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Parshat Re'eh

Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover of the LORD your God; for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night... And you shalt keep the Feast of Weeks unto the LORD your God after the measure of the freewill-offering of your hand, which you shall give, according as the LORD your God blesses you... You shall keep the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, after that which you have gathered from your threshing-floor and from your wine press.” (Deuteronomy 16)

The three pilgrim festivals discussed in Parshat Re’eh – Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, each associated with a particular season of the year – were referred to earlier in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28-29.

Here in connection with Passover we read: “Observe the month of Abib (Spring) and offer a Passover sacrifice to the Lord your God…” (Deut. 16:1). Shavuot is the festival that celebrates the harvesting of the first wheat and fruit crops: “You shall count off seven weeks; start to count the seven weeks when the sickle is first put to the standing grain” (Deut. 16:9). The count starts on the second night of Passover and lasts for seven weeks, that is, until early summer.

Sukkot, which falls in the autumn, celebrates the last harvest of the year: “After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Feast of Booths for seven days” (Deut. 16:13).

All three holidays also have historical associations: Passover commemorates the Exodus from Egypt; Shavuot, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai; and Sukkoth, the years of wandering in the wilderness. Why did Moses relate to these festivals for the third time? What did he reveal in this parsha that was new?

Reading the opening verses concerning Passover, we realize that the reference to “the month of Abib” in this context is unique to this text. The emphasis in Parashat Re’eh appears to be on the agricultural aspect of the festivals, which demands that they be celebrated at the appropriate times. As this requirement mandates periodic leap years, every so often an extra month (Adar II) is added to the Jewish calendar just before Passover to reconcile the lunar and solar cycles so that the pilgrimage festivals can be celebrated at their appointed seasons.

In his visualization for this parsha, artist Avner Moriah relates to both the historical and the seasonal features of these holidays. The painting is divided into three registers, one for each festival. The top register, concerning Passover, includes three separate scenes, two of which are set against a green background, an allusion to the Spring, the month of Abib. The white pyramids in the upper image recall the Exodus, and we see the Israelites marching upon what seems to be an outstretched long white arm leading them away from Egypt.

The lower right-hand image depicts the tenth plague – the death of the Egyptians’ firstborn – after which Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go. The scene to the left shows the crossing of the Sea, with the waters parting, the Israelites passing over, and the Egyptians drowning: “For it was in the month of Abib at night that the Lord your God freed you from Egypt” (Deut. 16:1).

The middle register portrays reaping on Shavuot, suggested by the figure of a farmer with a pitchfork piling up the grain he has cut. The bottom register, which shows several women gathering the ripened crop, is a reference to the time of the year’s last harvest, which is celebrated on Sukkot. Interestingly, the artist modeled this last image on Millet’s 1857 painting "The Gleaners," where the artist’s intent was to celebrate the simple people who come with dignity to glean at the very end of the harvest.

Moriah’s portrayal for these festivals illustrates their twofold significance. The images in the top register suggest the chronological linear direction connecting Passover with the historical past, whereas the other scenes figure the agricultural aspects of these holidays in the Land of Israel: “Three times a year…all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place that He will choose” (Deut.16:16).

Click here for additional illuminations by Avner Moriah on the weekly Torah portions.

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