by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
The first Mishna in the tractate of Rosh HaShana states: "There are four
'New Years.' The first of (the month of ) Nissan is the new year for kings
and for festivals." The Talmud elaborates on this statement: "(The Mishna
states that the first of the month of Nissan is the new year) for
festivals. How can the new year for the festivals be on the first of
Nissan? It is surely on the fifteenth of Nissan (the date of the start of
Pesach)! Rav Chisda said: What it means is that the festival which occurs
in it is the New Year for the festivals."
Why is it that Pesach is considered the beginning of the cycle of holidays
in the Jewish calendar, the beginning of the "New Year" for festivals? The
S'fas Emes writes that a verse in the Megillah of Shir HaShirim, the Song
of Songs, which is read on Pesach, explains the order of the holidays. The
verse states (1:4) "Draw me after you, we will run; the king has brought me
into his chambers; we will be glad and rejoice in you."
On Pesach, we celebrate the fact that the people who were enslaved in Egypt
were liberated by G-d from that slavery to become His nation. Before the
nation left, they had to undergo a purification. They had to elevate
their spiritual levels from the depths to which they sunk in Egypt. They
had to escape from the clutches of their evil inclinations so that they
would no longer be enslaved to their earthly desires. The people were to be
bound to G-d only, and only once the people were freed from the shackles of
their temptations were they truly free to become G-d's people. On Pesach,
we commemorate this. The consumption of Chametz, which represents the evil
inclination and the earthly desires it foists upon us, is forbidden. We eat
only Matza, a simple, primary food that represents the basic sustenance
needed to dedicate ourselves to G-d. We illustrate through our actions
that we are removing the yoke of the evil inclination from upon ourselves,
just as our forefathers did in the time of the exodus. This step is
referred to in the first part of the verse "draw me after you."
After the nation was drawn away from earthly temptation and towards the
spirituality of G-d, they illustrated their devotion and dedication to Him.
The nation was trapped by the Red Sea, with the Egyptians in hot pursuit.
The sea split, and the nation went forward with utmost trust in G-d. This
action, which we commemorate on the seventh day of Pesach, is also
referenced in the verse - "after you we will run."
Once the nation dedicated themselves to G-d and demonstrated such, they
were prepared for the next step - the receipt of the Torah. G-d gave us
the ultimate gift to demonstrate the closeness of our relationship with
Him. We celebrate the giving of the Torah to the nation of Israel on the
holiday of Shavu'os, the holiday referred to in the part of the verse "the
King has brought me into His chambers."
Once the nation received the Torah, they were able to cherish it and
appreciate the value of the gift they had received. They were able to
celebrate the fact that they received something so special, a priceless
manifestation of the love between G-d and His people. Sukkos is the holiday
on which we have a special dictate to rejoice. We celebrate, on Sukkos, the
final holiday in the cycle, as the final section of the referenced verse
states "we will be glad and rejoice in you."
The holidays, beginning with Pesach and ending with Sukkos, demonstrate the
progression of our relationship as a nation with G-d. It is this
relationship we should keep in mind as we participate in our holiday
celebrations. We should assure that our individual relationship with G-d
progresses over time, just as our forefathers' did, and it is for that
reason we have the holidays in the order the Talmud states.
R' Yehudah Prero
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.