Appreciating the Eighth Day

By now, most of us have devoured pizzas, bagels, cakes, and cookies. The minute Passover ended, we got our hands on as much chametz as we could, but not because we desperately needed it. We were not malnourished. We were not starving. Rather, after refraining from eating something, we desired it because we could finally eat it.

While I continued to eat matzah last Saturday, many, including my Reform colleagues and the Reform synagogues in the area, as well as all those in Israel, were already eating their much desired chametz. After all, the Torah requires us to refrain from eating leavened products for seven days (Ex. 12:15) and not eight. Yet, while one day of Yom Tov – the special first and last day of a holiday – is observed in Israel, the diaspora traditionally observed two days.

This second day of festival celebration in the diaspora, Yom Tov Sheni shel Galuyot, was established by rabbinic law during the Second Temple period. The reason given for such an observance is because of the lunar system of the Hebrew calendar. When the Temple stood, the length of a month depended on witnesses who had seen the new coming from where the Temple stood in Jerusalem. Once they declared the new month, news would be sent out to surrounding Jewish communities. Those communities further away from Jerusalem may not have received word of the beginning of the new month on the accurate date because of how much time it took for word to travel. Thus, the diaspora communities would observe a festival for two days to ensure that they were observing it on the correct day.

One can confidently say that in 2015, such a practice may not be necessary anymore. One can Google the date that Passover begins in the year 2035 and get the exact date and time. The Reform Movement abandoned the observance of the second day of Yom Tov many years ago. In fact, Rabbis Philip Sigal and Abraham Ehrlich wrote a responsum on behalf of Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards in February 1969, suggesting that while there is value to the second day of Yom Tov, the day should not be seen as a permanent enactment, but rather a custom and thus, communities should not feel compelled to observe Yom Tov Sheni.

MatzahStill, some forty-five years later, my congregation — as well as almost all diaspora communities that affiliate with the Conservative Movement – continue to observe that second day of Yom Tov, and thus, observed an eighth day of Passover. Yet, while some observe the eighth day stubbornly and are upset by the additional day of eating matzah, I relish the opportunity. For I needed an extra day with chametz. We all do.

Chametz, leavened products, has to do with the bread of affliction, the unleavened bread that the Israelites took with them when they left Egypt, but it is about more than that. Leavened products, chametz, represents that which puffs us up. Chametz is our ego. The act of getting rid of such leavened products allows us to get rid of that part of ourselves. It allows us to act more humbly in the process. Such an idea – riding ourselves of our inner chametz – is certainly appropriate since Passover is seen as a new year celebration of sorts as well.

On the High Holy Days, when the Gates of Heaven are closed at the conclusion of the Neilah service at the end of Yom Kippur, we need to continue to atone so such an act continues through Sukkot until Hoshana Rabba. So too, our struggle to rid ourselves of ourselves is an act that must continue. Instead of counting down the days until Passover is over, the past year, and every year, I appreciated that extra day – the eighth day. We all need that extra time to work on being more humble and less ego centric. Long after we are done eating matzah, may the unleavened bread still continue to remind us to look inside ourselves to be a better version of ourselves.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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