Growing up in Teaneck, NJ (and it was very different place more years ago than I care to admit) our shul had an unusual minhag to stop saying tachanun as of the 23rd day of Adar, as opposed to the more common practice of stopping saying tachanun as of Rosh Chodesh Nissan. It was unclear why this was the practice in our shul. When asked, the Rav of our shul would explain that we stopped saying tachanun at this time because the final week of the month of Adar coincides with the Shivat Yemei HaMiluim, the seven preparatory days leading up to dedication of the sanctuary (Mishkan) in the Midbar. Being that this particular minhag saved between three to seven minutes every morning for an extra week, I am not sure how many people were interested in rocking the boat. Unsurprisingly, the explanation was accepted without any further comment.
A simple internet search shows that this particular practice is a Chassidic minhag of relatively recent origin. Of course, the entire discussion of whether or not to say tachanun during this time only begins if we accept that the Yemei Miluim in fact fell between the 23rd of Adar and Rosh Chodesh Nissan of Bnei Yisrael’s second year in the Midbar. However, this assumption, though widely held in the Midrash and broadly accepted by most commentaries, is not necessarily borne out by a simple reading of the text (peshat). So our question of whether tachanun is recited during this week actually highlights a fascinating clash between the peshat of the passukim and how Chazal read them.
The final Perek (8) in this week’s Parsha describes how Moshe Rabbenu consecrated the Mishkan in the week leading up to its formal establishment and dedication. Since Sefer Shemot (see Perek 40) ends with Moshe being commanded to erect the Mishkan on Rosh Chodesh Nissan (40:2) and the Torah then continues to tell us that Moshe in fact fulfilled this mandate (40:17), a simple reading suggests that the Mishkan was erected on Rosh Chodesh and Sefer VaYikra begins from this point. This would mean that the events of the final chapter of our Parsha, namely the beginning of the Yemei Miluim, are taking place on Rosh Chodesh as well. It therefore follows that the events described in next week’s Parsha, Parshat Shmini (Perek 9-10), are taking place after the end of the Shivat Yemei Miluim, namely on the eighth day of Nissan.
Rashi (9:1) however, suggests a different chronology. Relying on multiple midrashim, Rashi explains that the eighth day referred to at the beginning of Parshat Shmini (which is the day after Yemei HaMiluim), is in fact Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Hence, the Yemei Miluim began on the 23rd of Adar, and ended on the 29th of Adar. In order to explain it this way Rashi must use the famed dictum of Ein Mukdam U’Meuchar BaTorah (i.e. that the Torah is not written in chronological order) and posit that the events described in the final perek of our Parsha transpired prior to the construction of the Mishkan described at the end of Sefer Shemot.
Reliance on Ein Mukdom is neither surprising nor controversial, and as we noted above Rashi is simply adopting an opinion quoted in multiple Midrashim (see Torah Shleima on VaYikra 9:1 and Shemot 40:2 for a full list) and adopted by most subsequent parshanim. What is surprising is that in adopting this position Rashi as well as these other commentaries, including Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson and arch Pashtan, (see Vayikra 10:16) and Chazal before them are clearly choosing not to follow the simple pshat, despite numerous difficulties with the Midrash.
And what exactly are those difficulties? Firstly, Chazal must deal with the fact that at the end of Sefer Shemot the Torah clearly states that Moshe built the Mishkan on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. However, if the Yemei Miluim began on the 23rd of Adar then the Mishkan must have been standing by then. Chazal famously dealt with this question by suggesting that Moshe would assemble the Mishkan each morning and then dismantle it before the end of the day. Only when he built it on the eighth day did it remain standing until Am Yisrael renewed their march towards Eretz Yisrael. As we will see in a moment, this explanation is also not without its difficulties.
Ibn Ezra (Perush HaAroch to Shemot 40:2) clearly delineates three other major difficulties with the Midrashic approach adopted by Rashi.
- If for a full week Moshe in fact assembled and disassembled the Mishkan on a daily basis, why do we not find any commandment for him to do so. Surely he did not do this on his own volition, and we would expect the Torah to record the Divine command that he was acting upon.
- The Torah tells us that over the course of the Shivat Yemei Miluim Aharon and his sons did not leave the entrance to the Mishkan day or night (VaYikra 8:35). But if the Mishkan was disassembled at the end of each day (and according to some opinions in the Midrash two or three times a day) how would it be possible for Aharon and his sons to fulfill the command that they had been given not to leave the entrance of the Mishkan?
- If the Yom HaShmini was in fact Rosh Chodesh why does the list of the korbanot that were brought on that day not include the unique offerings that were brought on Rosh Chodesh?
Because of these questions, Ibn Ezra adopts the position that the Mishkan was first built on Rosh Chodesh Nissan and the Yemei HaMiluim coincide with the first seven days of Nissan.
The choice to veer from the simple peshat to the more problematic derash becomes even more perplexing when we consider two other points. Firstly, the Midrash itself openly acknowledges that the passuk “VaYehi B’Yom HaShmini” (VaYikra 9:1) requires explanation and is not necessarily to be understood in the simple way. Beyond this, we have a different Midrash (Sifrei B’Haalotcha), also quoted in the Gemara (Sukka 25B), which in fact clearly states that the The Yemei Miluim began on Rosh Chodesh, in consonance with the pshat. The Midrash quotes Rabbi Akiva as explaining that the individuals who had complained to Moshe about their inability to bring a Korban Pessach on the 14th of Nissan were Mishael and Elizafan, cousins of Moshe and Aharon. And why were they ineligible to bring the Korban Pessach? Because they had been charged with removing the bodies of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, who had died while serving in the Mishkan on Yom HaShmini. Clearly then, Rabbi Akiva holds that Yom HaSmini was the eighth day of Nissan, and not Rosh Chodesh (those who say that Yom HaShemini was on Rosh Chodesh contend that the group who were unable to bring the Korban Pessach in its appropriate time were the people who were carrying Yosef’s coffin for reburial in Eretz Yisrael).
In his analysis of this question, Rav Elchanan Samet (Iyunim B’Parshat HaShavua, Third Series) ponders the question of why Chazal would opt for the more problematic explanation, rather than for accepting the Peshat at face value. After all, says Rav Samet, the chances that someone who was not already familiar with the approach of Chazal would reach the conclusion that Yemei HaMiluim were in the last week of Chodesh Adar as opposed to the first week of Nissan are almost nil. So why were Chazal so insistent?
Rav Samet first quotes Ramban’s suggestion that the “The Glory of Hashem” that appeared to the Am Yisrael on Yom HaShemini (VaYikra 9:6, and 9:23) is identical to the Divine Cloud that covered the Mishkan when it was first built (Shemot 40:34 and BaMidbar 9:15). If this is true, then we would understand why Chazal dated the Yemei HaMiluim to the last week of Adar, and posited that the Mishkan was only left standing on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. However, after analyzing this answer Rav Samet finds it wanting. In that case, what could be the explanation?
Rav Samet suggests that the reason that Chazal did not wish to endorse the Peshat is historical. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls and their description of Essene society revealed that there were sects who suggested annually celebrating the Yemei Miluim by bringing sacrifices which mimicked the sacrifices of the Yemei HaMiluim. When would these sacrifices be offered? During the first week of Nissan, when the Peshat indicates that the Yemei HaMiluim took place. While it was unlikely that this practice was ever acted upon says Rav Samet, the ideas certainly percolated in different groups. Therefore, suggests Rav Samet, perhaps in order to quash the idea of regularly celebrating the Yemei HaMiluim, Chazal established the tradition that they did even occur during Chodesh Nissan.
According to this approach, Chazal chose their favored interpretation for polemic as opposed to Peshat purposes. And since, as Rav Samet notes, one of the most important tasks that Chazal took upon themselves was to discredit heretical sects, employing polemics was a key weapon in that fight. This was especially true in situations such as ours, where adopting the more problematic reading did not have any possible practical Halachik ramifications.
At least until someone wondered if Yemei HaMiluim wasn’t a good reason not to say tachanun…