The Unique and the Everyday
Parshat Pinchas: Numbers 25:10-30:1; Jeremiah 1:1-2:3.
The Torah portion of Pinchas concludes with a recounting of the special additional sacrifices, the Musaf sacrifices, made in the tabernacle and later in the Temple in Jerusalem on the different holidays of the year.
There is an interesting aspect to the sacrifices made on the holiday of Sukkot. On each of the days of Sukkot, the Musaf sacrifice was different as one less animal was offered on the altar than on the day before. This specific aspect of the holiday ritual has led to some interesting rabbinic commentaries.
One of the reasons given as to why the Talmudic school of Shammai taught that we should light eight lights on the first day of Chanukah and then decrease the number each day was to reflect the decreasing sacrifices of the holiday of Sukkot. In contrast, the school of Hillel taught that we should light one candle on the first day and increase by one each day so that we demonstrate that we should always increase in holiness and light in our lives rather than decrease.
There is also an interesting idea raised about this tradition in comparing the holiday of Sukkot to the holiday of Passover.
On Sukkot, we recite the Hallel service, the collection of psalms of praise, in its entirety on each of the days of the holiday. On Pesach, we only recite the full Hallel service at the beginning of the holiday and omit two psalms for the last six days of the festival.
One rabbinic tradition explains this difference by saying that the different sacrifices offered each day of Sukkot make each day truly different and, therefore, a cause for complete, intense praise of God. On the other hand, because the sacrifices were identical each day of Pesach, we do not praise God with the same amount of praise throughout the holiday. While the uniqueness of the day’s activity over Sukkot gives us the incentive to praise God more fully, the uniform nature of the sacrifices on Pesach are cause for less praise.
One of the great opportunities offered by studying rabbinic texts is the right to respectfully disagree with a particular interpretation, and I will do that here. While it is naturally easier to recognize differences from one day to the next and allow those differences to inspire excitement and praise, we must not disregard the similar miracles and wonders that are around us each day when we seek a reason for praising God.
Daily experiences such as the wonder of the sunrise and sunset, the presence of family and friends, and the miracle of our bodies and minds are also causes for praise; and it should not take a startlingly new event to inspire our thanks to our Creator.
We follow Hillel’s tradition of lighting Chanukah lights, increasing by one each day. May we find the increased holiness and meaning in each and every day of our lives.
Robert Dobrusin is rabbi of Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor.