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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

So Many Holidays These Few Months! What do they ALL mean?

by Rabbi Ysoscher Katz (Posted on June 6, 2024)
Topics: Bamidbar, Sefer Bamidbar, Torah

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With Shavuot only a few days away, it is time to start preparing for the chag, practically, and even more importantly, spiritually.

Calendrically, we are currently in a period dense with holidays and days of commemoration.  Within the span of two months we will have celebrated five holidays on the Jewish calendar: Pesach, Yom Ha’Shoah Ve’Hagevurah (Holocaust Memorial Day) Yom Ha’zikaron, (The day of commemoration of Israel’s fallen soldiers) Yom Ha’atzmaut, (Israel’s Independence Day) and Shavuot.

While Pesach and Shavuot are biblical holidays and the others are modern additions, it is still worth noting that historical coincidence has created this lineup of “springtime” holidays.

What does this series of five festivals teach us?

These holidays can be divided into three sequential categories, Pesach, the middle holidays and Shavuot. They are in dialogue and philosophically complement one another, each representing a different stage in our maturity as a people.

Their organization follows the classic dialectic – thesis-antithesis-synthesis- model.

On Pesach we celebrate our redemption from Egypt. It is a story of utter helplessness and complete dependence on God. We were in exile, oppressed by the Egyptians and needed to be saved. The “thesis” of Pesach is that we are completely helpless on our own and only through God’s intervention could we thrive and succeed. This represents the infancy stage of our faith-narrative.

The holidays which come next are the polar opposites of that mode, the “antithesis.” The era of the Holocaust and subsequent birth of the Jewish state was a period when we were not cuddled and directly cared for by God. One could say that this represents a rebellious and rejectionist theological state. Many in the Jewish community felt that the Holocaust was a period when we were neglected by God and left to fend for ourselves. This is the rebellious youthful stage of our faith-narrative.

Shavuot, finally, is the “synthesis” phase. It counteracts the radical abandonment felt during the holocaust and introduces a revised notion of our relationship with God. Like Peasch, we are again celebrating our relationship with the divine but the nature of the relationship has changed.

Pesach represents a hierarchical model. We are inferior, needy and despondent and God intervenes to alleviate our suffering. Shavuot reflects a different paradigm.

On Shavuot we celebrate the receiving of the Torah. Our relationship with God, mitigated through the Torah, is horizontal, not vertical. At Sinai God entered into a covenant with us that is predicated on mutual dependence. He needs us to fulfill His mitzvot as much as we need Him to keep His promises and commitments to us.

These holidays reflect the ideal religious trajectory. Initially, we want our relationship with the Divine to be hierarchical, where God takes care of our needs, our prayers are answered and we are always protected. As we grow older and realize that this is not always the case, we feel cheated and disillusioned. We are compelled to “go it on our own.” Then, as we mature, we moderate our oppositional stance, appreciating the complexity of our relationship with the Divine. In time we hopefully come to accept that this relationship is horizontal, not vertical; it is based on mutuality, not dependence. We stand in front of God strong and autonomous, not wretched and lost. Now it is not only God who makes demands. Like Abraham, who demanded justice from God in the story of the destruction of Sodom, we too have expectations.

The cluster of holidays we are now celebrating symbolizes this trajectory. They serve as models of the different kinds of relationships with God we have experienced during our history so that we can today incorporate those different modes in our own lives as well.

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