Happy birthday to the State of Israel, which celebrates Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) next week!
This week, we read the Parasha Acharei Mot. Acharei Mot is a very famous parasha, because it teaches the mitzvot relating to Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur seems a long way off, not until the fall. We’ve just finished Pesach, and it’s time to learn about the Day of Atonement!
Of course, the cycle of reading the Torah does not coincide with the actual days we celebrate our festivals and holy days (yom tovim – good days). But there is a connection in this case. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin describes it eloquently in his book, Torah Lights: Vayikra: Sacrifice, Sanctity and Silence:
“On the festival of Matzot, we celebrate our birth as a nation; seven months later on the festival of Yom Kippur we celebrate our rebirth as human beings. On Pesah we renew our homes and our dishes, routing out the leavening which symbolizes the excess materialism and physical appurtenances with which we generally surround ourselves; on the Day of Forgiveness we renew our deeds and our innermost personalities by means of repentence.” (p. 134)
This comparison of the physical, represented by food, and the spiritual, represented by a day of prayer and contemplation, is a frequent theme. Right now we are in the seven weeks of the Sefirat Ha’Omer (Counting of the Omer) between Pesach (we started counting on the second night) and Shavuot. This seven week period celebrates two events: the annual barley harvest (food) and the time of our wandering in the desert before receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai (spiritual birth).
These cycles of renewal come in sevens. We have seven months from Pesach to Yom Kippur. We have seven weeks from Pesach to Shavous.
And we have seven days from one Shabbat to another. Here we have the best of both symbols. We celebrate Shabbat by having especially nice meals, to nourish our bodies. We take a break from our everyday work, and spend extra time in prayer, study and enjoying friends and family, to nourish our souls.