Rosh Hodesh Iyar Torah Essay
Our National Shiva Nikiim
The month of Iyar is filled with many events on the Jewish Calendar- Lag BaOmer, Pesach Sheni, and Yom Ha’atzmaut. However, what dominates the overall feeling of Iyar is Sefirat HaOmer. The Ramban on Vayikra 23:36 tells us that Shavuot and Pesach are linked in a special way. He explains that Shavuot is the Shemini Atzeret of Pesach and that the seven weeks between the two holidays are a Chol HaMoed. We know that Chol HaMoed does not have the same status as a regular festival day, yet, it is understood from the Mishna in Avot 3:11 that these days must be treated with a high level of dignity and respect, nonetheless.
But what is the nature of this extra special time? Rashi’s comments on Melachim Alef 6:1 shed light on the matter, stating that Iyar is the month when the flowers bloom. This is also a time period of blooming for the nation, a chance for reestablishment and rebirth.
This idea is expanded upon in Shir HaShirim, where Rashi explains that Matan Torah is the wedding day between B’nei Yisrael and Hashem. The Chol HaMoed which we are experiencing is essentially the period of engagement following the “proposal” at Yitziyat Mitzrayim. The wedding day provides us with a chance for renewal; it is a time where all of our sins are atoned for- a Yom Kippur for the chatan and kallah (Yevamot 63b).
How does one approach such an important rebirth? By going to the Mikva, of course! The Shem MiShmuel explains that human life cannot be sustained underwater, therefore, by submerging one’s self in Mikva water, it is as akin to losing one’s life. When one then emerges from the Mikva, it is like being born again, anew. The Sefer Hachinuch enhances this idea of the Mikva being a source of rebirth by presenting it from the perspective of creation. The world was initially water, man was only created afterwards. By entering the Mikva, we are essentially reenacting creation. We enter the Mikva, returning to a state of just water, and we exit the Mikva, recreating ourselves. By going to the Mikva, one is allowing themselves the chance for a new beginning; be it by reestablishing intimacy between a husband and wife, the start of a new way of life for a convert, or by purifying one’s self as an act of teshuva for the Yamim Noraim. The Mikva represents a new beginning.
On the eve of their wedding, both the chatan and kallah go to the Mikva in preparation for their new life together. The kallah will count seven clean days, the Shiva Nikiim, as all woman must do, before immercing herself in the Mikva water. The Or Hachaim explains that the seven week period between Pesach and Shavuot corresponds to the Shiva Nikiim prior to a woman’s Mikva trip. Because the nation was emerging from such a deep state of impurity, seven days would not have been sufficient to rid themselves of the impurity of Egypt. Especially seeing as this was B’nei Yisrael’s wedding day with Hashem, it was essential that the nation have the proper time to prepare. Consequently, a period of seven weeks was instituted to act as the Shiva Nikiim.
This preparatory time, our national Shiva Nikiim, is what we are experiencing during Sefirat HaOmer and is what should characterize the overall mood of the month of Iyar. This is the time when a woman would be preparing herself, removing any dirt from her skin, making sure her hair and nails are pristine, thus, allowing her Mikva experience to successfully purify her and enable renewal. So, too, on a national level, we need to be preparing ourselves during this time, ensuring that we are a people who merit purification and renewal. Rav Hirsch, who is of the opinion that Matan Torah occurred on the seventh of Sivan, the day after Shavuot, explains that we are not celebrating the receiving of the Torah, rather, we are celebrating having made ourselves ready for the receiving of the Torah. According to Rav Hirsch’s opinion, Shavuot is our national Mikva day, the day we have finished preparing ourselves and are now ready for our national rebirth. On Shavuot we are finally ready for what tomorrow brings: Matan Torah, our wedding day.
It is during Iyar, that we must look upon the flower buds blooming and recognize that a time of renewal will shortly be upon us. It is essential that we as a people prepare ourselves spiritually, polish up our behaviors, and ensure that no external filth separates us from becoming pure. We thereby ready ourselves for the national rebirth that is quickly approaching.