Communal Festive Offerings – Aggadah


The Torah lists the communal festive offerings for the Sabbath, New Moon, Passover, Shavuot, New Year, Day of Atonement, Sukkoth, and Shemini Atzeret. These communal offerings are in addition to the daily offering described in Numbers 28:1-8 and in Hebrew are therefore called מוסף which means additional offering.

The following table lists the names of the holidays in English and Hebrew with the relevant verses describing these offerings from the book of Numbers.

Holiday (English)Holiday (Hebrew)Verses
New Moonראש חדש28:11-15
New Yearראש השנה 29:1-6
Day of Atonementיום כפור29:7-11
Shemini Atzeretשמיני עצרת 29:35-38

Type of Offering

Each of the offerings described in the above table are communal offerings which means one set of offerings for the entire nation. The following table shows the components of the offering and the disposition to the altar and officiating priests.   

ElevationEntire animal except skinSkin of animals
Sin (Note 1)FatsRest of animal
Grain with oilBurnt on altarNone
Wine libationPoured on altarNone

Note 1: In contrast to the other festive offerings the Sabbath offering does not include a sin offering.

The festive communal elevation offering, like all elevation offerings, is completely burnt on the altar with the skin distributed to the officiating priests. The festive communal sin offering is eaten by the officiating priests with the blood and fats offered on the altar (Maimonides Laws of Daily and Additional Offerings 7:2). The grain offering accompanying the communal festive offerings is completely burnt on the altar (Maimonides Laws of Offerings 2:1). The wine libation is completely poured into a receptacle on the top of the altar but not on the fire (ibid.) and hence no part of the wine is given to the priests.

A companion article on this web site “Communal Festive Offerings – Halacha” discussed the nature of these offerings from the point of view of Halacha and the derivation of the various laws from the verses. This article focuses on the aggadic aspects of these offerings in terms of types of animals offered, numerology, and textual allusions.

Elevation Offering

The following table lists the types of animals for each elevation offering by holiday with explanatory notes. In addition to these elevation offerings, the Torah mandates other elevation offerings for Passover, Shavuot, and the Day of Atonement which are discussed in the companion article.

New Moon217
New Year117
Day of Atonement117
Sukkoth (Note 1)13 to 7214
Shemini Atzeret117
  1. The bull offering on Sukkoth is unique in that the number of bulls decreases each day for the seven days of Sukkoth. For those with a mathematical bent the formula for the number of bulls offered per day is 14-N where N is the ordinal day number of Sukkoth (i.e. N runs from 1 to 7 and therefore the number of bulls decreases from 13 to 7). By contrast the Passover festive offering is the same for all seven days of Passover.   

Sin Offering

For each of the holidays with the exception of the Sabbath, the Torah records a sin offering of one goat as shown in the following table which lists the holidays (in English and Hebrew) and the associated verse in the book of Numbers. In addition to these sin offerings, the Torah mandates other sin offerings for Shavuot and the Day of Atonement as shown in the table below. The companion article discusses in great detail the reason for these sin offerings.  

Holiday (English)Holiday (Hebrew)Verse
SabbathשבתNot Applicable
New Moonראש חדש28:15
Shavuot (Note 1)שבעות28:30
New Yearראש השנה 29:5
Day of Atonement (Note 2)יום כפור 29:11
Shemini Atzeretשמיני עצרת 29:38

Additional Sin Offerings

The table below lists the additional sin offerings for these holidays

Day of Atonement2

The following notes explain the nature of these additional sin offerings:

  1. The Torah (Leviticus 23:19) commands that the Israelites bring 1 goat as a sin offering on Shavuot in conjunction with a wheat offering of two loaves.
  2. The Torah commands the bringing of 2 other sin offerings of goats on the Day of Atonement (i.e. the inner goat offering and the scapegoat) as explained below.
Day of Atonement

The following table defines the type of goat offering, the manner of blood application, consumption of the meat, and related verses in the Torah for the sin offerings of the Day of Atonement. The scapegoat is driven off a cliff outside of Jerusalem and consequently not related to the altar nor is the meat consumed. 

GoatBlood OfferingMeatVerse
InnerInner AltarBurntLeviticus 16:15
OuterOuter AltarConsumed by priestsNumbers 29:11
ScapegoatXXLeviticus 16:21

 Hints and allusions – רמז

Although the verses specify the type of animal and number for each offering, the written Torah does not provide a rationale for these details leading to the following questions which will be addressed in this article:

  1. What is the significance of the bull, ram, and lamb?
  2. Why does the Sabbath offering only consist of lambs?
  3. Why are all the sin offerings goats?
  4. What is the significance of the number of animals in the elevation offering?
  5. Why did the Torah apparently repeat many details especially with regard to the bull, ram, sheep, goat and meal offerings?”

Elevation Offering – Bull, Ram, and Lamb

The festival communal elevation offerings consist of bulls, rams, and lambs. The reader may ask, “What is the significance of these animals?” The Midrash (Numbers Rabbah 13:14) links these animals to the patriarchs when commenting on the inauguration offerings of the Tabernacle (Numbers 7:12-83). The following table shows this link by including the name of the patriarch, type of animal for the offering, and related verse in Genesis. 


Although the Midrash (ibid.) refers to the inauguration of the Tabernacle, Rashi (Numbers 28:19) quotes Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan of 11th century France who extends this link of the patriarchs to the communal festive offerings. Abraham fed his guests with a calf as the verse states (Genesis 18:7), “Abraham ran to the cattle and took a calf”. The ram is identified with Isaac because Abraham substituted a ram instead of offering his son Isaac to Hashem as the verse relates (ibid. 22:13),” Abraham took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.“ The Torah connects Jacob with lambs as the verse states (Genesis 30:40), “Jacob separated the lambs … from Laban’s flocks.” Hence this link alludes to the merit of the patriarchs on these festivals.  

In fact, the 14th century code of Jewish Law called the Tur (Orach Chaim 417) written by Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher quotes his brother Rabbi Yehuda who links the patriarchs to each of the pilgrim festivals as shown below.


Abraham instructed Sarah to prepare bread for the guests as the verse states (ibid. 18:6), “Prepare 3 seah of fine flour and make fine bread.” The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 48:12) identifies this bread as matzo meaning that the guests arrived on Passover and Abraham observed the laws of the Torah before Hashem gave them at Sinai. Since the binding of Isaac did not occur on Shavuot the verse which links Isaac to this holiday is conceptual and links the ram offered by Abraham to the ram’s horn which blew at the giving of the Torah at Sinai (Exodus 19:13, 16, and 19). The Midrash (Pirkei of Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 31 and quoted by Rashi on Exodus 19:13) states that the horn came from the ram offered by Abraham, perhaps in a mystical sense. Genesis 33:17 relates that Jacob dwelled at Sukkoth when returning to his father, after leaving the house of Laban, thereby establishing a link between Jacob and the festival of Sukkoth.

Hence we see that the bull, ram, and lamb allude to the patriarchs and festivals answering question 1.

Lambs for Sabbath

The Sabbath communal offering only consists of lambs. By contrast all the other communal festive offerings consist of bulls, rams, and lambs (viz. question 2). In the opinion of the author, the answer lays in the above discussion symbolically connecting the patriarchs to the offerings which means that Jacob is identified with the lamb.

The reader may ask, “Since the patriarchs observed the Sabbath before the Torah was given (Yoma 28b) why the Torah limits the Sabbath offering to lambs which implies that only Jacob is associated with the Sabbath?” The author will provide the following answers based upon the Talmud and Midrash:

  • Jacob’s family kept the Sabbath (Sabbath 118a).
  • Jacob’s Sabbath observance in scripture (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 11:7 and 79:6)

Jacob’s Family

The Talmud (ibid.) specifically connects the Sabbath to Jacob as follows: “Anyone who delights in the Shabbat, Hashem will grant a boundless portion.” The Talmud then quotes Isaiah 58:13-14, “… If you refrain from pursuing your affairs on My (divine) holy day, you call Shabbat a delight, and honour it by not attending to your own matters or speaking idle words. Then you shall delight with Hashem … I (Hashem) will cause you to ride on the heights of the world and enjoy the heritage of your forefather Jacob.” The Talmud (ibid.) notes that the reward for delighting in the Sabbath is associated with Jacob and neither Abraham nor Isaac. The 16th century Talmudic commentator Maharsha explains that Jacob was unique amongst the patriarchs in that all of his sons observed the Sabbath. By contrast Abraham’s son Yishmael and Isaac’s son Esau did not follow the ways of their fathers.

In Scripture

The Midrash (ibid.) identifies Jacob with Sabbath observance based on the verse in Genesis 33:18, “He encamped before the city.” The Midrash interprets this verse as setting up camp before the Sabbath to establish the 2,000 amah (an amah is about 0.5 meters) boundary for walking on the Sabbath. Although Abraham and Isaac rested on the Sabbath the Midrash could not find a specific verse in scripture that alludes to their Sabbath observance. Hence we see the unique connection of Jacob to the Sabbath. Since Jacob is associated with the lamb, the Sabbath offering only consists of lambs, thereby answering question 2. 

Sin offering – Goat

The reader may ask, “Why only the goat is used for all of the communal sin offerings of the holidays?” By contrast the elevation offerings may come from bulls, rams, and lambs. The following sources address this mystery:

  • Connection to Esau and demon (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 65:15).
  • Atonement and Esau (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 65:15).
  • Sin (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 13:14).
  • Devil (Pirkei of Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 46).
  • Negative forces including Samael (Zohar 2:185a).

Connection to Esau

The Midrash (ibid.), through word and concept association, interprets the goat (שעיר) as a symbol for Esau who in turn represents the enemies of the Israelites. The Midrash notes that the Torah (Genesis 27:11) calls Esau a man of abundant hair (שער) and Jacob a man of smooth skin (חלק). In addition to the literal meaning of the words, the Midrash interprets the different destinies of Esau and Jacob. The Midrash connects the word hair (שער) to a demon (שעיר) as in the verse Isaiah (13:21), “Demons (literally goats) ושעירים shall dance there (in reference to the destruction of Babylon)” (Rashi on this verse). Furthermore the Midrash links the word smooth, (חלק) which can also mean portion or destiny, to Jacob as the verse (Deuteronomy 32:9) states, “Hashem’s portion (חלק) is His people. Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.” The Midrash interprets the verse as, “Hashem’s portion (חלק) is His people through Jacob. According to either interpretation, Jacob is identified with Hashem and Esau with demons, hence the link of goats to demons.

Atonement and Esau

The Midrash (ibid.) finds an allusion to the goat as a symbol of atonement when Rebecca commands her son to bring two choice (literally good) goats (Genesis 27:9) to slaughter and feed Isaac before blessing Jacob. Rebecca also took the goat skins and covered the smooth skinned Jacob to impersonate the hair covered Esau (ibid. 27:16). The literal meaning of the verse indicates that the goat meat was of good quality. However the Midrash comments that the goats will be a boon (טבים) to the Israelites to attain forgiveness on the Day of Atonement. Hence there is a unique connection between the goat and atonement.

The Midrash quotes (Leviticus 16:22), “The scapegoat (השעיר) shall carry away all their sins (עונתם) to a precipitous land”. The Midrash then links Esau to the goat and by separating the word עונתם into תם עונות meaning the sins of the (potentially) wholesome nation finds an allusion to Jacob who is called wholesome (Genesis 25:27), תם איש. Hence according to the Midrash, Esau is identified with the goat while the descendants of Jacob seek atonement through the goat on the Day of Atonement. Furthermore the Midrash (ibid. 65:21) states that the strength of Esau derives from the sins of Jacob based upon the verse (Genesis 27:22), “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” If Jacob’s voice is strong in Torah study and prayers then the hands of Esau are weakened, otherwise Esau may prevail.  


The Midrash (Numbers Rabbah 13:14) links the goat of a sin offering to the slaughtering of a goat after the sale of Joseph (Genesis 37:31). Joseph’s brothers slaughtered a goat and dipped his coat into its blood to mislead their father that Joseph was killed by a wild animal. The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 84:19) explains that they choose a goat because its blood closely resembles the blood of a human.

Specifically the Midrash expounds on the voluntary sin offering at the inauguration of the Tabernacle (Numbers 7:16) where each of the leaders of the 12 tribes brought an identical set of offerings (Numbers 7:12-83). The Midrash finds a message in these offerings that are unique to the history or destiny of each tribe. For the tribe of Judah, the Midrash explains that this offering atones for the sin of causing grief to their father Jacob, thereby connecting the goat to a sin offering.           


The Midrash (Pirkei of Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 46) focuses on the role of the accuser or devil (שטן) on the Day of Atonement and its connection to the various offerings on that day. This source understands the scapegoat in a mystical sense as a form of appeasement to these negative forces. Hashem forgives the sins of the Israelites on this day and in effect commands the Israelites to symbolically remove themselves from sin by sending away the scapegoat. The inner goat is offered to Hashem to emphasize the connection between Hashem and Israelites after sin has been removed. By combining the above Midrash with this source we see the connection between negative forces (e.g. Esau, sin, and the devil) to the goat.    

Negative forces

Similar to the Midrash, the Zohar (2:185a) identifies the goat with forces of evil and adds that the Torah specifies a young goat to symbolize innocence and youth to mitigate forces of strict justice. In addition the Zohar (ibid. 2:184b) notes that the goat has an abundance of hair around its face indicating an association with sin and Esau. Similar to the teachings of Pirkei of Rabbi Eliezer, the Zohar views the scapegoat ceremony as a means of distracting Samael, the guardian angel of Esau and the accuser of Israel.                               

Hence the goat alludes to negative forces (i.e. Esau, demons, sin, devil, and Samael) as well as atonement thereby answering question 3.   


A number of lessons in numerology may be inferred using the table of elevation offerings as shown below and thereby answering question 4.

New Moon217
New Year117
Day of Atonement117
Sukkoth (Note 1)13 to 7214
Shemini Atzeret117
  1. The bull offering on Sukkoth is unique in that the number of bulls decreases each day for the seven days of Sukkoth. For those with a mathematical bent the formula for the number of bulls offered per day is 14-N where N is the ordinal day number of Sukkoth (i.e. N runs from 1 to 7 and therefore the number of bulls decreases from 13 to 7). By contrast the Passover festive offering is the same for all seven days of Passover.   


The Sabbath offering consists of 2 lambs which allude to the double portion of manna that fell on Friday (Exodus 16:22 and 29). Although a double portion also fell on the days that the Torah prohibits labour (Rashi on Exodus 16:26 from the Mechilta) the verse clearly mentions the double portion for the Sabbath. In addition the day of the Sabbath is divinely ordained. By contrast all the dates of the other holidays are determined by the Sanhedrin using the testimony of witnesses who saw the new moon (Talmud Rosh Hashanah 22a). Hence in the opinion of the author the Torah emphasizes this duality (i.e. Sabbath ordained by Hashem and observed by the Israelites) through the two lambs. 


10 Elevation Offerings

The elevation offerings of the new moon, Passover, and Shavuot each consist of 2 bulls, 1 ram, and 7 lambs for a total of 10 animals. The number 10 is significant in Judaism as follows:

  • World created in 10 sayings (Avot 5:1).
  • 10 commandments (Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4).
  • Prayer quorum (i.e. minyan) of 10 adult Israelites males (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 55:1).

Hence these offerings relate to the foundation of the world (i.e. 10 sayings), serving Hashem (i.e. 10 commandments), and representing the Israelites respectively (i.e. 10 for minyan). In fact the Mishna in Avot (1:2) states that the temple offerings to Hashem (literally service to Hashem) are one of the foundations of the world. In the absence of offerings we pray to Hashem in a formalized manner based on the verse in Hosea 14:3, “Take words with you and return to Hashem by saying: (Please) forgive all iniquity and accept our good deeds, and let our lips (i.e. prayer) substitute for the offering of bulls.”

10 Offerings – Including the sin offering

The elevation offerings of the New Year and Day of Atonement each consist of 1 bull, 1 ram, and 7 lambs for a total of 9 animals. However if one includes the sin offering of one goat then the total number of communal additional offerings is 10. This number indicates that these days are set aside for returning to Hashem and expiating sin as the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 18a) comments on Isaiah 55:6-7, “Seek Hashem when He (divine) is found and call Him when He is near. The wicked shall give up his way, the man of iniquity his thoughts. He shall return to Hashem, Who shall have mercy upon him … and will freely pardon.” The Talmud (ibid.) asks, “With regard to an individual, when is Hashem near to him? These are the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”


As seen from the above table, the offerings of Sukkoth consist of a variable number of bulls, 2 rams, and 14 lambs per day which is different than any of the other holidays.


The Talmud (Sukkoth 55b) explains that the decreasing number of bulls from 13 on the 1st day of Sukkoth to 7 on the 7th day of Sukkoth corresponds to the 70 nations of the world. The Zohar 3:256a explains that the decreasing number indicates that Hashem shall protect the Israelites from their enemies by reducing the power and influence of these enemies.   


Two rams are offered each day of Sukkoth which is double the number of rams per day compared to any of the other holidays. The Daat Zekeinim, a Torah commentary written in the 12th and 13th centuries by the school of Tosafot, explains that the festival of Sukkoth is doubly blessed physically, by the completion of the grain and fruit harvest.

Rejoicing on Festival

The Daat Zekeinim (Deuteronomy 16:15) finds an allusion to this doubling by examining the commandment to rejoice on the 3 pilgrim festivals as shown in the following table which lists the holidays, number of mentions of rejoicing, and associated verses.

Passover0Not applicable
Shavuot1Deuteronomy 16:11
Sukkoth3Leviticus 23:40 and Deuteronomy 16:14-15

The Daat Zekeinim (ibid.) explains the difference in the number of mentions in Deuteronomy with respect to the completion of grain and fruit harvest as follows:


The reader may ask, “Granted that the verses in Deuteronomy refer to the harvests. However how is the 3rd mention of rejoicing in Leviticus explained?” In the opinion of the author, the verse in Leviticus on Sukkoth refers to spiritual joy following forgiveness of sin after the Day of Atonement. In fact, the verses of Sukkoth immediately follow the verses of the Day of Atonement in Chapter 23 of Leviticus. By contrast the verses in Deuteronomy refer to the agricultural aspect of the holidays and therefore both the New Year and Day of Atonement are omitted.   


Fourteen lambs are offered each day of Sukkoth which is double the number of lambs per day compared to any of the other holidays. The Zohar (3:259a) explains that the number 14 corresponds to the gematria of hand (יד) alluding to Hashem’s protection of the Israelites from their enemies amongst the 70 nations. In addition the Zohar (ibid.) points out that over the 7 days of Sukkoth a total of 98 lambs (14*7) are offered (14*7) corresponding to the gematria of arrow (חץ), similarly alluding to Hashem’s protection. Rashi comments in reference to verses in Numbers 29:12-34 that the number 98 corresponds to the number of warnings (literally curses) in the second admonition (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). These lamb offerings will protect the Israelites from the dire effects of these warnings.    

The author would like to point out that the total number of additional offerings on Sukkoth equals 182 (i.e. 70+14+98) as shown in the following table:

AnimalPer daySeven days of Sukkoth
Bull10 on average (Note 1)70
Ram214 (2*7)
Lamb1498 (14*7)

(Note 1: Since the number of bulls decrease daily from 13 to 7 the average number per day is 10.)   

The number 182 has the same gematria (numerical value) as the following:

  • Patriarch Jacob יעקב (10+70+100+2 = 182).
  • Says the L-ord Hashem ה-ו-ה-י י-נ-ד-א נאם (91+65+26 = 182).

As mentioned above, Jacob is linked to the festival of Sukkoth through the verse in Genesis 33:17. Here we have an additional link to Sukkoth through the number of communal offerings on Sukkoth (182) and the gematria of Jacob’s name (182). The expression “Says the L-ord Hashem” occurs 92 times in the bible most of which occur in the book of Ezekiel. It is interesting to note that this expression occurs 8 times in Ezekiel’s narration of the War of Gog and Magog (viz. Ezekiel 38:18, 21 and 39:5, 8, 10, 13, 20, and 29). In the opinion of the author these offerings allude to this war based upon the following numerology:

  • 70 bulls (70 nations).
  • Hand (יד) 14 rams.
  • Arrow (חץ) 98 lambs.
  • The army הצבא (Joshua 4:13) 98 lambs.
  • To life לחיים (Isaiah 4:3) 98 lambs.
  • Says the L-ord Hashem (182).

The liturgy reflect this war motif through the prophetic reading (haftarah) on the 1st day of Sukkoth and the Sabbath of the intermediate days of Sukkoth which describe the war of Gog and Magog (i.e. Zachariah 14:1-21 and Ezekiel 38:18-39:16, respectively).  In addition to the war motif, these offerings allude to a strong connection with the divine because the average number of offerings per day equals (182/7 =26) which is the gematria of the Tetragrammaton (ה-ו-ה-י).

Shemini Atzeret

The elevation offerings of Shemini Atzeret (the day following the 7th day of Sukkoth) consist of 1 bull, 1 ram, and 7 lambs for a total of 9 animals. The Talmud Succah 55b and Midrash Numbers Rabbah 24:21 explain that the one bull represents the nation of Israel. After offering 70 bulls during the festival of Sukkoth, Hashem desired a single bull signifying the unique status of the Israelites. The Midrash (ibid.) provides a parable about a king who hosts banquets over 7 days for his numerous subjects. At the end of the celebration he asks his beloved friend to make a small meal so that they can spend time together. In the parable Hashem is the king, the subjects are the 70 nations, and the beloved is Israel.

In addition to the uniqueness of Israel, the numerology of the number of sacrifices on Shemini Atzeret teaches another lesson. Although the number of elevation offerings is 9, if one includes the sin offering of a goat then the total number of communal additional offerings is 10, indicating a change in the spiritual status of the Israelites. During the month of Tishrei the Israelites commune with Hashem through the New Year, Day of Atonement, and Sukkoth. After Shemini Atzeret the Israelites are not obligated to return to the temple until Passover which is about 6 months later. The Torah alludes to this separation by including the sin offering in the numerology of 10. In addition the Hebrew word for sin (חטא) also has the connotation of lacking as in the verse (Genesis 31:39), “I (Jacob) would bear the loss אחטנה (of Laban’s sheep) alluding to separation or diminishing of this connection.    

Textual Analysis

On the surface, the verses describing the communal festive offerings (i.e. Numbers 28:9-29:38) appear the same which may prompt the following question, “Why did the Torah apparently repeat many details especially with regard to the bull, ram, sheep, goat and meal offerings?” The answer is that the Torah teaches a number of lessons through subtle differences in wording in terms of:

  • Action.
  • Fire.
  • Grain Offering
  • Sin.  

Action – You Shall Offer

For each of the communal offerings the Torah states that you shall offer with the exception of:

  • Sabbath.
  • New Year.


In the case of the Sabbath offering, the Torah only mentions the offerings but not a command to offer because these offerings are similar to the daily offering in type of animal and number (i.e. 2 lambs per day). Therefore the command to offer the daily offering (Numbers 28:3), “This is the fire offering that you shall offer to Hashem, two male lambs” is extended to the Sabbath and the Torah did not need to write the command here (Nachmanides Numbers 28:12).

New Year

In the case of the New Year offering, the Torah writes (Numbers 29:2), “You shall make (ועשיתם) an elevation offering for Hashem” instead of the usual command “You shall offer (והקרבתם)”. The Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 4:8) explains that after the Israelites return to Hashem through prayer and introspection on the New Year, Hashem deems the Israelites as if they made themselves anew. The Zohar (3:258) explains that the clause “You shall make” refers to the commandments that they fulfill (literally make) on this auspicious day. In this manner the Torah emphasizes personal action in addition to communal offerings.

Other Holidays

The reader may ask, “Since the Torah lists these communal offerings after the mention of the Sabbath, why does the Torah write, “You shall offer for each holiday?” Ostensibly the mention of Sabbath should extend to these holidays. Nachmanides answers (ibid.) that the Torah writes “You shall offer” for each holiday because either there:

  • Is an additional offering on that day or
  • Are different numbers of animals per day compared to the previous day.

 The following table lists the holidays and reason for stating the command to offer where applicable.

Holiday (English)Holiday (Hebrew)Another OfferingDifferent Number
New Moonראש חדשX
New Yearראש השנה X
Day of Atonementיום כפור X
Shemini Atzeretשמיני עצרת X

As explained above, the Torah does not mention the clause “You shall offer” on the Sabbath because the Sabbath offering is the same type of animal (i.e. lamb) and number (i.e. 2) as the daily offering. By contrast the Torah does mention this clause in reference to the New Moon (Numbers 28:11) because both the types of animals (i.e. bulls and rams) and number of lambs (i.e. 7 vs. 2) are different than those of the Sabbath. Although the Passover and New Moon additional offerings are the same, the Torah mentions an additional communal offering of one lamb and offerings of wheat and barley on the 16th of Nissan. Therefore the Torah mentions the clause,”You shall offer” for the Passover communal offering (Numbers 28:19.) Although the Shavuot and Passover additional offerings are the same, the Torah mentions additional communal offerings on Shavuot. Therefore the Torah mentions the clause,”You shall offer” for the Shavuot communal offering (Numbers 28:27.) The offerings of the New Year were discussed above.  

The Torah mentions the clause “You shall offer” for the communal offerings of the Day of Atonement (Numbers 29:8) because the Torah mentions other offerings for this day in Leviticus 16:3 and 5. Similarly the Torah mentions this clause on Sukkoth (Numbers 29:13) because the number of offered animals is different compared to the other holidays as discussed above. Although the number of offered bulls is different for each day of Sukkoth the Torah does not mention the clause, “You shall offer” for each day because the 70 bulls are a unit as discussed above. Therefore the mention on the 1st day of Sukkoth covers the remaining 6 days of Sukkoth. The Torah uses the clause, “You shall offer” (Numbers 29:36) for Shemini Atzeret because the number of offerings is different from that of Sukkoth.     


The Zohar (3:258b) notes that the Torah uses word fire אשה as in fire offering for some of the holidays offerings and not for others. The following table lists the holidays, whether or not the word fire אשה is mentioned, and associated verse in the book of Numbers when applicable.  

Holiday (English)Holiday (Hebrew)Mention of FireVerse
New Moonראש חדש28:13
New Yearראש השנה XX
Day of Atonementיום כפור XX
Shemini Atzeretשמיני עצרת 29:36

The Zohar (ibid.) explains in a mystical sense that the word fire refers to purification as in the verse (Numbers 31:23) to purify vessels through fire, ”Whatever is used in fire you shall pass through fire and then it will be clean.” The author would like to explain that the Torah did not mention fire on these holidays (i.e. Shavuot, New Year, and Day of Atonement) because these holidays are unique in terms of purification. Hashem gave the Torah to the Israelites on Shavuot and in turn the Torah purifies a person who studies and observes it. As mentioned above the New Year and Day of Atonement are set aside for returning to Hashem and spiritual purification.  Since the Torah did not mention “You shall offer” with respect to the Sabbath offering it also did not mention the word fire.

Grain Offering

The Torah mentions the amount of grain offering for each of the communal elevation offerings with the exception of Shemini Atzeret. Nachmanides (Numbers 28:12) notes this apparent redundancy because amount of flour per animal is the same for all of the holidays. He explains that since the Torah mentions meal offerings on Passover and Shavuot that do not follow this rule, the Torah for the sake of clarity detailed the meal offerings on the other holidays with the exception of Shemini Atzeret. For this holiday the Torah only mentions the requirement of the meal offering (Numbers 29:37) but not the quantities of flour per animal offered. Since the Torah did not mention the quantities of flour for the last 6 days of Sukkoth it follows the same pattern for Shemini Atzeret.  

Sin Offering

The Talmud notes the variation of the text in the verses that mention the sin offering for:

  • New Moon – offering to Hashem.
  • Shavuot – no mention of sin.

New Moon

The Torah (Numbers 28:15) calls the sin offering on the New Moon, “A sin offering to Hashem”. The Talmud notes that this expression is unique because the Torah does not mention the name of Hashem when discussing other sin offerings. The author will discuss the following answers:

  • Halacha – Type of sin (Shevuot 9a).
  • Aggadah (Homiletic) – Size of the moon (Shevuot 9a and Chullin 60b).
  • Philosophy – Maimonides Guide for the Perplexed (3:46)

Type of sin

The Talmud (Shevuot 9a) derives from this verse that this sin involving ritual impurity is only known to Hashem meaning that the inadvertent sinner had no knowledge of the transgression both before and after the event as discussed in detail in the companion article “Communal Festive Offerings – Halacha”.

Size of the Moon

The Talmud (Chullin 60b) notes an apparent discrepancy in Genesis 1:16 concerning the size of the moon. At first the verse states, “Hashem made two great luminaries” implying that the sun and moon were of equal size and luminosity. Then the verse says, “The greater luminary to dominate by day and the lesser luminary to dominate by night”, implying that the sun is greater than the moon. The Talmud (ibid.) resolves this contradiction by explaining that initially the luminaries were equal and the moon diminished in importance. (From a scientific viewpoint the moon may have been formed by a collision between the Earth and another small planet the size of Mars. The debris from this impact collected in an orbit around Earth to form the Moon. During this collision great light was produced and the debris formed a smaller size moon compared to the original planet.)

The Talmud (Chullin 60b) states that Hashem said “Bring an atonement (i.e. sin offering) for Me (divine) because I (Hashem) diminished the moon.” Hence the Torah calls this offering, “A sin offering to Hashem”. Appendix 1 explains this enigmatic citation from the Talmud in detail. 

Maimonides – Distance from Idolatry

Maimonides explains that the expression “A sin offering for Hashem” informs the Israelites that this offering is for Hashem and not for the moon as idolaters falsely believed. This explanation follows the view of Maimonides that many of the mitzvoth of the Torah are to distance the Israelites from idolatry. 


The Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 4:8) notes for each of the communal sin offerings listed in the book of Numbers, the Torah specifies “a  goat for a sin offering” with the exception of Shavuot where the Torah says (Numbers 28:30), “A goat for atonement” without mention of sin. The Talmud (ibid.) explains that once the Israelites accepted the Torah at Sinai, which the holiday of Shavuot commemorates, Hashem regards the Israelites as if they are free from sin if they follow the dictates of the Torah.

The reader may remark, “However the Torah (Leviticus 23:19) does mention sin with respect to the additional sin offering on Shavuot.” The Talmud (Zevachim 55a) answers that this mention of sin teaches that the communal peace offering of 2 lambs on Shavuot are eaten with the same stringencies as a sin offering (viz. male priest, in the temple, and only for one day until midnight.) By contrast the portions of a personal peace offering assigned to the priests may be eaten by their families, in Jerusalem, and for two days and a night. 

Appendix 1 – Diminution of the Moon  


The Talmud (Chullin 60b) relates that the diminution of the moon resulted as a complaint by the moon that “Two kings (i.e. the sun and moon) cannot serve with one crown (i.e. both luminaries should be equal)?” Hashem then requested that the moon diminish in size. The moon retorted, “Master of the Universe, since I made a correct observation must I diminish myself (i.e. it is not fair)?” Hashem tried to persuade the moon with the following points:    

  • Moon appears in the sky at night and sometimes in the day. By contrast the sun only appears in the day.
  • The Israelites count the months and year by the lunar cycle.
  • Some of the righteous are called small (e.g. Jacob – Amos 7:2, David – 1 Samuel 17:14, and Samuel the small).   

The moon rebutted the first two points by saying:

  • Moonlight in the daytime is minimal.
  • The Israelites determine the pilgrim festivals (e.g. Passover in the spring and Sukkoth in the fall) by the solar cycle and when necessary add a lunar month to adjust to the solar year.

It is interesting to note that the moon did not respond to the 3rd argument which will be explained below. The Talmud continues and relates that Hashem saw that the moon was still displeased and said, “Bring an atonement (i.e. sin offering) for Me (Hashem), since I diminished the moon.” Hence the Torah commands to bring a sin offering for Hashem on the New Moon which explains the reference to Hashem in Numbers 28:15.

The Talmudic commentators grapple with the meaning of this discussion between Hashem and the moon and raise the following questions:

  • What is the significance of the different arguments between Hashem and the moon?
  • What is the meaning of “Bring an atonement offering for Me (Hashem), because I diminished the moon”?
  • Why did the moon not rebut the third point?
  • Who is Samuel the small?

There are many approaches to the discussion between Hashem and the moon. For sake of brevity the author will list the following:

  • Figure of speech – to teach that one must attempt to mollify a person when applying discipline (Tosafot Harosh on Shevuot 9a). In this case Hashem, so to speak, tried to appease the moon. 
  • Atonement for Israel – The offering atones for the sins of Israel with Hashem choosing the new moon as the occasion to appease the moon. (Tosafot Shevuot 9a). 
  • Parable – the moon resembles Israel and the sun represents Esau and by extension other enemies of Israel based upon Genesis Rabbah 6:3 (Maharsha on Chullin 60b).

The author favours the parable approach because it addresses the 3 answers of Hashem to the moon, explains Hashem’s atonement, and provides an understanding of Israel’s role in its long and difficult exile including the eventual redemption as follows:

  • Explanation of Parable.
  • Forgiveness of Hashem.
  • Righteous Personalities – Dealing with Enemies
  • Sovereignty – Cycle of the Moon.
  • Prayers – Awaiting the Redemption.


Day and Night

According to the parable night and day correspond to the current exile and future redemption, respectively. Hence Hashem’s answer that the moon appears in the night and day means that the Israelites will survive the exile and shine in the messianic era as the Midrash states. However during the night (i.e. current exile) the Israelites may suffer persecution hence the rebuttal by the moon.

Two Kings

The expression “Two kings cannot serve with one crown” implies that two competing forces cannot prevail at the same time, in this case the Israelites against its many enemies. (The numerous resolutions against the state of Israel in the United Nations, whether concerning human rights or nuclear arms, attest to these enemies.) In fact the Torah (Genesis 25:23) predicts a struggle between Jacob and Esau, “Two kingdoms (i.e. Jacob and Esau) will separate from you (Rebecca), and one kingdom will become mightier than the other and (eventually) the elder (Esau) will serve the younger. “ The Talmud (Megillah 6a) comments on this verse that when one nation (i.e. Israel or Rome) rises the other will necessarily fall. However in the messianic era Esau will make peace with Israel and voluntary serve them. Hence the arguments between Hashem and the moon allude to Israel’s attempt to plead before Hashem to mitigate the difficult exile.


Using the sun and moon as a metaphor for the enemies of Israel and Israel respectively, the expression, “Bring an atonement for Me (Hashem) because I (Hashem) diminished the moon” could be interpreted as Hashem’s reaction to diminishing the stature of the Israelites, because of their sins, which led to suffering of the Israelites at the hand of their enemies.  In a poetic sense, Hashem says to the Israelites, “Forgive me (so to speak) because I (Hashem) diminished you.” In this manner the word atonement means appeasement as the Maharal (Gur Ayeh on Numbers 28:15) explains on Genesis 32:21, “I (Jacob) will appease (אכפרה) Esau with this gift.” 

The diminishing of the Israelites is reflected in the word לחטאת which can mean for a sin or diminishing. The literal meaning of sin relates to impropriety involving the temple (i.e. eating sacrificial food or entering the temple) when impure. The word לחטאת can also mean diminishing as Jacob says to Laban about watching his flock (Genesis 31:39), “I will cover the loss (אחטנה).” Here the root חטא means loss and not sin.    

Righteous Personalities

The Talmud (Chullin 60b) records that when Hashem attempted to placate the moon, He (Hashem) said that some of the righteous (i.e. Jacob, David, and Samuel) are called small implying that being small is a virtue. Following the approach that the moon represents Israel, Hashem is saying that even though the Israelites are small in number He (Hashem) regards them as righteous if they follow the path of their illustrious ancestors as the verse says (Deuteronomy 7:7), “Not because you are more numerous than any people did Hashem delight in you and choose you, for you are the least of all the peoples.” Rather because “Hashem keeps the oath He swore to your forefathers” (ibid. 7:8). The Torah states (ibid. 7:12) that this oath is affected by observance, “When you will heed these ordinances …   Hashem will keep the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.”     

In addition to being called small, the 3 righteous individuals teach the Israelites how to deal with their enemies in confrontation, prayer, and with faith. Hence the moon did not rebut this point.


Jacob battled with the angel of Esau (Rashi on Genesis 32:25 based upon Genesis Rabbah 77:3) for the entire night showing his faith in Hashem. Scripture calls Jacob the small one (Genesis 27:15 and 42) as the younger brother of Esau and in Amos 7:2 as a symbol of the nation of Israel, “How will Jacob survive for he is small?” In addition Jacob in his humility called himself small (Genesis 32:11), “I (Jacob) have become small from all the kindnesses and truth that You (Hashem) have rendered Your servant.”  


David similarly fought the enemies of Israel with humility and faith.  Rashi on the Talmud (ibid. Chullin 60b) quotes 1 Samuel 17:14 in reference to Goliath, “David was the youngest (literally the smallest), and the three elder brothers followed Saul (to battle against Goliath).” He also faith with faith as the verse states (ibid. 17:45), “David said to the Philistine (Goliath): You come to me with sword, spear and javelin, and I come to you with the Name of the L-rd of Hosts, the G-d of the armies of Israel which you have taunted.”

Samuel the Small

The Talmudic commentators debate the identity of Samuel the Small.  From the order of the text (viz. Jacob, Samuel, and David) it would appear that Samuel the Small is the prophet Samuel who anointed King David. Although scripture does not call Samuel by this name, Rabbi Yaakov Emden, an 18th century Talmudist, finds a hint to the word small in reference to Samuel the prophet in 1 Samuel 2:19, “His mother made a small robe for him.”

Others (e.g. Maharsha on Chullin 60b) hold that Samuel the Small is a sage who lived at the time of the destruction of the second temple and was called by this name due to his great humility. In addition some (e.g. Rabbi Shmuel Strashun a 19th century Talmudist on Chullin 60b) find the text as Jacob, David, and Samuel the Small preserving chronological order. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 11a) remarks that Samuel the Small merited that the Shechinah should rest upon him but his generation was not worthy of this manifestation. When he passed away the sages eulogized him for his great piety and humility, hence the name Samuel the Small.

Samuel the Small witnessed the great might of Rome and predicted a harsh exile under Roman domination (Sanhedrin ibid.). Specifically he predicted that Rome would kill the leaders of the Israelites, plunder Israel, and subjugate the Israelites to a long oppression. During this tumultuous period several sects arose which presented a threat to the Israelites. As a result Rabban Gamliel II of Yavne (around 100 CE) instituted an additional blessing to the amidah prayer, against these sects and chose Samuel the Small to compose this blessing (Berachot 28b). Samuel realized that Rome could not be defeated militarily and consequently the proper action was to pray to Hashem who would deal with the enemies of Israel. In addition to this prayer, Samuel advises the Israelites to avoid gloating over their eventual defeat by quoting Proverbs 24:17-18, “When your enemy falls do not rejoice and when he stumbles let your heart not exult. Lest Hashem see and be displeased, and turn His wrath away from him (unto you).” This quote appears in Mishna Avot 4:19 in printed Mishna and 4:24 in the prayer book as the motto of Samuel. In contrast to Jacob and David who confronted their enemies with force, Samuel the Small advises the Israelites to pray for redemption where the messiah with Hashem’s help will defeat the enemies of Israel. With his humility and motto he advises the Israelites against schadenfreude (epicaricacy) or in the vernacular “The oppressed should not become the oppressors.”   


The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 15:26) clearly identifies the lunar cycle with Israel’s sovereignty in terms of:

  • Variability
  • Number of generations


The sovereignty of Israel varies with increasing and decreasing phases based upon their merit. The moon almost disappears from the night sky and return in 15 days to a full moon. Similarly there are times in the history of Israel that it appears that the Israelites are doomed to extinction only to return in full glory.

Number of Generations

The Midrash actually links the number of generations of Israelites to the cycle of the moon, namely 15 ascending from Abraham to King Solomon and 15 descending from King Rehoboam to King Josiah. The following tables provide the number, leaders or kings, and associated verses in scripture relating to birth or genealogy.    

Ascending Cycle – 15

NumberLeaders or KingVerses
3PatriarchsGenesis 11:27, 21:3, and 25:26
1JudahGenesis 29:35
10Perez … DavidRuth 4:18-22
1Solomon2 Samuel 12:24

Descending Cycle – 15

NumberLeaders or KingVerses
4Rehoboam … Jehoshaphat 1 Chronicles 3:10
11Joram … Josiah1 Chronicles 3:11-14
4Johanan … Shallum (Zedekiah)1 Chronicles 3:15-16

The reader may ask, “Since the table of the descending cycle shows 19 kings why the Midrash counts only 15 kings?” The commentators on this Midrash explain that the last 4 kings were not significant because either they reigned for only 3 months or were vassals to foreign powers. Although verse (ibid. 15) lists 4 sons of Josiah, the Talmud Horayot 11b explains that Zedekiah and Shallum are the same. Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, mentioned in the next verse, is one of the 4 kings.


The prayers also link the lunar cycle to the destiny of Israel in terms of:

  • Musaf prayer on the New Moon.
  • Blessing on the New Moon.

Musaf Prayer

The Men of the Great Assembly, 120 sages at the beginning of the second temple, instituted an additional amidah prayer on the new moon (Berachot 33a).  Unlike other festive musaf prayers this one mentions atonement, a sin offering in addition to the verses in the Torah, deliverance from enemies, and the songs of King David. At a literal level, the atonement and sin offering refer to the statement in the Talmud (Chullin 60b), “Bring an atonement offering for Me (Hashem).” In the opinion of the author these themes relate to the above discussion of Hashem acknowledging the loss of Israel’s sovereignty and Hashem says, “Forgive me (so to speak) because I (Hashem) diminished the Israelites.” Hence this prayer mentions deliverance from enemies and songs of victory written by King David alluding to the eventual redemption.

Blessing on the New Moon

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 42a) mentions the requirement to cite a blessing on the appearance of the new moon. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 426:4) rules that one should not say the blessing until 7 days have passed from the appearance of the new moon. The Mishna Berurah (426:20) quotes other authorities that allow one to say the blessing 72 hours after appearance of the new moon. Both views hold that the moon must be significantly visible to indicate a new cycle.    

As discussed above, the cycle of the moon is a metaphor for the changing fortunes of Israel especially with regard to Israel’s sovereignty and the line of King David. The author will cite a number of examples from the prayer book to highlight these points.  

Israel’s sovereignty

The blessing on the new moon (Sanhedrin 42a) includes the expression, “The new moon … shall renew itself as a crown of splendour for those (Israelites) borne (by Hashem) … and who are destined to renew themselves.” From this blessing we see that the cycle of the moon alludes to Israel and its renewal.  In addition to the blessing, the custom is pray for defeat of the enemies of Israel and restoration of the monarchy the Davidic line in line with the theme of Israel’s sovereignty. These prayers also allude to the righteous personalities (i.e. Jacob, David, and Samuel) as follows:

Jacob – The opening letters of the blessing – בוראך קונך עושך יוצרך ברוך (Blessed is your Molder, Maker, Owner, and Creator) spell the patriarch Jacob ק,ב,ע,י.   

David – The Rema (Shulchan Aruch ibid. 426:2) writes that one should say “David King of Israel is alive an enduring” because his kingdom will renew and grow like the waxing moon. In addition the payer on the new moon mentions “May the following verse (Hosea 4:2) be fulfilled (in our time): (The children of Israel shall return) and seek the Hashem their G-d and David their king.”    

Samuel the Small – The Rema (ibid.) also writes that one should say “Let fear and terror fall upon our enemies. With the greatness of Your (divine) strength let the enemies be still as stone (Exodus 15:16).” This prayer of destruction of Israel’s enemies is reminiscent of the prayer of Samuel the Small in the amidah as discussed above.


This article examined the communal festive offerings from different perspectives:

  • Allusion – The bull, ram, and lamb allude to the patriarchs. The goat alludes to sin, atonement, and negative forces. 
  • Numerology – The numerology of 10 applies to the elevation offerings for most of the holidays and in some cases in conjunction with the sin offering.
  • Textual differences – Slight textual variations between verses teach different messages for each holiday.

In this manner the Torah may be understood at different levels and bring additional meaning to the communal festive offerings as the sages say (Avot 5:22 in the printed Mishna and 5:26 in the prayer book), “Analyze and continue to analyze the Torah it for it is all there (waiting for the serious student to discover).”

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