Holy Day Rituals in the Second Holy Temple

Holy Day Rituals in the Second Holy Temple

Arthur L. Finkle


In delving into instances of shofar occurrences, we have discovered a rich panoply of rites performed for the holidays celebrated in the Holy Temple. This article will describe some of these rituals that, heretofore, may have been hidden.

With this knowledge, we can achieve a better understanding of the sacrificial cult, the place of prayer and ritual.

Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that gives it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering. And this is the offering which you shall take of them; gold and silver and brass… (Exodus 25, 2-3).

This teaches that the Holy One showed three offerings: one of tabernacle, one of the First Temple, and one of the Second Temple, as it says: gold, silver and brass.

Gold – to reflect the Tabernacle that Moshe made, which was beloved by the Holy One Blessed be He as gold.

Silver – this is the First Temple that Solomon built of which it is written: silver was not valued at the days of Solomon at all (Chronicles 9).

Brass – this is the Second Temple that was missing five things: the Ark, the Ark-cover, Cherubim, (heavenly) Fire and Holy Spirit.

Descriptions do not generally include the abattoir of sacrifices which the Temple had become due to the method of worship during that particular time period.

This contribution is dedicated to my wife, Linda of 50 years, my children Andrew and Daniel and my grand-children Julia and Joshua asd well as to my daughter-in-law, Heather.

Inspirating me to articulate this history were my mentor Rabbi Jack Pianko, zt’l; Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom; and Rabbi Eric Wisnia.

Table of Contents

Preface. 1

Rosh Hashanah. 4

Origin, Name and Date. 6

The New Moons. 6

Sounding of the Shofar or Trumpet?. 7

Further Confusion. 9

The Moon of the Seventh Month. 10

The Mishnah: Beginning of Repentance Theme. 11

The Talmud: Life or Death. 11

Compromise on the Shofar Notes. 13

Yom Kippur. 13

Feast of the Harvest (Sukkot). 16

Water Libation Ceremony. 16

Role of the Trumpet (Shofar). 18

Water: Special Significance. 20

Aravot (Willow Branch) Ceremony. 20

Transition of Water Willow Dance to Hoshana Rabba. 24

The Order of the Hoshana Rabba Service. 25

Passover. 27

Feast of Weeks (Shavuot). 30

The “Seven Species” of the Land of Israel 31

How Are the Firstfruits Separated?. 32

The Pilgrims Make Their Way to Jerusalem.. 33

In the City of the Assembly Head. 33

The Approach to Jerusalem.. 34

Bringing the Firstfruits to the Temple. 35

Decorating the Baskets. 35

The Rich and Poor of Israel Give Thanks Together. 36

The Firstfruits are Brought Opposite the Entrance to the Sanctuary. 36

Reciting the Biblical Passages Out Loud. 37

Waving the Firstfruits. 37

Setting the Firstfruits Down. 38

The Twin Loaves. 38

Preparing Wheat for the “Twin Loaves”-The Procedure of “Rubbing and Beating”. 39

Trumpets, Flute and Song as the Twin Loaves Are Brought. 40

“Waving” the Festival Sheep Offering Before G-d. 40

The Priests Partake of the “Twin Loaves” Within the Sanctified Area. 41

Shavuot – Pentecost. 43

Shavuot in Temple Times. 43

Why a Bread Offering?. 44

Chag Hakatsir – The Harvest Festival 44

First Fruits Ceremony at the Temple. 45

Ceremony of Bikkurim.. 46

The Exodus Account. 47

Nehemiah’s Yom Teruah. 50

A Second Temple Witness. 51

The Historical Understanding Of Pentecost (Shavuot). 51

Shavuot and Shofars. 51

Shofar. 53

The Horns of the Altar. 54

The Wood-Festival Of The Priests And Of The People. 56

Holy Day Rituals in the Second Holy Temple

Rosh Hashanah

In Leviticus, the first day of the seventh month is described as follows:

In the seventh month on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Lord (Leviticus 23:24-25).

In Numbers, we read:

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations…. You shall observe it as a day when the horn is sounded. You shall present a burnt offering of pleasing odor to the Lord (Numbers 29:1-2).

The sacred number ‘seven’ is critical. Just as the seventh day of the week is holy, so the seventh month of the year has special significance. This special sacredness is commemorated by the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn.

Aside from sacrifice, this is the only specific action mandated for this day in the Torah. Sounding the shofar is mentioned in both sets of verses, although no explanation or reason is offered. Taken together, the three elements of these verses–the lack of a name for the holiday, of a reason for the celebration, and of an explanation for sounding the shofar–pose a puzzle for us: why doesn’t the Torah describe or emphasize this holy day any further?

Although the Bible had not yet conferred a title on Rosh Hashanah (literally, the beginning or head of the year), and although it had not yet connected that holiday to Yom Kippur, it is nonetheless conceivable that the first of Tishre was thought of, even in early times, as a time of “cosmic judgment. . . when the destiny of the world was fixed.”

Why, then, this reticence on the part of the Torah to ascribe all these meanings more explicitly to “the first day of the seventh month”? Perhaps the pagan connotations of this day were still too strong. After all, the Babylonian celebration centered upon struggles between gods and demons for dominance and was characterized by the use of magic and incantations. Nothing of paganism remains, however, in the psalms. Mosaic monotheism had already transformed this day completely into the prototype of Rosh Hashanah as we now know it. If these psalms were indeed intended for recitation on the first of the seventh month, then even at this early date the Israelite New Year festival celebrated the Lord as the sole creator of the world, and as the righteous judge who dispenses justice for all humankind.

The first day of the seventh month is mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah as a holy day upon which an important event took place in the year 444 BCE:

When the seventh month arrived, the entire people assembled in the square before the Temple Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the scroll of the Teaching of Moses with which the Lord had charged Israel. On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Teaching before the congregation, men and women and all who could listen with understanding. He read from it, facing the square before the Water Gate, from the first light until midday… (Nehemiah 8:1‑3).

At this impressive gathering, the people of Israel renewed their covenant with God and accepted the Torah as their basic law. The people wept when they realized how far they had strayed from the teachings that were in the Torah. But they were admonished not to mourn because “this day is holy to the Lord your God” (Nehemiah 8:9). The holiness of the first day of the seventh month-‑made plain in this biblical narrative-‑may constitutes the reason that it was chosen for this ceremony of reading and accepting the Law. At the same time, the Bible does not describe any specific New Year customs observed on that day.

Of greatest import, however, is the information given in the Mishnah about the role of judgment on the first of Tishre, is designated as “Rosh Hashanah:” It is also the day of ‘Yom Terua’ – the day of the Shofar blast.

Indeed, it is the beginning of the religious year and the penitential season:

“The Lord looks down from heaven, He sees all mankind. From His dwelling place He gazes on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, who discerns all their doings” (Psalms 33:13‑15) (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1.2).

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer Entering the High Holy Days. Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Publication Society,

Origin, Name and Date

In ancient times, there were four years in the Hebrew calendar: Religious, Coronation; Gifts and Trees.

“On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts” Leviticus 24:25).

It is likely that the new year was celebrated from the earliest times in some special way. The term rosh hashanah first appears in Ezekiel 40:1 in general reference to the “beginning of the year.” The commands that “the trumpet (shall be) sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month”. The first day of the seventh month is set aside as a special day in
The hatzotzerot, in contrast, seem to have been interchanged with the Shofar. In Tractate Rosh HsShanah, when it termed when ‘duty days’ were taken in turns, the Shofar and trumpets played the same calls.

Confusion by Performing the Same or Similar Tasks

The Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 54 provides a description of the priests lowering trumpets during pauses in the Levitical singing in the Second Temple, signaling to worshippers to prostrate themselves.

Further there is a curious reference in I Chron. 5:13 instructing the trumpeters and singers being ‘as one, to make one sound.’ It bespeaks the possibility that the trumpets played a sustained note over which the singers chanted as opposed to the trumpets and singers having separate parts. Moreover, one of the common words for ‘fanfare’ is “teru’ah” meaning ‘a shout’. Accordingly, this fanfare could be described to have been the imitation of a shout. Sometimes this ambiguity
between a vocal or instrumental meaning is difficult. A case in point is the famous passage in the Vulgate edition (Official early church version of the Holy Scriptures) of Joshua 5, ‘where the priests were to blow the Shofars, while the peoples shouted: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound (‘kol’) of the Shofar the peoples shouted with a great shout (teru’ah) so that the wall fell down flat.’

The Vulgate cannot be blamed for glossing because , by this time, there was a lack of distinction between the Shofar and trumpet.

History of the Uses of the Trumpet and Shofar Reverse Roles

The marshaling signals are described in Numbers 10, though in war the Shofar seems to have been the signaling instrument par excellence. All these functions, and their calls, seem later to have been appropriated by the Shofars. The encyclopedic Psalm 150, for example, makes no
mention of the trumpet. Only lately (in the last century or so B.C.) do trumpets appear to come back into their former favor; but, due to Greco- Roman influence, their use is primarily military. Indeed the roles of the two instruments seem to have become reversed; the Talmud says ‘what was called a trumpet has become a Shofar, and what was called a Shofar has become a trumpet’ (Bab. Talmud Shabbat 36a; also Sukkoth 34a; and Rosh HaShanah 36a; Targum version of Hosea 5:8). A passage in the Mishnah (Gittin 3:6) indicates much the same thing, in saying that a ‘trumpet’ can be made of animal horn. So the Shofar eventually took on the ceremonial function originally performed by the trumpet.

This confusion of usage makes the task of reconstructing the trumpet and Shofar calls simpler rather than the reverse, for the instruments and their traditional signals may be treated summarily. Since the
Shofar calls themselves are the subject of some differences in our own times and were disputed in Talmudic times.

The Shofar had specifications according to the Mishnah. For example, it could not have holes; it could be not be valid if there was a split in the horn. The horn should be from a preferably kosher animal but never a cow (reminding one of the worship of the Golden Calf during Moses’ journey to receive the Ten Commandments for the first time.) It should be sounded from the small end of the horn. Horns could not be placed inside other horns; and there were restrictions as to decorations on the Shofar itself. (See Rosh HaShanah Mishnah and Talmud)

Further it is not clear whether the Shofar was used originally for ritual (as Leviticus 25 suggests) or for war purposes (Joshua 6). We do know, however, that Tractate Shabbat 35b provides that the Shofar sounded six times to prepare for the Sabbath.

Eventually, after the destruction of the second Temple, the Shofar was identified with Rosh HaShanah (the beginning of the religious year, sometimes known as Yom Teruah (Day of the blast) or Chag HaShoforot (the Shofar festival).

In addition, no minor authority, Cyrus Adler, indicated that cornet (a type of trumpet) and Shofar were used interchangeably.

Further Confusion

In “Sound The Shofar – “Ba-Kesse” Psalm 81:4,” Solomon B . Freehof, a a professor at Hebrew Union College, follows the strange history of translation. The preponderance of traditional (Jewish) commentators agree on one translation of it and all the non-traditional commentators (non-Jewish) unanimously agree on another. One partial exception to this strange lineup is Rashi (11th century commentator), who translates “Ba-Kesse” as ‘here’ and in Proverbs 7:20 as ‘the special day,’ or ‘the appointed day.’ But he, too, in his commentary to Rosh HaShonah 8a-b, agrees with all the traditional commentators, beginning with the Talmud and the Midrash, Leviticus Rabba 29:6, taking the word to be a synonym of the word “Chodesh” in the first part of the sentence, meaning: The New Moon.

However, the non-traditional commentators of the 19th century, Wellhausen in Proverbs, Duhm in Psalms, and Briggs and Toy in the International Critical Commentary, and our modern English translation, all agree to translate the word “Kesse” not as “New Moon” but as Full Moon.

Accordingly, the evidence seems to be on the side of the traditional commentators who legitimized the appearance of the New Moon in the Seventh month as the Rosh HaShanah (Beginning of the Religious New Year)

See References: Cyrus Adler, The Shofar – It’s Use and Origin Published in 1893, Government Printing Office (Washington) , pp 287-311; Solomon B. Freehof, “Sound the Shofar: ‘Ba-Kesse’ Psalm 81:4, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Jan., 1974), pp. 225-228, University of Pennsylvania Press; Sidney B. Hoenig, “Origins of the Rosh Hashanah Liturgy.”The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 57, The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Volume of the Jewish Quarterly Review (1967), pp. 312-331, University of Pennsylvania Press; David Wulstan, “The Sounding of the Shofar,” The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 26 (May, 1973), pp. 29-46, London: Galpin Society.

The Sacrifices of the New Moon

Besides the ‘blowing of trumpets,’ certain festive sacrifices were ordered to be offered on the New Moon (Num 28:11-15).

The Moon of the Seventh Month

Quite distinct from the other new moons, and more sacred than they, was that of the seventh month, or Tishri, partly on account of the symbolical meaning of the seventh or sabbatical month, in which the great feasts of the Day of Atonement and of Tabernacles occurred, and partly, perhaps, because it also marked the commencement of the civil year, always supposing that, as Josephus and most Jewish writers maintain, the distinction between the sacred and civil year dates from the time of Moses.

Lev 23:24 designated the New Moon as the ‘memorial blowing’ or ‘the day of blowing’ (Num 29:1), because on that day the trumpets, or rather, as we shall see, the horns were blown all day long in Jerusalem. It was to be observed as ‘a Sabbath,’ and ‘a holy convocation,’ in which ‘no servile work’ might be done. The prescribed offerings for the day consisted, besides the ordinary morning and evening sacrifices, first, of the burnt-offerings, but not the sin-offering, of ordinary new moons, with their meat- and drink-offerings, and after that, of another festive burnt-offering of one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs, with their appropriate meat- and drink-offerings, together with ‘one kid of the goats for a sin-offering, to make an atonement for you.’

The Mishnah: Beginning of Repentance Theme

The Mishnah, which devotes a special tractate to this feast, remarks that a year may be arranged according to four different periods; the first, beginning with the 1st of Nisan, being for ‘kings’ (to compute taxation) and for computing the feasts; the second, on the 1st of Elul (the sixth month), for tithing flocks and herds, any animal born after that not being reckoned within the previous year; the third, on the 1st of Tishri (the seventh month), for the Religious year and 1st of Shebat (the eleventh month) for trees. Similarly, continues the Mishnah, there are four seasons when judgment is pronounced upon the world: at the Passover, in regard to the harvest; at Pentecost, in regard to the fruits of trees; on the Feast of Tabernacles, in regard to the dispensation of rain; while on ‘New Year’s Day all the children of men pass before Him like lambs (when they are counted for the tithing), as it is written (Psa 33:15), “He fashioneth their hearts alike; He considereth all their works.”‘

The Talmud: Life or Death

To this we may add, as a comment of the Talmud, that on New Year’s Day three books were opened— of life, for those whose works had been good; another of death, for those who had been thoroughly evil; and a third, intermediate, for those whose case was to be decided on the Day of Atonement (ten days after New Year), the delay being granted for repentance, or otherwise, after which their names would be finally entered, either in the book of life, or in that of death. By these terms, however, eternal life or death are not necessarily meant; rather earthly well-being, and, perhaps, temporal life, or the opposite. It is not necessary to explain at length on what Scriptural passages this curious view about the three books is supposed to rest. *

Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services,
The New Moons: The Feast of the Seventh New Moon, or of Trumpets, or New Year’s Day,

Although the Mishnah cites the origin for the sounding of the Shofar based in the Hebrew Scripture, the actuality is that the Mishnah and Talmud regularized and legitimatized the Shofar’s predominance at both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur after the destruction of the Second Temple.

Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 3:3 cites that the Shofar is played on Yom Teruah (Day of Blasting or Rosh HaShanah) because it was sounded at the special sacrifice at Rosh HaShanah. Additionally, it was sounded on Yom Kippur to announce to Jubilee Year (every 50 years, Jews could reclaim their sold lands; Jewish slaves were freed; debts forgiven; etc.). Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 3:3 says in part:

The Shofar [blown in the Temple] at the New Year was [made from the horn] of the wild goat, straight, with its mouthpiece overlaid with gold. And at the sides [of them that blew the Shofar] were two (that blew upon) trumpets. The Shofar blew a long note and the trumpets a short note, since the duty of the day fell on the Shofar.

The Mishnah thus emphasizes that in Rosh HaShanah symbolized the Shofar; the trumpets, the other special days.

However, Hoenig does not trace a specific sacrifice relating to the sound of the Shofar at the Temple ritual for Rosh HaShanah.

Zeitlin traces the history of prayer as essential for history of religion because it traces the evolution of humankind’s relationship to God.

He indicates that, biblical horns blasts indicate a plague or another calamity. In many cases such blasts called an assembly, blew the Shofar and fasted, (Joel 2.15-16.)

Indeed, we learn that the Holiness Code that set apart a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts (Lev 24) as Zikhron tru’ah (commemoration by blasting) Also found in Num 29:1. The sounding of horns had various functions in Ancient Israel, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East. Usually, it was a method of assembling the people before moving on to a new location or of mustering troops for battle. Cultic uses as well. Here it is hint that there is a pilgrimage day at full moon (Sukot) (JPS Torah Commentary, Leviticus, p 160.)

The later prophets, however, preached the universality of God. They ceased calling the Temple, the house of God. Indeed, the universality bespeaks omnipotence and omnipresence. Isaiah declares: “Thus, said God, the heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool; where is the house that ye may build unto Me? Where is the place that may be My resting place?” (Isa. 66.1).

In the Book of Psalms repentance is connected with prayer. In the Books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah confession was already a part of prayer. (Ps. 32.5; 41.5; 51.3-7).

The Hebrew Scriptures note that the first day of the seventh month shall be one of remembrance by sounding the blast of the horn (teruah). Though the practice of blowing trumpets is generally associated with the offering of sacrifices, as recorded in Numbers 10: 10: “And in your day of gladness and in your appointed seasons and in your new moons, ye shall sound with the trumpets (hatzotzerot) over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings, and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God,”

The Scriptures are support that “the blast of the horn” is singled out on the first day of the seventh month (Rosh HaShanah) as an exceptional rite. Nevertheless, there are numerous verses that cite hatzotzerot (trumpets) associated the sacrificial cult, performed by Hezekiah, hatzotzerotin deed play a significant role. 4 Yet the Bible generally associates “blasts of sound” with Shofar, announcing assembly, travel or war. (Num. 10:1 ff.; 1 Chron. 15: 24.

Apparently hatzotzerot were the usual Temple musical instruments whereas Shofar was only for special occasions. Cf. “Musical Instruments,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, p. 472.

See References: Arthur L. Finkle.. Easy Guide to Shofar Sounding, LA: Torah Aura, 2002;

Sidney B. Hoenig, Origins of the Rosh Hashanah Liturgy, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 57, The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Volume of the Jewish Quarterly Review (1967), pp. 312-331, University of Pennsylvania Press; JPS Torah Commentary – Leviticus, Commentary Baruch A. Levine, Philadelphia: JPS, 1989; David Wulstan, The Sounding of the Shofar Author(s): Source: The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 26 (May, 1973), pp. 29-46,Galpin Society; Solomon Zeitlin, An Historical Study of the First Canonization of the Hebrew Liturgy, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Jan., 1946), pp. 211-229, University of Pennsylvania Press

The Mishanic Tractate with Talmudic interpretation of ‘Rosh Hashanah’ speaks, among other things to the Shofar; the Shofar, after destruction of Temple,( RH. 137f.; Shofar, announcing Messiah, (San. 654); Shofar and the Bet Din ( RH. 137ff.); Shofar blessings over, (RH. 120); children; its physical composition offerings; kosher shofar; order of the blasts; practicing; and other Shofar matters.

Compromise on the Shofar Notes

We do, however, know that the Sages discussed the configuration of the notes as they were played in the Temple. They knew what the tekiah note was (a blast). However, these Sages whose fathers had probably heard the Shofar soundings in the Temple. Then Sages could not remember the correct playing of the terua (whether is was three sobbing sounds or nine staccato sounds). Accordingly, to accommodate each school of thought, they compromised by inventing the shevarim and played both the terua and shevarim to be certain the sound was correct. See Mishneh Berurah 590:2


Unlike the first day of the seventh month [which became known as Rosh Hashanah], the 10th day has a specific designation and purpose in the Torah, with elaborate rites connected to it:

“Mark, the 10th day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Lord; and you shall do no work throughout that day. For it is a Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God… Do no work whatever; it is a law for all time, throughout the generations in all your settlements. It shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall observe this your Sabbath” (Lev. 23:27-32).

The designation of this day is reiterated in Numbers:

“On the 10th of the same seventh month you shall observe a sacred occasion when you shall practice self-denial. You shall do no work” (Num. 29:7).

Self-denial–inui nefesh in Hebrew (literally, afflicting one’s soul)–traditionally has been understood to refer to fasting. For the Israelites, this Day of Atonement was therefore a day for fasting and complete cessation of work, observed by individuals in their homes and settlements.

While observed today as a time for individual atonement, the biblical Yom Kippur is primarily a priestly institution:

“The priest who has been anointed and ordained to serve as priest in place of his father shall make expiation. He shall put on the linen vestments, the sacral vestments. He shall purge the inmost Shrine; he shall purge the Tent of Meeting and the altar; and he shall make expiation for the priests and for all the people of the congregation ” (Lev. 16:29-33).

the High Priest performed Yom Kippur in the sanctuary. His presence so important that he was given a red string from which to pull him out of the Holy of Holies should he die. He also have a conditional divorce to his wife, should he die. And there was a High Priest in waiting should the High Priest succumb so as not to perform the sacred Yom Kippur ritual to expiate the sins of the community of Israel. Tractate Yoma, ch 1-8.

Five times, the High Priest changes his clothes after ritual purification of holy water in the ritual bath (mikva).

Most important was symbolic expiation of sins for the community of Israel as represented by a goat (Scapegoat). Actually, there were two young goats. One was sacrificed by the High Priest, while the other was sent to his death over a cliff and attested to by Temple. Officials

Theodor Gaster points out that the purification transformed its pagan antecedent. Carried out “before the Lord,” it is no longer “a mere mechanical act of purgation. The people had to be cleansed not for themselves but for their God: ‘before the Lord shall you be clean’ (Lev. 16:30). Sin and corruption were now regarded as impediments not merely to their material welfare and prosperity but to the fulfillment of their duty to God” [Festivals of the Jewish Year, 1952, p. 144].

The priest brought a sin offering that would “make expiation for himself and his household” (Lev. 16:11), to enter the Holy of Holies and place sacrificial blood on the cover of the ark, known as the “atonement seat” (Lev. 16:12-14), and thus to “make expiation in the Shrine” (Lev. 16:17).

See Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer, Entering the High Holy Days. Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Publication Society, 1998.

On Yom Kippur, the Shofar heralded the Jubilee Year (Lev 25:8). In this special 50th years, there was no work on the land, all slave went free; and all land returns to its original owners.

The Talmud mentions that the Left horn of Yitzchak story was sounded by God; the Right horn will be blown by the Messiah.

Feast of the Harvest (Sukot)

Sukkot expressed gratitude of the harvest of the past year and the petition for a good harvest in the succeeding year. There ceremonies were joyous; the rituals, elaborate.

Water Libation Ceremony

The Water Libation Ceremony was performed each day of Succot. The rationale teaches the Jewish people to bring water before Him on Succot, petitioning for adequate rains, paramount to the success of an agricultural society. (Succah Bavli 37; and RH 16a). Another interpretation from the Midrash is that the lower waters were sad when God separated the waters to upper and lower. Their distress was noted by God that the lower waters would be elevated during this season. (Rabbaynu Bachya to Lev 1:13)

The Water Libation ceremony was an elaborate ritual emitting great joy, in fulfilling of Is. 12:3: “”You shall draw water with joy from the wellsprings of salvation.”

The Water Libation ceremony, however, was a joyous celebration during the holiday of Succot. We find a minute description of this water libation ceremony in Talmud Yerulshalmi 30a, wherein two priests stood by the Upper Gate that; led to the Israelites courtyard. When the crier called out, the Kohanim sounded a series of tekiah, teruah and tekiah. They sound the shofar series again – only longer – according to Rashi as they went to the East. The procession went to the gates, facing the Nicanor’s Gate, bowing toward the sanctuary OF God, faces to the East. They then turned to the West and said: our forefathers who were in this place but as for us out eyes are toward God (*and Yuh – close the ineffable name) was spoken to betoken God.

Thereafter, the trumpet sounders arrived at the tenth step (the Rabbi’s come to no conclusion as whether this was the tenth step from the bottom of the tenth step from the top – there are fifteen steps in all). (Succah Yerush. 31a)

The Jewish Encyclopedia cites the elegance of primacy of the elaborate Water Libation Ceremony:


To express their contempt of the Sadducees on the one hand and to strengthen their own position on the other, the Rabbis embellished the libation of water with so much ceremony that it became a favorite and distinctive rite on these occasions. On the night of the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles the outer court of the Temple was brilliantly illuminated with four golden lamps, each containing 120 logs of oil, in which were burning the old girdles and garments of the priests (Bavli. Shab. 21a; Bavli. Yoma 23a). These lamps were placed on high pedestals which were reached by ladders; and special galleries were erected in the court for the accommodation of women, while the men below held torches in their hands, sang hymns, and danced. On the fifteen steps of the Gate of Nicanor stood the Levites, chanting the fifteen “songs of degrees” (Ps. 120-124.) to the accompaniment of their instruments, of which the most important was the flute, although it was used neither on the Sabbath nor on the first day of the feast (Suk. v. 1).

The illumination, which was like a sea of fire, lit up every nook and corner of Jerusalem, and was so bright that in any part of the city a woman could pick wheat from the chaff. Whosoever did not see this celebration never saw a real one (Suk. 53a). Hillel the Elder encouraged general rejoicing and participated in the celebration that all might follow his example, while R. Simeon b. Gamaliel juggled with eight torches, throwing them in the air and catching them again, thus showing his joy at the feast. R. Joshua b. Hananiah states that the festival was celebrated throughout the night with songs, music, shouting, clapping of hands, jumping, and dancing.

Role of the Trumpet (Shofar)

Succah 31b (Palestinian) give a social history of the role of the shofar in the Holy Temple, with particular emphasis on Succot.

Indeed, the shofar was sounded in the Temple every day from 21 to 48 times: three times to accompany the opening of the Temple Courtyard Gates; 9-blasts to accompany the morning offering; another 9-blasts to accompany the afternoon sacrifice; 9 for the musaf offering.

On days when there was an additional sacrifice (Musaf), commemorating New Moons, festivals, and other special days, another 9-blass were added.

Prior to the Sabbath, on Friday, the shofar sounded 6-blasts. The first three blasts for cessation of labor to prepare for the Sabbath. The latter three sounds to separate the sacred from the profane in order to officially begin the Sabbath.

If a Friday fell during the Succot festival, there were a total of 48 blasts.

3=opening of the Courtyard Gates

3=Upper Gate

3=Lower Gate

3=for the filling of water from the spring of Siloam

3=when the water willow branches were placed by the altar

9=morning tamid offering

9=afternoon offering

9=additional offering for special days

3=to tell people to cease labor

3= distinguish between the Sacred and profane.

Notes in the Talmud tells us that blowing the trumpets at a sacrificial services is derived from Num. 10:10

And a day of your joy and on your festivals and on your Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) days, you shall sound the trumpets over your olah (burnt sacrifice) offerings and over your shelamim (peace sacrifices) offerings, etc.

After the procession marched to the Lower Gate, it drew water for the libation from the well spring of Siloam. See Rashi. The Rabbi’s interpret this verse to include the daily sacrifice (Zevech Todah to Tamid, Ch 7; Minchas Chimnuch 384:7)

The Rabbi’s also point out that 3-blasts were omitted, when climbing down the steps to the Woman’s Courtyard.

In the next Gemora, the Rabbi’s explain that the writer of the prior Mishnah was different from the writer of the second Mishnah. Accordingly there is an unresolved dispute. It turns out that one Tanna cites three blasts on the tenth step in Mishnah; the second, the three blasts are at the side of the altar. Nevertheless, they agreed on the 48 blasts. (Succah, Yersush. 31a)

The Rabbi’s then discuss the implications of Num. 10:8 “they shall blow” teaches that these blasts sound during the additional service. Then the Rabbi’s debate whether these blasts are in addition to the already mentioned blasts. They indicate that there may be more shofar blowers but no more blasts than originally decided.

This elaborate Water Libation ceremony pictured Assistants to the Priests (Leviim) playing various musical (flutes, copper air pipes, different types of harps and percussion).Levites are descendants had the special role as priests in Tabernaclein the wilderness and also in the.

The remaining Levites (Levi’im in, divided into three groups (the descendants of Gershon; the descendants of Kohath, and the descendants of Merari) filled different roles in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple services.

Water: Special Significance

Why was a special offering of water brought on Succot?

The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 16a) writes that as the world is judged for water on Succot, we bring a water offering so that the rains for the coming year should be blessed.

Another reason is that the holiday of the harvest moon (on which Succot begins) occurs five days after Yom Kippur in the harvest season. During the harvest season, a person may become haughty and forget God. The Rabbi’s reflect that haughtiness affects not only farmers, of course. The wise may take credit for their knowledge and those of fine character may take credit for their graces. The bottom line is that all we get, whether it be money, wisdom, or respect comes from God


Aravot (Willow Branch) Ceremony

The Mishnah (Sukkah 4:5) indicates that the custom was to circle the altar one time on each day of Succos and seven times on the seventh day (similar to Joshua’s circling of Jericho). So too we circle the Bimah one Hoshana each day of Succos and seven Hosannas on the Seventh day.

Jonatan Adler discusses this ceremony as he describes ancient coins which depicted this ceremony. The depiction shows the golden vessel used to gather the water from the well of Siloam; a willow branch

“What was the rite of the willow-branch? There was a place below Jerusalem called Motza. The Talmud indicates that Bavli Talmud cites that city to be Kalonia. Because it was tax-exempt, the trees were ownerless; thus, there was no taint of theft involved. See Meiri Bavli 45a.

They went down to there, and collected young willow branches, and then came and set them upright along the sides of the altar, with their tops bent over the top of the altar, after which the trumpets made a long blast, a quavering note, and a prolonged blast”. These trumpets were sounded by Kohanim (Priests) See Num. 10:8, 9 and Mishnah Succos 5:6.

With reference to what we have learnt, ”’Every day they walked round the altar once, and on that day they went round seven times”‘, your father, citing R. Eleazar, stated: “[This was done] with the lulav (BT Sukkah 43b Soncino translation). This statement was challenged by contemporary sages, who held that the altar was encircled while holding willow-branches and not the “four species” (ibid.); See also 1. L. Rubenstein: The History of Sukkot in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Periods, Atlanta, 1995, p. 109, who writes: “Most likely the circumambulations were performed with willows – the description says nothing of the lulav but we should not advance solid historical claims where the traditions are silent”. M Sukkah 4: 5, The statement by R. Johanan b. Baroka (M Sukkah 4: 6) regarding the beating of palm fronds should be seen as complementing this tradition (Rubenstein, above, n. 7, p. liS). Jonatan Adler, The Temple Willow-Branch Ritual Depicted on Bar Kokhba Denarii, Israel Numismatic Journal, 16 (2007–2008), pp. 129–133

The Mishnah indicates that, to prepare for the Sabbath restriction of carrying, they gathered the branches the day before and placed on the altar.


The Bavli Succah (45a) discusses the mitzvah of “Arava” (willow branches). It states that during the time of the Beit HaMikdash the priests would go down on Succot to a place called Motza that was below Yerushalayim and there they would cut large willow branches. They would then bring the branches to the Beit HaMikdash and lean them against the side of the altar, with the top part leaning over the top of the altar. They would then blow the shofar in the standard fashion, with one broken sound (teru’ah) preceded and followed by a solid sound (teki’ah).

Although the Rabbi’s disagreed over the exact time this ritual began, they concurred that the Prophets instituted this custom. Thus, it was not likely occurring in the Frist Temple but was in the Second Temple.

The Rabbi’s taught that willows of the brook mean of special type of willow as opposed to the zafzafah which grows in the mountains. (Bavli Talmud, Sukkah 34a)

Accordingly, the Rabbi’s decreed the seventh day of Succos as Hoshana Rabba, the day of many Hosannas (petitions for salvation); the time that the Book of Life and Death are finally sealed.

Although trees in Egyptian culture did not have extraordinary significance, it should be noted that the Willow tree in Egypt, a primordial tree on which the sun rested in the shape of a bird at the beginning of the world. The Metternich Stela makes a connection between the tr-tree, apparently the willow, and the benu bird:

It was sacred to Osiris and gave shade to his coffin while his soul rested on it in the guise of the phoenix . In some versions of the myth it was the willow which grew around the coffin protecting it.

Water: Special Significance

Why was a special offering of the water willows brought on the last day of Succos?

The Talmud (Bavli, Rosh Hashana 16a) writes that as the world is judged for water on Succot, we bring a water offering so that the rains for the coming year should be blessed. Water was the lifeblood of the Israeli agricultural society. Petitioning adequate water was a prayer to further one’s livelihood.

Another reason is that the holiday of the harvest moon (on which Succot begins) occurs five days after Yom Kippur in the harvest season. During the harvest season, a person may become haughty and forget God. The Rabbi’s reflect that haughtiness affects not only farmers, of course. The wise may take credit for their knowledge and those of fine character may take credit for their graces. The bottom line is that all we get, whether it be money, wisdom, or respect, comes from God

The Succos 4:5 indicates that the shofar blew three times (tekiah, teruah and tekiah) right before the priests circled the altar. Again the shofar was featured to draw attention to an important festival.

The Rishonim Sages from the 11th through 16th centuries) explain that the reason that this is specifically done on the seventh day of Succos is as follows: Succos is the Day of Judgment for water. This means rain and, in a broader sense, all livelihood. We therefore add special prayers to ask for a good year. The Gemora records a dispute as to whether this is a prophetically ordained custom or not, but we do know that it traces back to the Holy Temple.

Transition of Water Willow Dance to Hoshana Rabba

The name for this holiday probably comes from Psalm 118:25. Hoshana means to save. This is the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles. It comes one day before. It is usually observed on the 21st day of the Hebrew month Tishri. It is also called “the great Hosanna.”

This practice in the Temple serves as the basis for our modern custom of Hosannas. As reported by The (14th century German-Spanish Legalist, in Orech Chaim 660), we circle the bema once a day with a Torah being taken to the bema (a practice based on the Yalkut Tehillim) and thus serving as the focal point and in place of the altar. We also bring a Torah to the middle since during the time of the Holy Temple the marchers would recite the name of God while walking, and we have a tradition that the entire Torah is made up of various names of God. According to the Yerushalmi (Palestinian Talmud), our current practice reflects not only what was done during the time of the Temple, but also is meant to mimic the siege and conquering of Jericho in the time of Joshua, when they circled the city once a day for six days and seven times on the final day, causing the walls to come tumbling down (Joshua 6).

R. Joseph Caro (compiler of the Code of Jewish Law, 1565) notes that on Hoshana Rabba (seventh day of Succos), even a person who does not have the four species (palm branch, myrtle, water willow and etrog) should take part in the seven laps around the Torah. His rationale is that since there is a special remembrance of what was done in the Temple – see Succah 41a for more on this concept). The common practice is that a person who does not have the four species never takes part in the walking around the bima.

Rav Feinstein (mid-20th century) also notes that there is a custom to recite the Hosannas after Additional Service where in the Temple there was an additional sacrifice on special days, including the festivals. He gives a simple reason for this order – since one is obligated to read from the Torah and say the additional service, but the Hosannas are simply a custom, it is logical that obligations should precede customs. The Bach (1586-1657 ) offers a second reason. The Mishnah concludes that after the Hosannas on Hoshana Rabba everyone would leave for home while praising the altar. The implication is that the Hosannas were the last thing done in the Holy Temple before people departed, and thus we also make them the end of our services every day before departing for home.

The Order of the Hoshana Rabba Service

The Night

The Mogen Avrohom records that the custom was to stay awake on the night of Hoshana Rabba. Commentators indicate that we read the eno9re Torah, Deuteronomy (as a review of the other 4-books) and the Psalms. (The Avudraham; R. Isaac Luria, (Arizal)

The Morning

The Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) cites a custom brings a Mintage to loosen the bindings of the Lulav so that the water willow is freed.

The congregants circle the Bimah seven times instead of the usual one. In some congregations they blow the Shofar after each circuit.

Hoshana Rabba is the Hebrew name given to the last and greatest day of Hag HaSuccos, the Feast of Tabernacles. Due to the mechanics of the calendar, … www.betemunah.org/hoshana.html

Hoshana Rabba became recognized as an official judgment day in modern Judaism when the Zohar (13th century Kabala) declared it. During the worship service it is common to see congregations march around their worship room seven times (similar to Joshua marching around Jericho). Psalm 118 is chanted and when verse 25 is sung, and after the seventh cycle around the room, the worshipers take the willow branches that they have been carrying and strike the ground with them until the leaves fall off. This is symbolic of the worshiper beating their sins away. Sometimes these palm branches are saved and used to build a fire to burn bread just before Passover.

Conclusory Observations

We have found the rhythm of the Jewish Fall holidays from Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succos as series of vitally important holidays to the pulse of the Israelite in the days of the Holy Temple. Rosh Hashana began the religious year. Yom Kippur was the Day of Atonement not only for individual but also communal sins. Succos was the fall festival of paramount importance in the agricultural society.

We also observed the importance of the shofar. Rosh Hashana is the festival of the shofar. Yom Kippur sounds the shofar at the end of the service, originally to announce the Jubilee Year. Succos, to petition God for abundant rains and consequent harvest, the shofar was utilized, particularly for the Water Libation Ceremony and the Water Willow Dance.

We also observed the role the synagogue has replaced the Holy Temple as mean for worship. No longer do we make animal and meal sacrifices. We have kept the intent of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. And we have spiritualized the festival of Succos to one of petition for our agricultural needs, to one of remembrance and thanksgiving. Further, Hoshana Rabba celebrates the closing of the book of accounting.


The shofar sounds during all the holidays in the Jewish year: the New Year, the Day of Atonement and the three pilgrimage festival. For the three pilgrimage festivals there are three very different rituals that the Priests practiced in the Holy Temple.

During the Passover in the Temple, there was a ceremony with golden and silver bowls through which the sacrificial blood of lambs were Pesach, the Priests sounded the shofar was sounded 3-times each for three parts of the Temple ceremony. The Mishnah Pesachim 64, it states:

The priests stood in rows, and in their hands were basins (to received blood) of silver and basins of gold; a row which was entirely of silver was of silver, and a row which was entirely of gold was of gold: they were not mixed; and the basins had no [flat] bottoms, lest they put them down and the blood become congealed. The Israelite killed [the lamb], and the priest caught [the blood]; he handed it to his colleague and his colleague [passed it on] to his colleague; and he received the full [basin] and gave back the empty one. (Thus it was worked on the ‘endless-chain’ system.)

The priest nearest the altar sprinkled it once over against the base [or the altar].the first division [then] went out and the second entered; the second went out and the third entered. As the manner of the first [group], so was the manner of the second and the third. they recited the hallel

Babylonian Talmud in Pesachim 64b gives an example of the great number of people who entered Jerusalem and partook in this mitzvah by retelling that one year King Agrippa wanted to count the number of people. He instructed the high priest to count the number of sacrifices that were brought as the sacrifice (Korbán Pesach). When they reached 1,200,000 the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) stopped the count. This was double the number of people who had left Egypt.

There was usually a lamb for each family. Interestingly the Ethiopian Jews, who were cut off from Rabbinic Judaism, performed the lamb ceremony as was stated in the Bible, very similar to the Temple ceremony.

The Torah requires that the sacrifice be offered publicly. On the 14 day of Nisan the Kohanim (Priests) would open the doors of the temple and allow the people in with their offerings in three large groups of no less than thirty people but each group which usually were more numerous than the minimum. The Priests would stand in long lines shoulder to shoulder from the courtyard of the people into the courtyard where only Priests could enter all the way to the foot of the altar.

The first man would come with his lamb and slaughter it in front of the first Priest who would catch the blood in golden holy vessels and pass it to the next Priest and so forth until it arrived at the base of the altar where the blood was deposited.

The vessels had a round bottom to them so that the Kohanim could not put them down even for a moment in order to prevent the blood from coagulating rending the offering unfit. The vessels would be passed from Priest to Priest back and forth. The person would then move to the next station where the carcass was hung from a hook and skinned and the prohibited fats and other parts were removed.

Behind the Kohanim on a platform stood the Choir of Levites. When the process began, the Shofar was sounded with the three traditional sounds: tekia; teruah; tekia and the choir recited the Hallel prayer. This continued until the entire group that had been let in had finished offering both the Pesach offering and also the other sacrifice for the holiday called the Hagiga offering. (The first meat eaten was the meat of the Hagiga sacrifice and then later the Passover Sacrifice which was eaten with bitter herbs and matzah.)

An important feature is the Shofar’s prominence of solemnity, holiness and reminder of the significance of freedom from slavery. These blasts focused attention on the sacrifice of blood, representing giving one’s own life through animal blood as a metaphor of obeisance to God.

Origin of Hallel

The Hallel consists of Psalms 113 through 118 and is a central prayer in Judaism. It is recited by observant Jews as praise and thanksgiving on Jewish , including Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot and on other occasions such as Hanukkah and the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh).

Rabbinic tradition credits King with having written almost all of the Psalms, including those which now make up Hallel. R. Eleazar ben Yosé, however, ascribed Hallel to and the Israelites; while R. Judah taught that the prophets had decreed that these psalms be recited to mark national events and deliverance from peril. Other sages maintained that Hallel was recited by various leaders of Israel throughout the biblical period—-by Joshua, Deborah, and , by Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, by Mordecai and Esther (Pes. l l7a-118a).

> They would chant the Hallel for each group at least three times. Accordingly, there were nine shofar blasts. When all of this was finished they would allow the next group in after the first group left. This occurred three times. If the 14th day of Nisan were Shabbat everything was done the same way except that the people could not take the meat home with them until after Shabbat.

Feast of Weeks (Shavuot)

“You shall bring your first fruits to the House of the L-rd your G-d… ” (Ex. 23:19)

The Names of the Shavuot Festival

Shavuot is the anniversary of the Revelation of the Law at Mount Sinai, when the Children of Israel received the Torah from the Holy One, blessed be He. Shavuot literally means “weeks;” Shavuot is thus known as the Festival of Weeks. It is called so because it culminates the seven week period of counting the omer which begins on the second day of Passover, when the omer barley offering is brought to the Temple. But the Bible also refers to it as the “Feast of Firstfruits” (Exodus 23:16, Numbers 28:26), and the firstfruits cannot be brought to the Temple until then.

The “Seven Species” of the Land of Israel

In many ways this festival is the celebration of the Land of Israel itself, when thanks is given to G-d for the produce of the Promised Land. The bringing of the firstfruit offering to the Holy Temple is a manifestation of the land’s intrinsic holiness, given expression through the holiness of the Temple. The Shavuot offering of “firstfruits” which is mandated by this Biblical commandment to be brought to the Holy Temple and presented to the priest, are the first fruits of the season which ripen on the trees. However, the Divine commandment does not include every species of fruit, but only those of the “seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised,” as described by the verse in Deut. 8:8: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.

In the beginning of the 26th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, we find detailed instructions relating to this important occasion:

“When you come to the land that the L-rd your G-d is giving you as a heritage, occupying and settling it, you shall take the first of every fruit of the ground produced by the land that the L-rd your G-d is giving you. You must place it in a basket, and go to the site that G-d will choose as the place associated with His name. There you shall go to the priest officiating at the time, and say to him, ‘Today I am affirming to the L-rd your G-d that I have come to the land that G-d swore to our fathers to give us’.”

“The priest shall then take the basket from your hand and place it before the altar of the L-rd your G-d. You shall then make the following declaration before the L-rd your G-d:

‘My ancestor was a homeless Aramaean. He went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of men, but there he became a great, mighty, and populous nation. The Egyptians were cruel to us and caused us to suffer; they placed harsh slavery upon us. We cried out to the L-rd, the G-d of our fathers, and He heard our voice and saw our suffering, our harsh labor, and our distress.’

‘The L-rd brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with great visions, signs and miracles. He brought us to this place, giving us this land flowing with milk and honey. I am now bringing the first fruit of the land that the L-rd has given me.’

Then, you shall set the basket down before the L-rd your G-d, and then you shall bow down before the L-rd your G-d. You, the Levite, and the proselyte in your midst shall rejoice in all the good that the L-rd your G-d has granted you and your family.”

How Are the Firstfruits Separated?

When the fruit begins to ripen on the trees, the owner would mark the first fruit to ripen by tying a reed around it. Thus he would literally be bringing the first fruit of his harvest to the Holy Temple, not just a symbolic representation.

The Mishna (Bikurim 3, 1) teaches:

“How are the firstfruits separated? One goes into his field, and finds that his figs, his grapes or his pomegranates have begun to ripen. He ties it around with a reed band (or any other distinguishing mark – in order to identify that these have been separated as firstfruits. This is so that later, when the time comes to harvest the fruit, he will be able to identify exactly which fruits were the first to ripen).

“He ties the band and declares orally: ‘These are the firstfruits!'”

In effect, it is this declaration which transforms the status of this produce into the Biblically-mandated firstfruits; once the name has been given to them at this point, no other official designation is required. Thus, later, when the fruits are picked, he need not repeat his declaration.

The Pilgrims Make Their Way to Jerusalem

Innumerable streams of pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem from towns and villages all over the Land, in large bands and individually. Many families traveled by foot, with the little children in tow; some rode atop camels and donkeys; some even rode in wagons and chariots. As men, women and children trekked through bountiful golden and green fields of harvest, the entire land was literally teeming with excitement and anticipation, as the great throngs of festival worshippers took over every road and path. They crisscrossed the countryside from every direction and approach, converging together as they traveled towards the city of each vicinity’s local Assembly Head, who was the official responsible for the pilgrims.

Descriptions in the writings of the Mishna and Midrashim abound which paint a vivid picture of the caravans of pilgrims in procession, and how these entourages appeared as they bore their firstfruit offerings, by hand, laden in wagons, or on their heads. Though who were at the head of the procession and were closer to Jerusalem, carried fresh fruits – for since they were closer, there was no danger that their offerings would spoil. Those who were further back and who would not arrive as early, brought dried fruits. Sheep, goats and bullocks also accompanied the great processions, to be sacrificed in the Holy Temple as the various holiday offerings.

The Mishna (Bikurim 3, 2) relates how the pilgrims made their way through the way-stations in the field cities on the road to Jerusalem, and how they were welcomed upon entering the holy city.

In the City of the Assembly Head

In each district along the long road to Jerusalem, all the pilgrims from the outlying towns and villages gather together in the city of the local assembly head, who is responsible for the pilgrimage. From there, the entire multitude will continue their procession to Jerusalem all together, in a large entourage-for “The King’s honor is in a multitude of people” (Proverbs 14:28), meaning the more the participants, the greater the glory for G-d and His Divine commandments.

In the Assembly Head’s city, the pilgrims spend the night sleeping in the town’s streets, under the open sky. This is not on account of any lack of hospitality on behalf of the townspeople. Rather, they do not enter into the houses, in order to avoid the possibility of becoming exposed to ritual impurity (because impurity which may be inadvertently caused in a building, affects everything under its roof).

They are awoken at dawn, as the first rays of sunlight begin to illuminate the sky, by the overseer who cries out: ‘Get up, and let us go up to Zion, to the House of the L-rd our G-d!'” (Jer. 31:5)

The Approach to Jerusalem

As the caravans of pilgrims draw near to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, an ox whose horns are overlain with gold is led before them, and flutes are played as the company advances. As they make their way, they sing out “I was happy when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the House of the L-rd!’ (Psalms 122:1; JT Bikurim 3,5). As the festive entourage draws close to the outskirts of the city, a delegation is sent on ahead to the Holy Temple to announce their arrival.

While awaiting the arrival of the officials and treasurers from the Temple, the pilgrims beautify their firstfruit offerings, placing the dried fruits towards the bottom and the fresh fruit on top.

All of the assistant priests and Levites and the officers of the Temple would go out to greet them, and all the tradespeople of Jerusalem would cease their work to stand and greet them as they entered the gates of the city: ‘Our brothers from so-and-so, welcome, and peace unto you!” And as the entourage entered the city, the pilgrims joyously sang “Our feet stood steadfast in your gates, O Jerusalem!” (Psalms 122:2, JT Bikurim 3,5)

Bringing the Firstfruits to the Temple

There are a number of opinions as to how the firstfruits should be brought to the Temple. It is desirable for the offering to be presented in as beautiful and honorable a fashion as possible, in order to beautify the commandment. Such is the practice of the righteous, who seek to demonstrate how precious the will of G-d is to them.

The seven types of fruit can all be placed in one basket, but the most praiseworthy manner in which to observe the commandment is by placing each type of fruit in its own basket. This is the custom of those who are scrupulously pious to observe the Divine commandments.

Thus the sources of Jewish law and practice state: “The choicest way of performing this commandment is to bring the seven species of firstfruits in seven separate vessels, and not in one mixture. The barley should be on the lowest level, with the wheat above it, followed by olives, then dates, with pomegranates above the dates, and figs at the very top” (Tosefta Bikurim 2,8; Maimonides).

The two pigeons which were brought by each pilgrim were also fastened to the firstfruit baskets, either on top (Bikurim 3, 5) or along the sides (Jerusalem Talmud).

Decorating the Baskets

Grapes were positioned amongst the fruits in the baskets as a decoration. There are several opinions as to how these grapes were placed. Decorative leaves were also used to separate between the layers of fruits.

The Rich and Poor of Israel Give Thanks Together

The experience of bringing the firstfruits to the Temple served to unite the entire nation. By expressing heartfelt thanks for G-d’s bounty and presenting the beginning of one’s harvest to Him, a circle was closed as nature’s yield was returned to its origin. The spiritual aspect of the produce was elevated, and all felt a deep reverence, awe and joy as they reflected with the recognition and realization that it is the Holy One who is the Source of all blessing. “And you shall rejoice for all the goodness which the L-rd your G-d has given to you and your household” (Deut. 26:11).

Thus all would stand together, side by side, and participate in this humbling and gratifying experience in the hallowed courts of the Temple – rich and poor alike. “When they entered into the Hulda Gates,” states the Mishna, “Even King Agrippa placed the basket on his shoulder” like a common pilgrim. “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the L-rd your G-d which He has given you” (Deut. 16:17).

The rich brought their firstfruit offerings in baskets of gold, or of silver; the poor brought their offerings in baskets of peeled willow-shoots. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the wealthy brought their baskets home with them, and the poor gave theirs to the priests (Maimonides, Bikurim, 3:8).

The Firstfruits are Brought Opposite the Entrance to the Sanctuary

The ceremony of bringing the firstfruits offering is held in a special area within the Holy Temple, a section designated as “between the hall and the altar.” This area has a special sanctity, and entrance therein is forbidden to ordinary Israelites-and even to blemished priests (who are unfit to serve – Maimonides, Laws of the Temple, 7:20). However, the commandment of the firstfruit offering differs from all other sacrifices, in that an ordinary Israelite is not only permitted, but actually commanded to fulfill this Divine obligation in that very place (see Sifre on Deut. 26:4, and commentary of Malbim). This serves to instruct us how great and precious is the commandment to bring the firstfruits before the Presence of the L-rd.

Reciting the Biblical Passages Out Loud

In the Temple, each pilgrim must read aloud from the Biblical portion of “My father was a homeless Aramaean” (Deut. 26:5) as presents his offering to the priests. The officiating priest recites the Biblical portion together with the pilgrim in responsive fashion. First the priest recites each verse aloud in Hebrew, and the pilgrim follows him, repeating after him

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