Iyar: The Month of Iyar

Nov 17, 2014
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What do Pesach Sheni, Lag B’Omer, and Manna have in Common?
Shprintzee Herskovitz, Midreshet Rachel V’Chaya Teacher

The month of Iyar often gets lost in the shuffle, sandwiched between two of the most significant months of the year for the Jewish people. Nissan, the month preceding Iyar is the time of the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish people. The next month, Sivan contains the most significant event in the history of the Jewish nation, namely receiving the Torah. And yet, Iyar contains a number of very significant events too, including Pesach Sheni and Lag B’Omer. Iyar is also the month in which the Manna (“Heavenly bread”) began to fall for the Jews traveling in the desert. Since the concept of “coincidence” does not exist in Judaism, the question becomes: What do Pesach Sheni, Lag B’Omer and Manna have in common to have been included in the month of Iyar?

Perhaps we can glean a connection between these events from a better understanding of what the month of Iyar signifies. In Judaism, a name represents more than a label or a description of a person or thing, it describes the essence of that person or thing. The Rabbis tell us that the word “Iyar” is really an acronym for “Ani Hashem Rophecha–I am Hashem your Healer.” In other words, the month of Iyar is about healing or refining ourselves. Thus it makes sense that Iyar comes between Nissan and Sivan. The Jews had to heal themselves from the corrupt influence of Egypt in order to receive the Torah. Along these lines, Pesach Sheni, Manna and Lag B’Omer all revolve around this concept of refinement. Pesach Sheni (also known as “Pesach Hakatan–the small Pesach”) was a “make-up” Pesach for those people who could not celebrate Pesach the first time around, in Nissan. For example, someone who became impure as a result of coming into contact with a dead body or someone who was too far away from the Beit HaMikdash, could not eat of the Korban Pesach (Paschal sacrifice) and thus would not have fulfilled the Mitzvah of Pesach. As a result, that person had to bring the Korban Pesach a month later in order to celebrate Pesach correctly.

According to Chassidic thought, Pesach Sheni represents Teshuvah. A person who is “impure” as a result of his transgressions, cannot eat of the Korban Pesach–i.e. cannot enjoy the spiritual aspect of this world until he does Teshuvah–i.e. until he “refines” himself and thus becomes pure again. Why does Pesach have this “make-up” opportunity while all other holidays do not? Because Pesach represents the birth of the Jewish nation and thus the beginning of the spiritual aspect of the Jewish people. This is such a fundamental concept that every Jew must be able to partake of the Korban Pesach in order to reach that level of spirituality that he needs in order to be part of the Jewish people. The Manna also represents this idea. In Tehillim (78:25) Manna is described as “bread of angels” because it was considered to be so spiritual that it was fit for consumption by angels. In fact, Rashbam (R. Shlomo Ben Meir) points out that the word “Manna” in Egyptian means “what.” Similarly, when the Jews first saw the Manna it was so spiritual that they couldn’t describe it, as the Torah says (Shemot,16:15) And the Jews saw it and said to each other ‘What is that because they did not know what it was.” The Rabbis tell us that the Manna was absorbed into the bodies of the Jews, thereby doing away with the need for bathroom facilities during their forty-year sojourn in the desert. Thus, the Manna “healed” the Jews by increasing their spirituality and thus diminishing their physical needs. This is similar to Moshe who went up to Heaven for forty days to receive the Torah and did not have any physical needs (i.e. eating, drinking or going to the bathroom) all that time. Torah, like the Manna, refines a person spiritually.

Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day that we count between Pesach and Shavuot. Among many things that this day is known for, it is the day on which the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying. The Rabbis tell us that because these students did not treat each other with enough respect, 24,000 of them died from Pesach until Lag B’Omer. And yet, there is an opinion which says that it was not that these students treated each other badly, but rather that they did not treat each other to the degree that a student of Rabbi Akiva should have treated another person. In other words, although these students were great Torah scholars, they did not refine their behavior enough to treat each other the way they should have. But the month of Iyar is not only about us refining ourselves on our own. Hashem also did something in the month of Iyar to help us attain the level of spiritual refinement that He wants of us. Hashem gave us the ultimate potential for spiritual refinement–namely, the Land of Israel. On the 5th of Iyar, 1948 the Jewish nation recaptured its homeland after more than 2,000 years of exile. According to the Gemara (Tractate Ketuvot 111b) anyone who lives outside of Israel is living as if without a G-d. In Parshat Achrei Mot, Ramban (Nachmanides) says that Mitzvot were given only to be done in Eretz Yisrael. Thus, if the ultimate spirituality for a Jew is experiencing Hashem and performing His Mitzvot, Eretz Yisrael is the place where the ultimate “spiritual refining” of a Jew takes place.

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