments (there is one command to rejoice for Shavuot). Each explanation suggests important ideas about the calendar, including the upcoming fall holidays, and reciting Hallel throughout the year.
(For more on the festival cycle, see, e.g., Michael Strassfield’s article at My Jewish Learning.)
The People’s time in the wilderness with God — “the love of your bridal days” (Jer. 2:2) — is coming to an end in the portion Pinchas. This is perhaps reflected in the portion’s “extras”: the additional sacrifice for Shabbat (Numbers/Bamidbar 28:9-10) and the eighth day “atzeret,” at the close of the festival of Sukkot (Numbers/Bamidbar 29:35-39). These small, ephemeral extras help imbue Shabbat and Shemini Atzeret with a sense of intimate, transitory pleasure.
The word “havel” — vapor, mist, steam; futility, vanity — features prominently in the book of Ecclesiates/Kohelet, beginning with the second verse:
The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Utter futility! [havel havalim] — said Koheleth —
Utter futility! [havel havalim] All is futile! [ha-kol havel]Continue Reading