Succot Sacrifices

From: Sam in L.A.

Dear Rabbi,

What is the significance of the different sacrificial offerings that were offered during Succot? Why are they different each day, and does the fact that there were seventy mean anything? Thanks.

Dear Sam,

The Torah prescribes special sacrifices for each of the days of Succot (Nu. 29:13-20). On the first day, 13 oxen were offered. The number was reduced by one each day of the festival such that on the seventh day, 7 oxen were offered. The total number of these sacrifices was thus 70 (13+12+11+10+9+8+7=70).

These seventy oxen correspond to the original seventy nations of the world enumerated in the Torah who descended from the sons of Noah, and are the ancestors of all of the nations till this day. Israel brought these sacrifices as atonement for the nations of the world, and in prayer for their well-being; as well as for universal peace and harmony between them.

Thus our Sages taught (Nu. Raba 21:24), “You find that during the Festival [of Succot], Israel offers seventy oxen for the seventy nations. Israel says: Master of the Universe, behold we offer You seventy oxen in their behalf, and they should have loved us. Instead, ‘In place of my love, they hate me’ (Psalms 109).” Further, the Sages remarked (Nu. Raba 1:3): “If the nations of the world would have known the value of the Temple for them, they would have surrounded it with a fortress in order to protect it. For it was of greater value to them than for Israel. [But instead, they destroyed it]”.

The power that was given to Noah’s sons to become the founders of the seventy original nations was later vested in the descendants of Abraham, of whom it is written, “For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:5). From then on, all the seventy nations were to draw their sustenance through Abraham’s descendants. First, Ishmael was made head of the seventy nations, but after the birth of Esav to Isaac, the flow of Divine sustenance for the nations was divided between Ishmael and Esav. Each of whom became the head of thirty-five of the nations.

G‑d appointed Israel a kingdom of priests to atone for all these nations, and appointed Jerusalem a house of prayer for all the peoples. Therefore, when Israel came to sacrifice seventy oxen during the seven days of Succot as atonement for the seventy nations of the world, they sacrificed thirty-five oxen in behalf of the nations under Ishmael’s dominion, and thirty-five in behalf of those under Esav’s dominion.

The Vilna Gaon discovered this secret hidden in the Torah itself. In the verses describing the number of oxen each day, he noticed that the accompanying sin offering is sometimes referred to as a “kid of goats” and sometimes as just a “kid”. Based on the tradition that “kid of goats” refers to Ishmael, he determined that some of the oxen and their respective sin offering correspond to Ishmael, and the others correspond to Esav. Amazingly, the oxen offered on the days whose sin offering is slated as “kid of goats” [days 1,2,4] equals 35 [13+12+10]. Similarly, those offered on the days noted only by “kid” [days 3,5,6,7] also equal 35 [11+9+8+7].

We pray for the day when Israel will be fully restored to its land, rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and bring peace between G‑d and man, and between all peoples. Amen.

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