Reflection on the Holidays
By Nachum Mohl
With the holidays behind us, we normally look ahead to the dark winter months with only Chanukah on the Jewish holiday horizon to give us light. But instead of looking ahead, let us look behind; let us reflect on the holiday season that has pasted and perhaps we may derive some inspiration from those holidays of the past year.
First, know that the Jewish holidays run in a cyclical fashion, comprising three festivals. They begin with Passover, continue with Shavuot and end with Succoth. Each holiday has its special aspect that sets it apart from the other. They are called in Hebrew the three regalim, the three feet because it was on these three holidays that the Jews would go up by foot to the holy temple in Jerusalem.
From a cursory glance it would seem that there is no real connection between the three holidays other than the Jews would go to Jerusalem. Passover seems so strict with its stringencies of the matzo compared to Shavuot which was marked in ancient days by bringing the first fruits to the holy temple. Compare these two to Succoth when we dwelled for a week in a succa and take the four species, the Etrog (Citroen), the Lulav (palm branch), the Hadas (myrtle branches) and the Avravah (the willow branches). They seem so different. What do these different and distinct holidays have in common and further more, what can we learn from them?
If we contemplate on these differences we will begin to see an interesting pattern. As stated, Passover centers around the matzo; the matzo must be eaten and can not be shared with another person. Once you eat a matzo, it is not share-able. The matzo is all about me.
The next holiday is Shavuot. Ancient Shavuot was about bringing the first fruits to the priest in the Temple. These first fruits were given to the priest as part of the thanksgiving ceremony in the Temple; we thank G-d for the goodness that he has given us and in doing so, we give to the Priest our first fruits. Like the matzo, we can not share this with anyone, since we must take from what we have grown of our own fruits in our own land and give it to the priest. There is here a giving but not a sharing.
The holiday of Succoth brings us to this higher level. Succoth brings us to the level of sharing with others. We can share the succah with some one and perform the mitzvah of sitting in the Succoth together. I can use my four species to perform the mitzvah and when I am finished I can give it to you to perform the very same mitzvah. Then you can pass it on to some one else too. Succoth is about sharing, about expanding our being, about including others in our world.
We can see very clearly a transition from Passover and the Matzah, where it is all for me, to Shavuot and the first fruits when there is another entity added to the mitzvah (the priest) to the ultimate, to Succoth where there is total sharing with others. This is life. We came into life as a baby and for a baby life centers around itself: eating, drinking and yes, defecating with no regard to others. Then we pass into childhood and adolescence and we learn to play with others. Then finally we mature and reach adulthood. Marriage is the ultimate sharing; we share our lives; we share ourselves.
Yet each year we must grow greater than we were in the previous year. Like a tree that sheds its leaves at the end of the summer (Succoth time) and then goes into a slumber through out the long winter, only to come out of that slumber a bigger tree that will give greater fruits than the previous year. So too, we who have gone through the spring, Passover, and then the summer, Shavuot, now come to the fall, Succoth.
We will enter into the dark period of transition period of winter in which we will grow imperceptibly in spiritual manner in order that when the next spring time comes (Passover) we will be richer in maturity, more sensitive in spirituality, and better equipped to deal with the difficulties that the world is to present to us.
This is the lesson we must take with us during the dark nights of the winter. We are growing in the dark winter imperceptibly. That living and sharing with others is the ultimate purpose of serving G-d. That we may treat the next person with the respect and dignity that he needs and deserves, irregardless of his wealth or intelligence.
from the November 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine