19.7. Laws Concerning the Sabbath and Festivals (23:10-19)

 (10) Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield;

(11) but in the seventh you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave let the wild beasts eat. You shall do the same with your vineyards and your olive groves.

(12) Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed.

(13) Be on guard concerning all that I have told you. Make no mention of the names of other gods; they shall not be heard on your lips.

(14) Three times a year you shall hold a festival for Me:

(15) You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread — eating unleavened bread for seven days as I have commanded you — at the set time in the month of Abib, for in it you went forth from Egypt; and none shall appear before Me empty-handed;

(16) and the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the field.

(17) Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Sovereign, the Lord.

(18) You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with anything leavened; and the fat of My festal offering shall not be left lying until morning.

(19) The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

(10-11) Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh you shall let it rest and lie fallow: Shemittah, a year of rest for the earth observed every seventh year, is similar in concept to the Shabbat observed one day out of every week. The meaning of the Shabbat is, that no matter how important our work is for transforming the world, we must not become enslaved by that work. And likewise, the meaning of the Shemittah year is, that no matter how important the Land of Israel is for the proper development of the Jewish people, they must not become enslaved to the land.

You shall let it rest and lie fallow: You must not cultivate the land, or make any use of its crop. That is, rather than taking it for your own use, you must leave it for the needy and the wild beasts (as the verse goes on to say).

Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave let the wild beasts eat: Here the social and ecological aspect of the Shemittah year is emphasized.

You shall do the same with your vineyards and your olive groves: These grow perennially, and we might have thought that only the produce that was planted in the seventh year belongs to the entire people collectively. The Torah therefore tells us explicitly that the yield of perennial plants also belongs to all in the Shemittah year.

(12) Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed: Earlier, in the Ten Commandments (20:8 ff.), a cosmic rationale was advanced for weekly Shabbat observance (“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day”). But here (as above, with respect to the Shemittah year) the justification is social: to assure a day of rest for slaves and domesticated animals, who cannot set a day of rest for themselves.

(13) Be on guard concerning all that I have told you. Make no mention of the names of other gods; they shall not be heard on your lips: Observing the prohibition of idolatry is equivalent to preserving the entire Torah.

(14) Three times a year you shall hold a festival for Me: Only the three pilgrimage holidays, the Shalosh Regalim, are mentioned here, but not Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

There can be two explanations for this: (1) in this passage the Torah speaks of agriculture, and only the three pilgrimage holidays are associated with it, (2) Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are associated with atonement for sins, and this theme is first mentioned in the Torah only later, after the incident of the golden calf.

(15-17) The Feast of Unleavened Bread … and none shall appear before Me empty-handed; and the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits … and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year …Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Sovereign, the Lord: All Israelites shall make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem for these three festivals – Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. No one may arrive empty-handed – they must come bearing animal sacrifices in honor of the holiday. Each head of household brings his chagigah sacrifice (the word means “celebration”), and eats it together with his family as a celebratory, festive meal.

Thus, these festivals serve the purpose, inter alia, of associating each family’s agricultural activity with the Temple in Jerusalem. The harvest represents the material aspect of life, and is seen as an integral aspect of the spiritual.

(18) You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with anything leavened: These instructions pertain to the festival sacrifices specifically. Leavened foodstuffs, products of the process of fermentation, were not offered on the altar (Lev. 2:11). Leaven is seen as symbolic of a person absorbed in his own ideas and thoughts. The Temple service, in contrast, required psychological and spiritual self-denial, disconnecting oneself from one’s own personal goals and outlook.

And the fat of My festal offering shall not be left lying until morning: Leaving over a portion of the meat of the offering until the following morning would demonstrate neglect of the sacrifice. Family and guests were therefore invited to eat festival sacrifices as a group, which facilitated social cohesion.

(19) The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God: Above (in v. 16), the connection between the first fruits and Shavuot (the second of the pilgrimage holidays) is already mentioned – but in this verse it is given as a commandment. By bringing the first fruits to the Temple we testify that the earth in its entirety belongs to God, and we acknowledge that we are only His “tenant farmers,” as it were.

You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk: Halachically, this verse is understood as the prohibition of mixing meat and milk.

From a moral viewpoint, however, we can understand this prohibition as an admonition regarding callousness in the slaughter and eating of animals, and also “depriving animals of what is rightfully theirs” by appropriating their milk for our own use. Although the Torah permits the eating of meat, it requires that we not kill animals indifferently, for they are living creatures. The Torah also permits taking milk from animals, but if we do so with no regard for the welfare and feelings of the animal, we commit a form of robbery. We must remember that this milk is not intended for us in the first place. As a demonstration of this understanding, the Torah commands: Limit yourself in what is permitted. Mixing murder and robbery only exacerbates both crimes. Therefore: “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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