As we enter the calendar month of May, we are renewing the covenant together.
What do I mean when I say that we are "renewing the covenant together"?
The month of April was a difficult one, there is no doubt about it. There is not one of us whose life was not dramatically altered in some way by the coronavirus crisis. We continue to mourn for those who we lost and pray together for a speedy recovery for all cholei Yisrael, including those individuals who are unfortunately suffering from the effects of the virus. Personally, I am hoping and praying for a month of renewal, a month of health and healing. And a month of us celebrating together as a virtual community four weeks that are filled with holidays- both Jewish and civil. May is a month that culminates with the ultimate renewal: the holiday of Shavuot, a time when we will renew the covenant with the Almighty and re-invite the Divine into our everyday lives.
What are these holidays of renewal that we will be celebrating together throughout the month of May?
On Friday, May 8th, we will be celebrating the holiday of Pesach Sheni. This holiday reminds us of the "second chance" that the Almighty granted to the Jewish people- at their own initiative- to bring the korban Pesach, for those individuals who were unable to do so on the fourteenth of Nissan. Tachanun is omitted on this day, as well as at Mincha on the day prior.
Sunday the 10th is Mother's Day. This day, although often derided as a "Hallmark Holiday", is in fact the perfect opportunity for us to pause and reflect on all the amazing things that our mothers have done for us and continue to do for us. The Jewish values that serve as the underpinnings of this day, as reflected in the mitzvoth of the Ten Commandments to honor, and fear one's parents, are self-evident. Lag Ba'Omer, the thirty-third day of the counting of the omer, is all about healing and renewal. The Talmud tells us that following Pesach one year, a plague swept amongst the students of Rabi Akiva, ultimately killing 24,000 of them. Jewish tradition maintains that this plague stopped on Lag Ba'Omer. This fact, coupled with the marking of the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on this same day, served to transform this day into one of joy and celebration. Lag Ba'Omer falls on Tuesday, May 12th; Tachanun is omitted on this day, as well as at Mincha on the day prior. Yom Yerushalayim, one of the most profound expressions of collective Jewish renaissance, will be celebrated on Friday, May 22nd. On this day we joyously recall the Israeli victory in the Six Day War of 1967, and specifically the extension of Jewish sovereignty over those areas of Jerusalem that had fallen to the Jordanians as a result of the 1948 War of Independence. We celebrate a reunited Jerusalem and the renewed access to holy places such as the Kotel by admitting Tachanun, and reciting Hallel. The theme of renewal is continued the next day, as we begin a new book as part of our annual cycle of parashiyot: Sefer Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers. The next day, Sunday the 24th, we celebrate the sighting of the new moon on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. On this day as well, Tachanun is omitted, and Hallel is recited. We also recite Mussaf for Rosh Chodesh on this day. The following day, Monday the 25th, is Memorial Day. But the culmination of this month of renewal is on the 29th and the 30th, as we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. In addition to the agricultural and pilgrimage aspects for which this holiday was designated in ancient Israel, the holiday of Shavuot is also the day when we commemorate the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Although this original event of the giving of the Torah at Sinai may have taken pace thousands of years ago, we are nonetheless enjoined to view each day of our lives as if the Torah were given anew on that day. Rabbi Peretz Robinson