By GONEN GINAT, ISRAEL HAYOM—
One of the basic principles of Judaism is that there are no coincidences. Things don’t just happen for no reason. Everything is guided from above. A bird doesn’t chirp at a specific moment by chance; a cigarette butt hurled onto the sidewalk doesn’t accidentally roll into a crevice and become soaked by soda leaking from a can at exactly that spot. There is some intelligent planning at play, and it began long before anyone even invented the soda can.
In many cases it is more convenient for us to view certain occurrences as happenstance. It is entirely a matter of convenience, and not because things are actually so. After all, we would not be able to conduct productive lives if every time we saw a leaf fall from a tree we would begin calculating how the leaf fell at a specific time and landed at a specific spot because the wind blew at the precise speed and direction that it did, and the leaf had been just dry enough to be carried by that wind, and the further back we go, the more causes and effects we will find, going back to infinity, to before the creation of the world. It is impossible to live like that. And still, the basic assumption is that nothing happens by chance. Certainly when it comes to Jewish law.
For many generations, people have been using the Atbash code. It goes like this: You take the first letter of the alphabet and substitute it with the last letter of the alphabet. Then you take the second letter and substitute it with the second to last, and so on.
Throughout the generations, this code was used mainly by liturgists looking for ideas for poems in which each line begins with a subsequent letter of the alphabet, but the code was also used by those who shaped the Hebrew calendar. An indication of that can be found in the fact that the days of the week of Passover — the Jews’ first holiday of independence — correspond to the days of the week on which other major Jewish dates fall.
This is the age-old rule: The first day of Passover will always fall on the same weekday as Tisha B’av that year — according to Atbash, the first Hebrew letter, aleph, corresponds to the last Hebrew letter tav, which is the first letter of Tisha B’av. The second day of Passover will always fall on the same weekday as the following Shavuot — the second letter of the alphabet, bet, corresponds with shin, the first letter of Shavuot. The third day of Passover will always fall on the same weekday as the following Rosh Hashanah — the third letter of the alphabet, gimmel, corresponds with the letter reish, the first letter of Rosh Hashanah. The fourth day of Passover will always fall on the weekday of the day of Simchat Torah on which the entire Torah is unrolled (outside of Israel) — the fourth letter of the alphabet, dalet, corresponds with the letter kof, the first letter of kriyat Torah, or reading of the Torah. The fifth day of Passover will always fall on the same weekday as Yom Kippur — the fifth letter of the alphabet, he, corresponds with the letter tzadik, the first letter of the word tzom, or fast. The sixth day of Passover will always fall on the same weekday as Purim — the sixth letter of the alphabet, vav, corresponds with the letter peh, the first letter of the word Purim.
The seventh day of Passover, which is the most festive (also known as the “second holiday”) had been left without a corresponding holiday over the years, but this never bothered anyone. There are many Jewish writers who talk about this Hebrew calendar rule, but not one has ever raised the question of why the last day of Passover is without a corresponding event.
That is, until the establishment of the State of Israel. The state was declared on the fifth of Iyar. Not too long afterward, it became clear that the seventh day of Passover would always fall on the same weekday as the fifth of Iyar, but that doesn’t fulfill the Atbash rule. The seventh letter of the alphabet, zayin, corresponds with the letter ayin, which is the first letter of the word atzmaut, or independence. There you have it. Full circle.
It is important to reiterate that one of the most fundamental rules of Judaism is that nothing happens by chance. The rabbis and ultra-Orthodox who make a point of not celebrating Israel’s Independence Day would not dispute that this is a fundamental principle of Judaism. So they can’t say that it happened by chance that Independence Day (when it is not delayed) always falls on the same weekday as the one day of Passover that has always been without a partner, until the establishment of the state. It is also not possible that it is a coincidence that the first day of the modern Independence Day falls on the same weekday as the last day of the first Jewish holiday of independence.
To demonstrate just how guided everything is from above, and how there is absolutely no coincidence, let us turn to the history of one of the hassidic courts in the kingdom of Transylvania. Due to the character of the story, as will soon become clear, it would be best to avoid mentioning the rabbi in question by name, or the name of the hassidic court he headed.
The story goes like this: At dusk, the rabbi wanted to get a breath of fresh air. He opened the window in his room and stood with his head peeking out, wearing a long coat. The rabbi closed his eyes and breathed in the river air. Suddenly, he felt a light touch on his back. Startled, the rabbi turned around to see who had dared touch him, and saw one of his veteran students. When the rabbi faced him, the student became completely pale, and the rabbi turned red with rage.
The student became even more frightened, and he began to stutter: “I apologize my rabbi, my teacher, I made a mistake. I thought it was the rabbi’s wife standing there.”
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The holidays of Passover and Independence Day are intrinsically linked. Passover was our first holiday of independence. A group of slaves began a long journey that ended in a homeland, where, thousands of years later, a Jewish state was declared.
One of the highlights of the Haggadah is when we say, “In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt.” The explanation comes toward the end of the Haggadah: “In every generation they rise against us to destroy us.”
And indeed, there are days when we hear the threats of destruction and our hearts fill with dread. At those times, there is nothing better than going back to the history of the Transylvanian Jews to learn that not everyone who seems to be in trouble is actually in trouble:
The circus came to town, and advertised in the marketplaces: “A show like nothing anyone has ever seen! A man wearing a tiger’s skin will enter the lion’s cage!”
The hero who was about to provoke the king of the jungle was actually a Jewish beggar who had sold his life to the circus owner in exchange for some money for his children.
The time came, and the poor beggar put on the tiger’s skin and stumbled into the lion’s cage. As soon as the lion noticed him, he pounced with all his might. The poor Jew recoiled in fear and shouted, “Shmah Israel!”
Just then, from within the lion’s skin, the man heard his neighbor, another poor beggar, say, “Adonai eloheynu, adonai ehad.”