Pesach and Shavuot are in essence one festival. The Chag of Cherut begins with the celebration of physical freedom – Yetziat Mitzrayim, and ends with spiritual freedom – Matan Torah.
On Pesach we celebrate Yetziat Mitzrayim, and on Shavuot we celebrate Geulat Mitzrayim – the true redemption. Thus in exactly the same way that Shemini Atzeret (Simchat HaTorah) follows Sukkot (Yetziat Mitzrayim) so too Shavuot (Atzeret) follows Pessach.
Sefirat Haomer – the counting of the Omer, acts as a connector between the two chagim, a type of ‘Chol Hamoed’ between the first and the last days of the Pesach/Shavuot festival. There are forty eight ways to possess the Torah and we go through a thorough personal process during the days of the Omer in order to transform our physical freedom into a spiritual reality, climaxing with Shavuot – Matan Torah.
In the Chassidic world, each of the seven weeks of the Omer, deals with a specific trait. There are seven all encompassing traits or middot:
Chesed – Love
Gevura – Inner strength
Tifferet – Mercy, Unity and Truth
Netzach – Tolerance, Courage and Ambition
Hod – Humiltiy and Gratitude
Yesod – Basic Connections
Malchut – Control, and Leadership
During each of the seven weeks between the first days of Pesach, until Shavuot , we are encouraged to concentrate on each of the above concepts. Each week is in turn divided into seven subsections. In order to perfect a specific trait, one has to in turn perfect the seven elements of that given trait. For example during the first week the overall theme is Chesed. The week of chesed is then divided into seven subsections:
Not being a Chassid, my full understanding of these concepts is limited to say the least. However, whenever counting the Omer using a regular siddur, I always take note of the trait of the day and try to understand the inner meaning of that day, and how I can improve myself in preparation for Matan Torah.
To my mind it is not by coincidence that our “Contemporary Chagim” all fall during the days between Pesach and Shavuot, during Sefirat HaOmer. I am surely not the first to note that Yom Haatzmaut is adjacent to Pesach, and that Yom Yerushalayim is juxtaposed to Shavuot.
Yom Haatzmaut signifies our physical freedom from the slaveries of post second world war Europe, from Yemen, from Ethiopia, from Russia, in the same way that Pesach symbolizes the physical freedom from Egypt. Yom Haatzmaut is a celebration of our independence as a nation, as is Pesach.
Yom Yerushalayim, on the other hand, though often referred to, as a military miracle is so much more than that. When we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, we are celebrating the return of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. We are celebrating the fact that for the first time in two thousand years, the site of the Mikdash, the holiest point on earth, is once again in our hands. Yom Yerushalayim is the spiritual redemption as such, of our people, and therefore it seems more than apt that it be so close to Shavuot.
However besides the respective proximities of Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim to Pesach and Shavuot. There is to my mind tremendous significance to the actual days of the Omer that our contemporary chagim fall on.
Yom Hashoah VeHagevura – is a day that the State of Israel set aside in honor and in memory of the Holocaust victims and survivors. The date was set on the day of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising – the 27th of Nissan, the twelfth day of the Omer. The exact trait for that very day is “Hod Shebigvura” – “The glory of strength”.
The fact that we remember the Holocaust in a week dealing with gevura – strength, is relevant to say the least. However, it should be noted that on the very day that we decided to commemorate our victims and survivors – the specific element of strength being dealt with is “Hod” – humility and gratitude.
Can there be no more apt trait than “the glory of strength” when relating to the Holocaust. We are not speaking only of physical strength, but of inner strength, strength of character. The strength that enabled millions to live through unlivable conditions in the ghettoes of Eastern Europe. To create hospitals, schools, theaters, to simply stay alive against all the odds. To continue to believe when everything and everyone around them had been removed or destroyed. To find the resolve to fight back spiritually and physically. That we survived the Holocaust, with little to no help from the Nations of the World, is a true symbol of the inner strength and resolve of the people of Israel. To be able to come from the gas chambers of Auschwitz to the wars of Independence, and to succeed, is not simply a symbol of physical courage, but a symbol of tremendous inner strength – “Hod Shebigvura”.
Yom Hazikaron – was set aside by the State of Israel, in honor and in memory of all those who have fallen in defense of the State of Israel. This day remembers our soldiers and our terror victims alike. The day remembers the families who have nevertheless continued despite their terrible loss. The day more than anything else symbolizes the incredible “Messirut Nefesh” involved in the establishing and continuing survival of the State of Israel. Yom Hazikaron falls on the 4th of Iyar, the nineteenth day of the Omer. The exact trait for that day is “Hod Shebitiferet”.
Words used to describe “Tifferet” in Chassidic literature are mercy, unity, and truth. “Hod” is described with the words thanksgiving, and humility. There is nothing more unifying in our homeland than the joint messirut nefesh taken on by every citizen, by the mere fact that they live here.
Yom Hazikaron, a day that we commemorate Tiferet – unity, truth, and mercy – yet we do so with the trait of “Hod”. We stand humbly before our brothers and sisters who have willingly given of themselves in order that we can live the Jewish dream of two thousand years.
We stand in unity, we acknowledge the truth – the reality of the price of the wonderful phenomenon called the State of Israel, we see the mercies of Hashem by the mere fact that we are here, yet we lower our heads in admiration and humility not just of those who have passed, but of those that have been left behind. We also remember that the Unity and truth that we observe is a direct result of the humility and selflessness of our people.
Yom Haatzmaut, is a celebration of our independence. Miraculously after two thousand years of exile. After Rome, Babylon, Spain, Europe, after the Holocaust, we have come home. How a people so small, so seemingly insignificant, could survive for so long. How a people could leave the devastation of Europe to build what we have today in both spiritual and physical terms – is unbelievable. As the psalmist says during the return to Zion we will be as dreamers – “Hayinu Kecholmim”. The reality is unreal. What has been achieved in the past fifty-five years is incredible in the most normal circumstances, but when one understands the events that preceded our Independence, then our history simply becomes unbelievable. If we were not living it, we would regard the events of the last fifty years as pure fiction.
Yom Haatmaut falls on the 5th of Iyar, the twentieth day of the Omer. The exact trait for that day is “Yesod Shebitiferet”.
As we noted above the trait of Tiferet is understood to be symbolic of unity, truth, and mercy. Our independence has been entirely related to our unity. It is the ultimate unity of the people of Zion that has ensured the ongoing survival of our State. The State also resembles truth. The reality of the Jewish people in its homeland is the absolute reality. This is our home this is where we belong; even the most vibrant community in the Diaspora can never replace the truth of Am Yisrael Be Eretz Yisrael. Yet ultimately, our continued existence here is dependent more than anything else on Chasdei Hashem. Our survival against the odds, with so many enemies is simply miraculous and is a clear reflection of Chasdei Hashem – mercy. So on Yom Haatzmaut we celebrate “Tifferet”, but we do so with the specific trait of “Yesod”. Yesod can be explained by the word “Hitkashrut” – connection. The land of Israel is together with Torat Yisrael, the yesod of our people, it is a basic element of who we are, and what we are. From the moment that we left Egypt we were destined for Eretz Yisrael. Throughout the years of our exile we always faced Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael is the land given to us by Hashem it is an inherent part of our people and an absolute element of our definition. No religious Jew could argue the fact that Eretz Yisrael is a yesod of Am Yisrael.
Thus on Yom Haatzmaut, we take the elements of Tiferet, Unity truth and mercy, and apply them to yesod, to Eretz Yisrael.
Yet Yom Yerushalayim signifies even more than Yom Haatzmaut. If Yom Haatzmaut symbolizes our independence then Yom Yerushalaim symbolizes our direction. If Jews in the Diaspora face Eretz Yisrael, then Jews in Israel face Yerushalayim. If Israel is the body then Jerusalem is the soul. On this day we celebrate our qualitative return home. After two thousand years, against the might of Nasser and Assad, we recaptured Jerusalem – “Har Habayit Beyadeinu” – “The Temple mount is in our hands”. We returned to our Patriarchs and to our Matriarchs, to Hebron and Bet Lechem. The soul of our people, our spirit, our holiness.
Yom Yerushalayim falls on the 28th of Iyar, the forty-third day of the Omer. The exact trait for that day is “Chesed ShebeMalchut”.
The overall trait for the final week of the Omer leading up to Shavuot is “Malchut” – atzilut, shlitta, manhigut. During this week, after seven weeks of progress we reach inner control, leadership. Yet we do so beChesed with love.
There could be no more relevant trait than Chesed ShebeMalchuit to symbolize the reality of Yom Yerushalayim. Our capital, our crown, our essence was returned to us. However, the events leading up to the war, and certainly the events of the war itself only emphasize that our Malchut was returned to us with love, with chesed. We are not yet at the level of Shavuot. We have entered the week of Malchut. We are at the stage of Yom Yerushalayim, but we are at the earliest stage, we are at the level of Chesed. We must take our wonderful reality, and it is a wonderful reality, compared with the two thousand years that we have endured, and we must strive towards, our goal – contemporary Shavuot – Malchut ShebeMalchut.
Chag sameach VeShabbat Shalom