The missing holiday

It is thrilling to discover that what seems like chaos is really order, what appears like madness is really methodical.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, | updated: 08:10

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

The festival of Sukkot falls on the fifteenth of Tishrei, two weeks into the new Jewish year. Accordingly, the Torah tells us, in Exodus 34:22, to celebrate Sukkot at the turn of the year. However, there is a discrepancy. Eleven chapters earlier, Exodus 23:16 told us to celebrate Sukkot at the departure of the year. This means that Sukkot should be celebrated during the last month of the departing year, the month of Elul, which begins today, rather than next month, the first month of the incoming year.

Every Month
Our sages taught that G-d intended to grant the Jewish people a festival each month of the year. He began by granting us the festival of Passover in Nissan, the first month of the year.  Pesach Sheni, the second Passover, falls in Iyar, the second month of the year. Those who were unable to offer the Pascal Lamb in its proper time were given a makeup date in the second month.

Shavuot falls in Sivan, the third month of the year. This festival represents the conclusion of the forty-nine-day count of the omer, when we offer bikurim, the first fruit to ripen in our fields, to celebrate the new season. Shavuot is also the anniversary of the day we received the Torah at Sinai.

Tamuz, the fourth month of the year was meant to have a major festival, but when Jews committed the sin of worshipping the Golden Calf on the seventeenth of this month, Moses shattered the tablets and G-d determined not to grant this month a Jewish festival. Instead, terrible things happened during this month including the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and later to the Romans. Rather than a festival, this month is marked by mourning and a fast on the seventeenth of the month.

The fifth month was also meant to have a festival, however, after our ancestors worshipped the golden calf, Moses began to pray for forgiveness. He spent the balance of the fourth month and the entirety of the fifth month in prayer, but G-d refused to grant forgiveness. Considering this state of affairs, G-d determined not to grant the Jews a festival during this month. Thus, instead of celebrating, Jews experienced many tragedies during this month including the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians, the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans, the expulsion of the Jewish community from Spain, and many other terrible tragedies. Once again, instead of a festival, this month is marked by mourning and a fast day.

The sixth month was meant to have a festival. And indeed, on the first day of this month, when G-d finally consented to grant the Jews a second set of tablets, things looked promising. But although G-d began to relent, He withheld complete forgiveness. Thus, although this month is not marked by tragedy, it was not granted a Jewish festival either. It is considered neutral; a sober month for repentance and reflection on how to improve in the coming year.

On the tenth day of the seventh month, G-d finally forgave the Jewish people. Now that the Jewish people were once again in G-d’s good graces, G-d graced the seventh month with a festival. But not just one festival, this month was graced with four festivals. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Azeret / Simchat Torah, three for the previous three months, and one for this month. Indeed, after withholding festivals for three months in a row, G-d wasted no time and repaid all the festivals that He had withheld.

This explains why Sukkot is described as falling when the year departs and when the year begins. The sin of the Golden Calf is described in Exodus, chapter 32. Up until our ancestors had committed that sin, the festivals were intended to fall in sequence, which would have landed Sukkot in the sixth month. Therefore Exodus 23:16 tells us that Sukkot should be celebrated as the year departs, meaning the sixth and final month of the year. However, Exodus 34:22, was written after the sin of the Golden Calf and by then Sukkot had been rescheduled for the seventh month, which falls at the beginning of the year.

The Debt is Repaid
It is wonderful to see disparate pieces fall into place. It is wonderful to glimpse the hidden themes not immediately apparent to the naked eye. It is thrilling to discover that what seems like chaos is really order, what appears like madness is really methodical. In the Torah everything is precise, and so too in life, everything makes sense.

There are times when we don’t understand why G-d withholds His blessing. We intrinsically desire health, happiness, prosperity, and success. Yet, life doesn’t always turn out that way. The missing blessings and the tragedies that stand out, don’t make sense to us. They often frustrate us to no end and we turn to G-d with complaints.

This teaching offers two important lessons that offer a deeper perspective.

First, with G-d, nothing is ever random. Everything has a reason even if we can’t see it. It is all for the best and it all falls into place. We don’t always understand why bad things happen to us, and we have every right to pray that G-d should grace us with His abundant blessing. But we believe with perfect faith that everything happens for a good reason. That is the first lesson.

The second lesson is that G-d doesn’t remain indebted for long. G-d loves us and wants to improve our lives. As soon as we settle our accounts with G-d, He settles His debts with us. He owed us three holidays, and as soon as Moses secured forgiveness for our people, G-d didn’t tarry and immediately repaid those holidays. The same holds true in our lives. Sometimes G-d withholds blessing for a perfectly good reason. But as soon as we give Him justification for restoring our blessing, He hastens to restore it.

May the coming year be blessed with health and happiness and an abundance of joy. May we merit to see the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days, Amen.






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