Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23
We Are What we Celebrate
In our weekly Torah reading we find the list of holidays to be celebrated by the Israelites on a yearly basis. This annual cycle of celebrations sets a beautiful frame for a life punctuated by spiritual encounters. Torah calls them “Moadei YHVH — appointed-times of the Eternal.” [Lev. 23:2] Throughout the year we have appointments with God, meetings with Spirit. And each appointment is set with a different spiritual theme; a theme that is meant to support the deepening of the varying facets of our inner personal work. In the spring, Passover calls us to free ourselves from our habituated life. Then, for seven weeks, the Counting of the Omer invites us to purify ourselves and subdue our egos. On the fiftieth day we re-enact the moment of Revelation, place ourselves back at Sinai and receive the Torah all over again. We seek, that day, to drop beyond the self and know the still small voice of the One that is our voice. The summer months are spent in preparation for the High Holy Days; a time to forgive and a time to make amends, a time to clean house and heal both within and without. Yom Kippur itself is a death rehearsal where we let go of our physical self. Sukkot, which immediately follows in the fall, is a time to harvest the energies of the High Holy Days and place ourselves again in the cycle of life, immersed in nature, and celebrating the Divine in the abundance of all Its earthly manifestations. Then winter comes, and all goes dormant until next Passover.
Beyond the biblical holidays, other celebrations were added to the calendar later on; namely Chanukah and Purim, which are both winter holidays and are not considered moadei YHVH, appointments with God. The energies of these holidays are strikingly different than their predecessors. Both are militaristic in nature, both are stories of resistance, political maneuvering, revolt and military triumph. In those days, our people felt the need to celebrate a different kind of miracle, a different kind of story. Uprooted from our ancestral land we needed to tell a different myth, reinvent ourselves, share a different hope for tomorrow.
In truth, there is something powerful about what it is we, as a people, celebrate; because what we celebrate defines who we are, not only as a nation but also as individuals participating in the unfolding of this national story. Take a look at the U.S. for example. What are the moadim, the appointed times of our secular calendar? As a nation we celebrate (in the order they were nationally decreed) holidays such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Washington’s Birthday (a.k.a. President’s Day), Labor Day, Veterans’ Day, Columbus Day and more recently, Martin Luther King Day. Out of these eight holidays, three are connected to war, three celebrate individuals who changed the course of U.S. history, one celebrates blue collar workers and their families, and one celebrates the bountifulness of America’s land.
This paints a portrait of who we are and what we most value as a nation; and that in turn — whether made conscious or not — informs how we act in the world and who we become. In other words, if it looks like you are celebrating war, then that’s what you are passing on as a value. We have a sacred responsibility, therefore, when the holidays come around to make the unconscious conscious; to have conversations about the deeper meanings behind the celebratory rituals, and to reinterpret them in order to make them our own — a very Jewish thing to do. It is each individual’s job to see to it that there be congruence between the values one wishes to manifest in their world and pass on, and the message of our celebrations. Memorial Day is just around the corner, what will you be celebrating that weekend?