THE TORAH TELLS us to wait seven days after the birth of a boy performing Bris Milah. Similarly, it also teaches us to wait seven days from the birth of a potential sacrifice before offering it up on its eighth day. The Kli Yakar asks (Parashas Emor, Vayikra 22:27) why the Torah thinks we might have offered the animal earlier than its eighth day, since it would still be quite young and vulnerable. He answers, because even such a young animal already looks like an adult animal from birth, just much smaller.
Then he asks, why the eighth day? Is it just the first day after the seventh day, or is it specific? The Kli Yakar explains that the number eight always represents a more spiritual, supernatural level of existence. Since God made the world in seven days, seven represents the natural world. Eight therefore is a step beyond the natural realm, and therefore it is the eighth day that spiritually transforms the animal making it fitting to be a sacrifice.
Perhaps this is also why Bris Milah is only possible from the eighth day of birth, and not a second earlier. Physically, there is no difference between a baby that is eight days old, or just seven days and 23 hours old. But spiritually there is a world of difference, one that transforms the baby to make it fitting for a covenant with the Master of the Universe.
So why then is Pesach not a Torah-sanctioned eight-day holiday? Succos is. Shemini Atzeres may be considered a holiday of its own, but it comes as the eighth day after seven days of Succos. And even though the Midrash says that it is only the “eighth day” because God didn’t want to make the Jewish people have to travel back to Jerusalem 50 days later for another holiday, we would not be able to access its light if the eighth day of Succos was only one of convenience, and not a specific portal to the supernatural light of Shemini Atzeres.
This is also why Chanukah is eight days long. True, it is eight days long because it was a miracle that we found even one jar of undefiled oil for the Menorah at all, and that it took seven additional days to produce new undefiled oil. But God could have arranged for two or more jars of oil to be spared, lessening the miracle of finding them and the days of supernatural burning. Besides, we were even allowed to use defiled oil until the new oil was ready.
It’s like matzah. People think we eat matzah during Pesach because there wasn’t enough time to bake bread. The real truth is that we didn’t have enough time to bake bread in order that we should eat matzah during Pesach. Matzah is not incidental to the redemption process, it is the redemption process, but that’s a different essay.
Likewise, Chanukah is not an eight-day holiday because we miraculously found one jar of undefiled oil that miraculously burned for seven extra days. We miraculously found one jar of undefiled oil that miraculously burned for seven extra days so that Chanukah would be an eight-day holiday. It reminds us of the spiritual transformation at that time that allowed the Chashmonaim to rise to the occasion and supernaturally overcome their enemies.
WHAT ABOUT PESACH? No holiday is more supernaturally based than Pesach! As the Leshem explains, one plague would have been enough to free the Jewish people, and with a lot less fanfare too. Furthermore, splitting the sea to save them was extra since they had already gone past it, and had to circle back to become stranded on its shore before the Egyptian army.
But God was making a point. He was telling the Jewish people that He was prepared to change the laws of Creation for them if they completely placed their faith in Him. He was teaching them that the physical world would not be an obstacle for them if they placed their trust in His salvation and only His salvation. God went out of His way, so to speak, to specifically make Pesach a supernatural time, so why isn’t it also an eight-day chag?
There are three gemoros that can help with this. The first is about a particular student of the great Hillel:
Hillel HaZaken had eighty students. Thirty of them were sufficiently worthy that the Divine Presence should rest upon them as it did upon Moshe Rabbeinu, and thirty of them were sufficiently worthy that the sun should stand still for them as it did for Yehoshua bin Nun, and twenty were on an intermediate level between the other two. The greatest of all the students was Yonason ben Uzziel, and the youngest of them was Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai…It was said of Yonason ben Uzziel, the greatest of Hillel’s students, that when he sat and learned Torah, any bird that flew over him was immediately burned up. (Succah 28a)
That was how intense the learning of Rebi Yonason ben Uzziel was, enough to burn up any bird that flew over him at the time, quite the spectacle. But if that is what happened to birds flying over Rebi Yochanan when he learned, what happened to a bird when it flew over Hillel while he learned? It didn’t burn up.
Which is the greater miracle? Which is the greater spectacle? It depends on how you look at the world and the way God runs it, as Rebi Chanina ben Dosa told his daughter one Erev Shabbos:
One Friday night he noticed that his daughter was sad and asked her, “My daughter, why are you sad?”
She answered, “My oil container got mixed up with my vinegar container and I lit Shabbos candles with it.”
He told her, “My daughter, Why should this trouble you? He Who had commanded the oil to burn will also command the vinegar to burn!” (Ta’anis 25a)
What’s the greater miracle, that vinegar burned once, or that shemen zayis burns each time? What’s the greater spectacle, that something not known to be combustible combusts, or that something can even be considered to be consistently combustible? That the sun stood still for Yehoshua bin Nun in the Valley of Ayalon, or that God makes it rise the same way each day, day after day, year after year, millennium after millennium?
If Creation is on auto-pilot, then the first one. If everything that happens every moment is a new act of Divine will, then clearly the latter, making nature just consistent, and therefore a deceptive miracle. Every birth is its own spectacular miracle, no matter how many times it occurs in a single day, or any other aspect of life for that matter, awesomely large or awesomely small.
This leads to the third gemora:
Rebi Yosi said: “May my portion be among those who complete Hallel every day.” Is that so? Didn’t the Master say: One who recites Hallel every day is one who curses and blasphemes God? It refers to the verses of Pesukei Dezimra. (Shabbos 118b)
THOUGH ONE QUESTION was answered, the bigger one was not: What’s wrong with saying Hallel every day? What could be better than praising God each day, as we say in Shemonah Esrai:
Blessed are You God, Beneficent is Your Name, and to You it is fitting to offer thanks.
It’s what we’re here to do, whether in speech or deed, and Hallel is one of the ultimate prayers of thanks. Blasphemy? Just the opposite should be true and would be if not for the fact that Hallel basically praises God for the large and more obvious miracles that God has performed for the Jewish people. It doesn’t focus at all on the smaller and far less obvious miracles that happen quite naturally every day and as a matter of fact, referred to here in the prayer Modim:
We thankfully acknowledge that You are God, our God and God of our fathers forever. You are the strength of our life, the shield of our salvation in every generation. We will give thanks to You and recount Your praise, evening, morning and noon, for our lives which are committed into Your hand, for our souls which are entrusted to You, for Your miracles which are with us daily, and for Your continual wonders and beneficences. You are the Beneficent One, for Your mercies never cease; the Merciful One, for Your kindnesses never end; for we always place our hope in You.
There are two spiritual levels a person can live on. There is one on which a person takes the miracles of life for granted and is only impressed when something obviously supernatural occurs. Then there is the one on which a person is as impressed with the everyday, hidden miracles of life as others are with the spectacular ones. While others trudge through what they perceive to be a mundane world, they are euphoric from everything they experience. Witnessing the supernatural is a gift but discovering it within the natural as a function of personal will and struggle is greatness.
This is why Pesach could only be a seven-day holiday, and not eight days. Yes, God performed spectacular miracles to free the Jewish people from the Egyptian nature-bound way of thinking. But that was just to show us on the outside what actually exists on the inside, Ohr Ain Sof, the infinite light of God. But once we learned about it, it was up to us to “mine” it in everything we experienced from that point onward. As Rebi Chanina told his daughter, the miracle is not new, but always there if you know to look for it.
This idea can help with the following disagreement regarding a midrash about the nature of miracles:
Rebi Yochanan said: “The Holy One, Blessed is He, made a condition with the sea to split before the Jewish people, etc.” Rebi Yirmiyah ben Elazar said, “Not only with the sea, but with everything He made during the six days of Creation, etc. (Bereishis Rabbah, Ch. 5, Siman 8)
The question is, if all miracles were set up in Creation from the beginning, how can they be considered changes in nature, which is what a miracle is? Technically, what we would call miracles would just be “natural” events that had yet to occur until they were needed by the Jewish people. The miracle would be when they happened, not how they happened.
But that’s not what we believe, or what it says:
All that God wished, He did. (Tehillim 135:6)
which is taken to mean that a miracle is not the result of a pre-ordained condition going back to Creation itself, but the result of God willing it anew at that moment. Is it a contradiction, or a hint to a deeper and more profound understanding of what Creation is and how it works?
Ain Od Milvado, Part 47
THE STARTING POINT is understanding what the Ohr Ain Sof is, or more accurately, what it isn’t. It is unlimited. It is unbound. It is beyond measurement, beyond time, just pure will of God that makes everything and anything possible. And incomprehensible, it is the basis of all that exists and occurs within the realm of measurement and time, without ever losing its infinite integrity. This is the deeper meaning of Ain Od Milvado, there is nothing other than God, as Rebi Chanina told his daughter.
This is what makes the natural world so miraculous, that it cannot exhibit properties of finiteness while existing because of the infinite light of God. The most concrete realities are really just the opposite because of what they have at their core, Ohr Ain Sof. Miracles are built into them, incredible wonders that most people completely overlook just because they happen consistently and so often.
Since Chanukah alludes to the Messianic Era and the miracles of that time, it is eight days long. But Pesach alludes to the miracles of history until that time, which exist within Creation just as our miraculous and hidden souls live within and give life to our bodies. Therefore, it is only seven days long to teach and celebrate this awesome and liberating reality.
For to know this is to gain access to this inner, hidden light, and ultimately to live supernaturally even while part of an otherwise natural world. This is how an individual can reach levels of personal freedom while the rest of the world remains enslaved to the se’or sh’b’issa.