Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Zman Simchateinu - or not?

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe has a theory that just as Pesach celebrates the Exodus and Shavuot celebrates the Giving of the Torah, Sukkot must celebrate a specific historic event too. The Talmud records that Sukkot commemorates the Clouds of Glory that protected us in the desert during the forty years of wandering. This is derived exegetically, from verses that equate "G-d's Sukkah" with "clouds of glory", e.g. Ps. 18:11-12, Job 36:29. It does not, as far as I know, record a specific historic date.

R' Wolpoe speculates that Sukkot celebrates the dedication of the First Temple by King Solomon, which occurred on Sukkot (see I Kings 8). He bolsters this with the idea that the saddest day of the year, 9 Av, commemorates the destruction of the Temple[s], therefore the day that is defined as Z'man Simchateinu, the time of our rejoicing, commemorates the dedication of the Temple.

This doesn't work for me. It seems backwards.

Shlomo Hamelech presumably scheduled the dedication for Sukkot because people would already have to be in Jerusalem for the Regel (pilgrimage festival). The Temple was finished in the year 7 of Shlomo’s reign, in the 8th month; the Temple was dedicated some time later in the 7th month - at least 11 months later. Or did he wait 13 years until his palace was built before dedicating the Temple? The text is not clear.

The Exodus' timing was God's idea. The timing of the giving of the Torah was also God's idea. Both predate the actual giving of the mitzvoth of Pesach and Shavuot. The timing of the Temple dedication was

a) not until 487+ years after the festival of Sukkot was ordained;

b) arranged by Shlomo haMelech for the convenience of the olim laregel.

Chanukah happening when it did, on the anniversary of Zerubavel's Aliyah movement, that was the hand of God. Well, actually, it was the Maccabees scheduling it, since they retook the Temple in Cheshvan, and then took, I think, a year, or at least six weeks, restoring it. In the event, the Greeks first offered sacrifices in our Temple on the 25th of Kislev, so the McBees chose that as their rededication day (see I Macc i, iv).

So Sukkot is *not* a commemoration of the dedication of the Temple; rather, Shlomo haMelech dedicated the Temple on Sukkot because it was convenient. The point that the dedication was a commemoration of Sukkot qua Ananei haKavod was reinforced by the Ananei Hakavod filling the Temple on its dedication day. (see I Kings 8 and surrounding chapters). We may indeed commemorate the Temple dedication on Sukkot, it did happen on Sukkot, but the commemoration of the Temple dedication is not the essence of the holiday.

On the contrary, rejoicing on Sukkot is part of the Biblical definition of the holiday, therefore predating the First Temple by almost 500 years. Rejoicing is understood by Chazal in many ways - over economic plenty (the harvest festival), over successful completion of the Teshuvah season (which then explains why Shmini Atzeret is also Zman Simchateinu - because it comes after the close of the appeals period, on Hoshana Rabba), and ach sameiach, an incomplete rejoicing because we are in the real world where life always intervenes.

Further, the Mishkan was set up on 1 Nissan, the Second Temple was dedicated on 3 Adar, the Maccabean Temple was dedicated on 25 Kislev, and here the First Temple was dedicated on Sukkot. So there's no single day devoted to commemorating the Temple's dedication, as there is to the two Destructions.

So I don't see the necessity of a historical date, or of forcing Zman Simchateinu to correspond to one.

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