Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
The Talmud discusses two disputes that took place between the Tzedukim and the sages: (1) Can an individual contribute the daily Tamid Sacrifice to the Temple? (2) Does the phrase “The day after Shabbat” [Vayikra 23:11] refer to the second day of Pesach or to Sunday no matter what day of the week Pesach starts? (Menachot 65b.) The disputes took place between the first day of Nissan and the end of Pesach, and when the sages won they decided that these two days would be considered as minor holidays, when no eulogies for the dead would be allowed.
In his book “Mishpat Kohen,” Rav A.Y. Kook explains the basis of the dispute and he shows that there is a link between the two subjects:
“The reason why the Tzedukim wanted to allow the Tamid to be brought as a private sacrifice was that they did not admit that the community of Yisrael as a whole has a special sanctity above and beyond what exists for all the other nations. The main reason for the existence of the other nations is to provide benefits for the individuals, but the community as a whole has no independent existence.”
The society of the Gentiles is a partnership, and the combined assets are no more than the sum total of what the members put into it. This is not true for the nation of Yisrael, which is not defined as a partnership but as a community. Our community has an independent sanctity which comes from a heavenly source. The holiness of the individuals stems from the fact that they are all linked to this heavenly source. As the author of the Tanya wrote, our nation is “a single soul which appears in separate bodies” [Chapter 32].
Rav Charlap brought this matter into better focus by saying that anybody who thinks it is possible to live as a Jew in solitude while observing all the mitzvot can be compared to one who feels that he can live as a Jew without having any belief in G-d.
This is also the difference between Shabbat and the holidays. Shabbat is regular and constant, with a sanctity of its own which does not depend on our actions. This is not the same as a holiday, which attains its holy status through us. A holiday represents the sanctity of the community, combining the entire nation into a group. The holidays derive their status from Shabbat, which is permanent and at a high level, and therefore Shabbat serves as the foundation for the holidays of the year. In the weekly Kiddush, we describe Shabbat as “the day which is the beginning of all the days that are called holy.” And therefore in the blessing for a holiday which occurs on Shabbat we say, “He who sanctifies Shabbat, Yisrael, and the times.” G-d sanctifies Shabbat, making us holy and giving us the power to sanctify the holidays. The first day of Pesach has a trait of Shabbat, since it is the first of all the holidays which come after it. And that is why the Torah calls the second day of the holiday, “the day after Shabbat.”
The Tzedukim refused to accept that Yisrael is endowed with a unique type of holiness, and they insisted that there is no such thing as general and independent sanctity of Yisrael. They felt that the people of Yisrael are partners, like the members of all the other nations. This means that every person can offer a public sacrifice. And also in terms of the holidays, there is no special significance to the first day of Pesach, and the name “Shabbat” cannot be applied to it.
In the famous Beilis blood libel in Russia in 1913, a Jew was accused that he murdered a child in order to make matzot for Pesach. Rabbi Mazeh, the Rabbi of Moscow, was asked about the rule that “you are called Adam (human beings) but other nations are not called Adam,” which was taken to imply that Jews are allowed to ignore the rights of non-Jews and even to kill them. Rabbi Mazeh replied that as opposed to other Hebrew words for man, such as “ish” and “gever,” which have a plural form, there is no plural of the word “Adam.” This is because Adam refers to a unique combined entity, and this term is only appropriate for Jews. As proof, note that when only one Jew sins G-d is angry at the entire nation. Even you agree that we are unique in this trait, the rabbi said, and therefore only we are called “Adam.”