Stop me when you’ve heard this before: You get back from vacation, you’re exhausted, and somehow the world has the audacity to ask you to go to work and school again? Uh, no thanks. You need a vacation from the vacation.
That always sounds great, but it rarely happens. However, it is something that we get in Judaism three times a year with a wonderful gift called Isru Chag. Isru Chag, which literally means “bind the festival,” is an extra quasi-holiday tied to the end of the three pilgrimage festivals—a third day of Sukkot, a ninth day of Passover, and a 10th day of Sukkot, when you get to celebrate for an extra day.
The reasons are somewhat opaque, but I’d love to think that our sages felt as burned out as we did in the aftermath of intense celebrations, and needed an extra day to help with that transition back to the grind of real life. Whatever their motivation, they pulled a classic rabbinic bait-and-switch, grabbing a verse from Psalms and then interpreting it to further what could be described as a very populist agenda. The Talmud (Sukkot 45b) tells us the whole story (translation courtesy of Sefaria):
“Bind [isru] with dense-leaved branches [ba’avotim] on the Festival until the horns of the altar” (Psalms 118:27), which alludes to both the binding of the lulav and to the myrtle branch, referred to in the Torah as the branch of a dense-leaved tree [anaf etz avot].
Rabbi Yirmeya said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai, and Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon HaMeḥozi, who said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan HaMakkoti: With regard to anyone who establishes an addition [issur] to the Festival on the day after the Festival by eating and drinking, the verse ascribes him credit as though he built an altar and sacrificed an offering upon it, as it is stated: “Add [isru] to the Festival with fattened animals [ba’avotim] until the horns of the altar.”
What’s not to like? Well, there is a vocal minority who don’t love it, but I’m here to clap back at those folks in the back of the room. In fact, I’m all in for an aggressive expansion of the practice. An extra day of eating and drinking in lieu of making sacrifices with fattened animals AND not going to work and school? Sign me up. Or bind me up.
To the altar, that is.
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