Rosh Chodesh Iyar Torah Essay - Matan - The Sadie Rennert
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Rosh Chodesh Iyar Torah Essay

Seela Berger

If one were to ask a group of people what the mood is like during Sefirat Haomer, they would probably get answers such as “mournful” and “sad”, even though on the Biblical level this is a happy time, celebrating the harvest and the period between Pesach and Shavuot.

In Iyar, it is not unreasonable to feel some emotional whiplash. We are counting towards זמן מתן תורתנו and anticipating Shavuot with great joy, yet we are mourning the loss of 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students who perished in a Divine plague (Yevamot 62b). And then thirty three days into this mourning period, we have a party with bonfires and music to celebrate the life of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and the birth of Kabbalah. Before we even get there, there is Yom Hazikaron when we commemorate our fallen soldiers and terror victims, followed immediately by a massive celebration of our independence and the establishment of the State of Israel. Iyar is an emotional rollercoaster.

There is something deep that is going on this month, something that touches on the character of the Jewish people, as well as our relationship with God. When looking back at Jewish history, it is easy to characterize it as a series of tragedies: exiles, expulsions, pogroms etc. But we don’t focus on that. Though we could probably commemorate different tragedies every day of the year, we instead commemorate most of them on Tisha B’av, leaving the rest of the year free to go about our lives. Instead of mourning all the time, we choose to view Jewish history as a series of triumphs. We celebrate the fact that we are still here and we are a thriving Jewish nation.

All of this comes back to the unique relationship we have with God. We see God in everything that happens. As Rabbi Sacks z”l often pointed out, we see God as the God of history. We believe that God is not just the Creator of the world, but He is also active in it. We don’t just thank God when good things happen and we don’t just turn to God to change things when bad things happen – we bring God into both and into all. As Isaiah says, “ יוֹצֵ֥ר אוֹר֙ וּבוֹרֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁל֖וֹם וּב֣וֹרֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה עֹשֶׂ֥ה כׇל־אֵֽלֶּה׃ I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe— I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

Iyar, the month of the Omer, of the harvest, is the perfect time to highlight this unique view and relationship with God. Harvest seasons, which overall conjure the image of joy and bounty, are high stakes and intense times. This is when the farmer finds out if his labors have borne fruit, if he will have enough food to survive the winter. In Judaism, we count these days and weeks to remind us that the crop yield is in the hands of God. We recognize that both a good crop and a bad crop come from God. And just as we brought the Omer offering on Pesach, the bikurim that we are looking forward to bringing on Shavuot yet again remind us that everything comes from God. As we begin the month of Iyar may we all be zocheh to be able to see God in everything.

Seela Berger

Seela Berger

is a fellow in the Matan Bellows Eshkolot Educators Institute and Matan Mizrachi Lapidot. She grew up in New Jersey, made Aliyah, and currently resides in Jerusalem. She has worked as a Madricha at Midreshet Emunah V'Omanut and now teaches there as a Shana Bet Teacher. Seela also serves as the Minahelet of Beit Midrash Ori for Lone B’not Sherut and Young Olot.