WARMING UP FOR THE WINTER: PARTY LESSONS OF THE HOLIDAYS
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
The Jewish calendar has an oddity: From Passover to Tabernacles - six months - there are five major holidays prescribed by the Bible: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana. Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. From Sukkot to Passover - again, six months - there are none, except for two rabbinically ordained festivals: Hannukkah and Purim.
Why is it that one set of six months is jam-packed with holy days, whereas another set has none ? Maybe there 's a lesson here, and more specifically, what does it mean to the average N.Y U. student down here in the Village?
Do you ever feel lonely in the winter and have that feeling that you might have missed out on something that could make it all a little more bearable?
If you really think about it, you'll admit that it's not easy making it through a long, dark, cold winter on your own. There are various remedies for the situation, one of which is to throw a few parties (now, we're talking!). But, are there any uniquely Jewish views on how to provide the pick-me-up and get-up and-go of a party within Jewish observance?
There are in fact, several. One could of course, get married (always a desirable thing to do in Judaism) and have a wedding party. Or, turn to the joy of celebrations associated with circumcisions, bar and bat-mitzvahs, birthdays, and engagements. All these things can be celebrated joyfully and merrily throughout the winter.
But there is one major lesson that is frequently missed or not even realized, and that is derived from the major holidays we have just concluded.
You must have noticed how after you go jogging on a chilly evening you stay warm, long after your run, no matter how cold your surroundings. Or, how a few drinks (hopefully of hot cocoa) keep you warm for a while. Or, when you prepare well for a test of any kind, you feel comfortable facing up to the challenge.
Well, these are analogous to some of the moral lessons we are supposed to have learned from the holidays. The crescendo of the festivals is Simchat Torah - rejoicing with G-d's Law as we swirl and curl around like Jewish dervishes because we are...well...what? And the answer is: We celebrate our successful "loading up" of spiritual bounties that are to sustain us through the long, lonely haul of the winter's nights. The Torah Sages teach us something interesting :On Sukkot there were seventy offerings that were brought as symbols of the seventy nations representing all of humanity (a modestly sized General Assembly). On the last day of Sukkot, actually a separate festival called Shmini Atzeret (Eighth Day of Assembly), only one offering was brought as a symbol of the Jewish people (always the exception). It is as if G-d says to the Jews: "I have spent time with the entire world. Spend one day alone with Me. It is hard for Me to take leave of you."
And so, what do the Jews do? They take this day and make it into a party of Torah. It is when we culminate the annual cycle of the weekly Torah portion. And what do we do at the culmination? We go right on to start the cycle all over again - from Genesis. It is the perfect circle, having no beginning or end, because one can never take leave of the Torah. It's as if the Jews "tricked" G-d by turning what should have been a one-day party into an ongoing affair. The "party" continues all winter as Jews rejoice with their Torah all winter.
All the energy of the festivals has therefore been focused into a frenzied crescendo. A party for that indestructible trio: Israel, Torah, and the Holy One, who really are one and the same (a mind-boggling thought!).
We all love a good party, and part of the reason is because it gives us that extra 'zing' to make it through the few days till the next good one. The unique feature of the Simchat Torah party is that it is supposed to carry us through 180 days.
If for some reason you missed out on this unique party recently, and you realize that 180 days is a little too long to wait for another one, don't worry. The rabbis took care of the problem. They've arranged a Hanukkah party, followed by a Purim party as a prelude to the big Passover extravaganza! You're all invited. Have a happy winter!
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