The Timing of Israel’s Holidays, Part 2: Even More Significance!
By: Rav Uri Cohen
The healthiest of all attitudes is the attitude of gratitude.
– Zig Ziglar <1>
Last month, we addressed the timing of Israel’s four national holidays: Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut, and Yom Yerushalayim.<2> They all take place between Pesach and Shavuot, in the 50 days during which we count the Omer.<3> Let’s continue the discussion, with three more approaches to help us put in perspective this week’s holiday – Yom Yerushalayim.
50 SHADES OF GRATITUDE
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, a prolific posek who heads the Kollel at Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev), sheds light on the national holidays by asking a question about Pesach. “Why is this night different from all other nights – on all other nights we eat chametz and matzah, but on this night only matzah?” That’s right, it’s the first of the Four Questions that are asked at the seder but that don’t get answered explicitly in the Haggadah. There are many ways to respond to the question, but Rav Rimon chooses this one:
I heard an answer to this question from Dayan Shlomo Fisher [Rosh Yeshiva of Itri]: Chametz is fermentation, so it’s an expression of being active. Matzah, in contrast, is an expression of being passive.<4> The time between Pesach and Shavuot is a time of gratitude. On Pesach, the beginning of the gratitude, it is a passive gratitude expressed by matzah [and that’s why we eat matzah at the seder]. On Shavuot, the height of the gratitude, it is expressed by bringing a korban todah, which includes chametz.
It seems [to me] that Yom HaAtzmaut [and Yom Yerushalayim should be understood as] part of this process of gratitude, taking place right in the middle of it.<5>
As we noted last month, the week and a half that includes Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut has recently been dubbed Aseret Yemei Todah (Ten Days of Gratitude).<6> In a variation this year, the week between Yom Yerushalayim and Shavuot has been declared Days of Gratitude.<7> But according to Rav Fisher, the entire 50-day period should be suffused with the hues and shades of gratitude. One of the ways that we express this gratitude is by saying Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. As Rav Alex Israel puts it:
To my mind, the primary response to Yom HaAtzmaut in the soul of any religious person should be one of immense thanksgiving to God. When God has demonstrated His benevolence, guiding history in a manner that benefits the Jewish people so dramatically, so significantly, are we so ungrateful, so indifferent as to fail to utter words of thanks and praise?<8>
But the point is not just to say Hallel. The point is to feel the gratitude that leads us to want to say Hallel. Perhaps it is easier to feel that gratitude on Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim if we try to spend the seven weeks of the Omer cultivating it.<9>
THE SAME DAY OF THE WEEK
You might have heard of “AT BaSh.” It’s a type of substitution cipher for the Hebrew alphabet, in which Aleph (the first letter) is substituted for Tav (the last), Bet (the second letter) is substituted for Shin (the next-to-last), and so on. While it’s usually used only for esoteric gematrias, the Tur and the Shulchan Arukh use it as a memory device. Specifically, as long as you know what day of the week Pesach starts in any given year, you can figure out the day of the week of most of our other holidays as well!
For example, this year Pesach started with the seder on a Wednesday night, and the first day of Pesach was on Thursday.
*Alef, representing the first day of Pesach, is always on the same day of the week as Tav, which stands for Tisha B’Av. So without looking at a calendar, you know that Tisha B’Av this year will be a Thursday. (In the AT BaSh system, Alef goes with Tav.)
*Bet, the second day of Pesach, was on a Friday, and Shavuot will be as well. (Bet goes with Shin.)
*Gimel, the third day of Pesach, was on Shabbat, so Rosh Hashanah will start on Shabbat. (Gimel goes with Resh.)
*Dalet, the fourth day of Pesach, was on Sunday, and Simchat Torah in Chutz LaAretz will be on a Sunday too. (Dalet goes with Kuf.) To be honest, this only works if you call it the holiday of Keriat HaTorah, which just goes to show that memory devices aren’t perfect.
*Hay, the fifth day of Pesach, was on Monday, so Yom Tzom Kippur will be on a Monday. (Hay goes with Tzadi.)
*Vav, the sixth day of Pesach, was on Tuesday, and last Purim was on a Tuesday too. (Vav goes with Pei.) Unfortunately, this works for the previous Purim and not the next one. Have I mentioned that memory devices aren’t perfect?
That is the AT BaSh memory device as listed in the Shulchan Arukh.<10> But there’s something missing! The seventh day of Pesach doesn’t appear on the list. For this year, what we would have expected was:
*Zayin, the seventh day of Pesach, was on a Wednesday, and some holiday starting with an Ayin will be on a Wednesday too. (Zayin goes with Ayin.)
Rav Amram Aburbeh (sometimes spelled Aburabia or Abourabia), who served as Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Petach Tikvah, was the first to connect the dots and complete the memory device. In a sefer he published in 1964, he pointed out that the 5th of Iyar, Yom HaAtzmaut, is on the same day of the week as the seventh day of Pesach.<11> In the case of this year:
*Zayin, the seventh day of Pesach, was on a Wednesday, and Yom HaAtzmaut was on a Wednesday too. (Zayin goes with Ayin.)
Pretty impressive! But there’s more. Last month, we presented Rav Chaim Druckman’s explanation of the timing of Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim.<12> Right after that explanation, he quotes the AT BaSh memory device with the add-on of Yom HaAtzmaut, and then he adds one more correspondence: Yom Yerushalayim, the day of Jerusalem’s liberation (shichrur) in the Six Day War, takes place exactly one week before Shavuot. For this year, that means:
*Bet, the second day of Pesach, was on a Friday, and Yom Shichrur Yerushalayim will be as well. (Bet goes with Shin.)
On the surface, the additions of Rav Aburbeh and Rav Druckman are just a cute way to remember the timing of the national holidays. But Rav Druckman wants to infuse meaning into them as well. He suggests:
The seventh day of Pesach is the end of the physical Exodus from Egypt, when the Egyptians drowned in Yam Suf and the Jews saw their oppressors destroyed. The equivalent happened on Yom HaAtzmaut too. [This explains why they take place on the same day of the week.]
Shavuot is the [spiritual] purpose of the Exodus. [Appropriately,] it takes place on the same day of the week as Yom Yerushalayim, which represents the [spiritual] goal of Israeli independence. And Yom Yerushalayim strengthens our emunah in the continuation of geulah and its completion.<13>
In other words, the AT BaSh system can be seen not just a memory device, but as a reminder of the parallels between the Biblical holidays and the national holidays.
TIME AND PLACE
One more approach to the timing of Israel’s holidays appeared this month in a dvar torah by Dr. Gabriel Hazut, an industrial engineer who has pioneered a new approach to teaching Mishnah and Gemara in the computer age. He points out a pattern, namely that the holidays during the Omer can be divided by whether their emphasis is on time or place:
Pesach – Time
Yom HaAtzmaut – Place (i.e., the land)
Lag BaOmer – Time
Yom Yerushalayim – Place (i.e., the city)
Shavuot – Time
Dr. Hazut suggests that the holidays comprise two nested loops (to use a computer programming term). The loop of time is complete with three holidays: Pesach, Lag BaOmer, and Shavuot. But the loop of place is incomplete, with only two holidays: Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. There is a missing holiday that hasn’t happened yet, but will be all about a place. That must be the future holiday for the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.<14> We don’t know when that will happen; but when it does, we expect the holiday to fit perfectly into the pattern. (This fits with what Rav Druckman said above: "Yom Yerushalayim strengthens our emunah in the continuation of geulah and its completion.")
Each of these three approaches can add depth and meaning to our appreciation of the national holidays. Yom Yerushalayim same’ach!
1. Zig Ziglar (1926-2012), cited at https://www.ziglar.com/articles/the-very-best-habits-part-4 He is attributed with coining the phrase “attitude of gratitude.”
2. Rav Uri C. Cohen, “The Timing of Israel’s Holidays: Coincidence or Significance?” Midreshet HaRova website, April 22, 2020. http://harova.org/torah/view.asp?id=2344
3. For a midrashic connection between counting the Omer and the Land of Israel, see Rav Ronen Neuwirth (1970-), “Tekumat Yisrael uSefirat HaOmer,” HaShabbat (Tzohar) #195, 4 Iyar 5768, p. 5. https://www.tzohar.org.il/?p=2779
4. Compare the Netziv (Rav Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893), Ha’amek Davar on Shemot 13:3: “‘Chametz may not be eaten’ (on Pesach). . . . Matzah does not have the advantage of human [creativity and] technologies that make dough rise more than [can just] flour and water, which are created by God. Chametz, in contrast, is the product of those human technologies. Thus, [matzah] symbolizes the idea that the survival of the Jewish people depends solely on the spirit of God.” For more about this Netziv and the contrast between Pesach and Shavuot, see Rav Alex Israel (1967-), “Pessach 5760,” Midreshet HaRova website, March 30, 2008. http://www.harova.org/torah/view.asp?id=1073
5. Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon (1968-), “Yom HaAtzmaut,” Daf Kesher [of Yeshivat Har Etzion] #338, Iyar 5752. Reprinted in Daf Kesher, Vol. 4 (5754), p. 114. http://gush.net/dk//1to899/338daf.htm
6. The website of this initiative is https://tentoda.org/about-us-2/ Anat Silverstone, Executive Director of Beit Prat (formerly Ein Prat), explains: “Gratitude is an emotion that isn’t enough in existence in Israeli society. There’s a lot of cynicism and criticism, and that’s important in a society like ours, but gratitude isn’t common enough. It should be a norm in our society, and that was the motivation [for the initiative]. It’s a presumptuous initiative, because our dream is to expose Israeli society to the possibility of being more grateful. Not only feeling grateful, but acting grateful.” Cited in Jessica Steinberg, “A Season to Remember, Celebrate – and Give Thanks,” The Times of Israel, April 15, 2015. https://www.timesofisrael.com/a-project-to-give-thanks/
7. The Gratitude Days initiative, not surprisingly, is by the same people as the Ten Days of Gratitude. https://www.gratitudedays.com/
8. Rav Alex Israel, “Yom Haatzmaut and the Obligation of Praise,” March 5, 2006. https://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/736107/
9. For example, see Rav Efrem Goldberg, “Lag B’Omer & Gratitude,” Aish HaTorah website, May 8, 2012. https://www.aish.com/h/o/33o/Lag_BOmer__Gratitude.html
10. Rav Yosef Karo (1488-1565), Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 428:3. An artistic presentation of the memory device, by Ben Gasner Studio, is at
for a year in which the first day of Pesach is on a Tuesday, and at
for a year in which the first day of Pesach is on Shabbat.
11. Rav Amram Aburbeh (1892-1966), Netivei Am, Vol. 2 (Tel Aviv, 1964), p. 317. https://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20725&st=&pgnum=324
12. So you won’t need to go back to last month’s shiur, I’m copying the relevant part here:
Pesach is Zman Cherutenu, when we were freed from Egypt; Shavuot is Zman Matan Toratenu, when we got the Torah. These two days together comprise the complete geulah (redemption) of the Jews. It’s amazing when you realize the special connection between Pesach and Shavuot, on the one hand, and Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, on the other:
The Exodus is the birthday of the Jewish nation, the day when God granted us our independence. Similarly, Yom HaAtzmaut is the birthday of the Jewish state, when we once again got our [physical-political] independence.
Matan Torah represents the purpose of the Exodus, the destiny of the Jewish nation – spreading God’s name in the world through the amazing light of His Torah. Similarly, Yom Yerushalayim expresses the [spiritual] purpose of the state, the goal of Israeli independence.
The period between Pesach and Shavuot is accompanied by the mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer, which ties together these two days – the physical basis and the spiritual purpose. . . . [And within that period,] Yom HaAtzmaut takes place close to Pesach (on the 5th of Iyar), while Yom Yerushalayim takes place close to Shavuot (on the 28th of Iyar). That’s when the events happened! (Rav Chaim Druckman, Kima Kima (Yediot Achronot, 2012), pp. 228-229 and p. 231. My translation from Hebrew.)
In other words, the timing of these two Israeli holidays is not coincidental but rather Divinely determined. In 1948, Hashem arranged for the State of Israel to be declared just two weeks after Pesach. In 1967, He arranged for Yerushalayim to be reunited just one week before Shavuot. He pulled the strings and manipulated the world’s leaders so that the dates of modern redemption would be juxtaposed with the dates of our ancestors’ redemption. Impressive!
13. Ibid., p. 232. (My translation from Hebrew.)
14. Dr. Gabriel Hazut (1953-), “HaSeder BeChagei HaGeulah,” Shabaton #971, Emor, May 5, 2020, p. 14. https://en.calameo.com/books/002627047aef4f86222f4
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Chagim (Yom Yerushalayim)
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