I love the anticipation of a big event. I admit to actually counting down the days to big trips and even saving birthday cards to open on the exact anniversary of my birth. I remember all of the preparation that went into both my bat mitzvah and my wedding. During all the work that went into these special events I nearly crawled out of my skin with anticipation as the date grew closer. But with all of this anticipation, there is a certain letdown the day after when there is nothing left to look forward to . .. at least until the next event. I have the same reaction to Passover, Hannukah, and Sukkot; I can’t wait for them to start, and by the middle of the holiday I’m already getting sad thinking about having to go back to the same old routine when it ends. It seems that no matter how old I am I still follow this cycle: excitement, anticipation, and then letdown after it’s over.
As we read parshat Shemini this week, we are reminded of the anticipation that leads up to an important event, but also taught about how to prolong a sacred time. The parshah begins with the words “on the eighth day” after the priests had been installed. The text picks up with the narrative of creating a holy leadership team of Aaron and his sons, who unfortunately make an offering without the appropriate directions or intentions and end up losing their lives. Beyond this tragic story comes the laws for making time holy with sacrifices and laws of making our bodies holy by following the laws of kashrut.
One of the themes we see through all these rules is the idea of the eighth day. After all, a seven-day week is considered a complete unit, and the eighth day represents starting the cycle over. As I am relearning to play piano,I’m reminded of the eight-note octave, which begins the scale again. Eight is an important number in Judaism: baby boys are circumcised on the eighth day, Passover and Sukkot are celebrated for eight days in the Diaspora, Hannukah lasts for 8 days.
But what happens after those eight days? It’s easy to anticipate an event with all the excitement and preparation that comes with it. It’s more difficult to take the joy and energy of that event and continue it through to the ninth day. The Talmud suggests that the reason the eighth day is of such importance is because while the first seven days of an event represent the days of creation, on the eighth day we are challenged to return to living in our day-to-day world of ordinary events.
We often get so caught up in the excitement of a festival or the planning of an event that we forget how to take that joy and blend it into our everyday lives. Imagine taking the same care about what we eat on a daily basis as we do during Passover? Or what would happen if we didn’t just enjoy the light of the Hannukah candles on those eight nights, but if we looked for a shining light every night as we gathered together as a family?
Our parshah this week reminds us that set sacred times and actions are important, but what really matters is what we do after we’ve been sanctified.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: These eight-day celebrations always remind me of the Beatles song “Eight Days a Week.” While the song itself has nothing to do with Judaism, it’s a nice reminder that the end of a week or the culmination of an event doesn’t mean the end of the joyous feelings that accompanied it.