Why So Many Holidays?

Thoughts for Rosh HaShanah

Judaism is very big on celebrations. The Jewish calendar is crammed with holidays, precisely to emphasize this point! Shabbos comes round once every seven days; Rosh Chodesh, every thirty; the Pilgrimage festivals coincide with the seasons. During the 420-year period of the second Temple, the Rabbis of the Sanhedrin introduced new holidays, commemorating various miracles and salvations, from the Persians, Greeks, Ptolemies, Selucids, and Roman persecutions. Indeed, so many holidays were added (vid. Megilat Ta’anit) that barely a day would pass before a new holiday would begin. (After the destruction of the Temple, only two of those additional holidays survived: Purim and Chanuka.)  

Around the world (save The State of Israel–thank G-d!), many employers are flummoxed as to the great number of Jewish holidays. In my younger days, when I worked various jobs, I always dreaded going to the boss and attempting to explain yet again, “Yes–it’s true. you gave me off three days for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but now it’s Sukkos!”  

So why so many holidays? Are we simply a people who like to party?  

One explanation (among many) is that Judaism wishes to impress an important value upon us. Simply put: life can be tough! The challenges we are faced with on a quotidian basis can take its toll. If we were simply to live each day as we lived it yesterday, if we would allow the routines of our existence to take over, then we would live one big “Groundhog Day,” and not be able to accomplish much in this world. We would grow too despondent to reach our goals, as the failures of the past would prevent us from moving forward.  

How much more so is this the case in the Corona world we now occupy. Many of us are too frightened to leave our homes (and properly so!) and before long even our own homes can start to feel like a prison!

Therefore, to remedy this problem, the Torah bestows upon us Shabbos and Yom Tov, in order to shake us up. The trials and tribulations of our week must evaporate, once the Shabbat Candles are lit. Those same challenges will look, taste, and smell very differently once we recite Havdala on Saturday night. If the resolutions we accepted upon ourselves last month have not yet been met; if we haven’t been as generous as we could have been with our Tzedakah; if we haven’t attended as many Zoom Torah classes as we should have; if we haven’t sufficiently engaged our children to be involved with all things  Jewish, so what? Today is Rosh Chodesh, and a new month begins! Today is Rosh Hashanah and a New Year begins. New opportunities, New prospects, New potentialities, New possibilities! 

We must force ourselves to face the world with renewed fortitude, courage, vitality, and stamina. The Torah allows us – nay, commands us, to forget our shortcomings and to greet each day with a revitalized “Modeh Ani Lefanecha.”  

Nowhere is this lesson more concrete, more real, and tangible than on Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of the creation of the world. It is when we sing so beautifully, that song which follows each section of the Shofar blowing, “Hayom Haras Olam,” or “Today is the Creation of the World.” We know that each and every one of us belongs to an amazing nation, and we have a benevolent, and merciful Creator cheering us on, and generations upon generations of our ancestors who preceded us are staring down at us from heaven, encouraging us to accomplish ever more than they were able to do. 

It is precisely in this time of Corona that we can truly accomplish great things. This is our time to shine. Are you going out shopping (with masks and gloves)?–buy some extra for a neighbor. Are you running some chores or errands? Haven’t heard from a friend lately? Call. You may be saving that person’s life! 

Our shul Kol Beramah, is our family, so from one “sibling” to another – on behalf of my family, I want to wish you all a Shana Tova U’metuka!

Happy Rosh Hashanah

Rabbi Avraham Kelman