A Gutn Moed
As we begin this series, perhaps an introduction is in order. I have failed at the first task of any writer, “Know your audience.” I don’t know my audience. This is why I have been rather sloppy about how much I need to translate or explain. Sometimes I imagine that the person reading any of my essays has little or no Jewish or Hebrew background. Sometimes I imagine my words are being read by a Yeshiva graduate who might even have semicha. So please forgive me if you think that I am being unclear, or conversely if I am wasting my time in explaining things that do not need to be explained. With that out of the way, here we go:
Here is our story: The first day of Pesach is a very very high moment of Klal Yisrael’s connection to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. This lofty height is demonstrated in many ways. The Haggada makes several references to this exalted moment. For example, the dough didn’t rise because they kneaded the dough and then “Nigla Aleihem Melech Malchei Hamelachim Hakadosh Baruch Hu U’g’alam.” “The King who reigns over kings, the Holy One Blessed is He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.” It could have said the dough didn’t have time to rise before God redeemed them, or before they were kicked out. Instead, we get this very extreme and lofty description. The Exodus didn’t just have miracles; it had something called “Gilui Shechina”, a revelation of God’s dwelling among us. This is not just a quaint statement of religious fervor.
That peak of the relationship is such that when describing the onset of counting the seven weeks, “Counting the Omer”, the Torah refers to the first day of Pesach as Shabbos, not Moed. (Yes, of course I know the Sadducee explanation. But since our rabbinic interpretation is that the word “Shabbos” in that passage refers to the first day of Pesach, a far loftier truth is revealed; namely that the first day of Pesach has a Shabbos-like quality to it.) This Shabbos-like quality is its nature as a moment in time determined by God alone, without our input. God did all the heavy lifting. He determined when to take us out and those who showed they were on board had everything happen for them. No other day on the Jewish calendar speaks of such a pinnacle in just such a manner.
The metaphor of Pesach is that of a baby that has just been born and in the total and complete care of a loving mother. On this first day of Pesach, we say Hallel, a FULL Hallel, over and over again; many say it not once, but TWICE on Seder night. And then again on the first morning of Pesach.
This is all so wonderful. But I’m not telling you this to feel good, or haughty. This is not just a quaint statement of religious fervor. It’s relevant now because it all comes crashing down. Even though we still call the next six days a Yom Tov, some of the magic is lost. There are two intertwined signs of this crash. The first is that for the remaining days of Pesach, only an abridged Hallel is said. For a nation that couldn’t say it enough in the first 24 hours, we sure let go afterwards.
It’s worth pointing out that an abridged Hallel is only a concession formulated by a community whose grassroots could not bare to acknowledge these holy days with zero Hallel. So the custom developed to say it in abridged form. That way, we could not be accused of disrespecting the view that to say Hallel is inappropriate. But imagine that: Had the Rabbis’ structure been maintained in its original form, there would have been no Hallel at all on the last six days of Pesach!
The second sign, actually the chronologically earlier occurrence, is that the remaining days of Pesach have no unique Mussaf. They are just reruns of the first day. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except for the stark contrast with Succos, where each day gets a unique character in the form of an altered menu.
So to paraphrase (in reverse) an old line about sports cars, how did we go from 60 to 0 in 10 seconds?
The answer to this is the answer to hundreds of stories and questions throughout the entire Tanach. It is the Grand Unified Theory of Tanach and most Medrashim.
The theme is as follows: God creates the world, and those moments of His creation and involvement are amazing etc. But they are not meant to last as gifts from Him. The goal is to have the Gift taken away and then achieved through the growth and effort of the recipient.
Each major story of Tanach, and really the single Story of all of Tanacha as a unit, is this: God starts us at 60. With Him, near Him. Then, while He steps out for a moment, we then crashland to 0. And then we have to figure out how to get to 60 again.
That is Pesach, followed by Sefiras HaOmer. Pesach is the peak. Then the next day the journey begins. We are still enjoying the afterglow of that amazing Midnight for another week. But that glow was not our own achievement. We are now kicked out of the nest and have to learn how to fly. We are giving seven weeks to learn.
What are we supposed to learn? What is “flying” a metaphor for?
I can think of two ways of describing it.
1) We are supposed to learn how to cause Gilui Shechina amongst us.
2) A child resembles the parent, and wants to grow up to emulate the parent. We should learn to be God-like.
And how do we figure that out? Here is where Kabbala comes into the picture. While there are many ways human beings have described their soul, or the human personality, Kabbala works have described it in a certain way, and this way has been adopted by many subsequent seforim, even those who eschew the spread of kabbala itself.
Here are the code words. Each word defines one day of Succos, and one week of the seven weeks after Day One of Pesach.
Chesed: Creativity, Generosity
Gevurah: Discipline, setting limits
Tiferes: Balance, harmony
Netzach: Proactivity, “Crushing it”, conquering
Hod: The dignity of Acquiescence, giving in
Yesod: Friendship, equality
I won’t pretend to understand all 49 permutations of these 7. But we can devote a week to each trait. And the way they explain it, mastering these 7 traits lead to an ideal human personality, emulating God and inviting Him to be present in our awareness.