Holidays: God’s gift to us to create lasting memories

Holidays: God’s gift to us to create lasting memories

Exodus 13:17-15:26, Numbers 28:19-28:25

Before we eat that first bite of pizza Saturday night, I am going to remember how fortunate we are to have had these eight days of matzah!

Do we have a lot of holidays! A week or so before Purim, my 10-year-old daughter and I were talking about making hamantaschen and how quickly Passover arrives on the heels of Purim. It occurred to me, as it often does, just how fortunate we are to have an abundance of holidays. These holidays, for which we plan, we go to the grocery store, we clean, we cook, we go to the store again, are opportunities to create the memory lines on the growth charts of our personal histories.

This Saturday morning’s Torah portion describes the three pilgrimage festivals that we are to observe for all time: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. God tells us that “we shall hold a festival … and we should have nothing but joy” (Deut. 16:15).

I know that a good percentage of us are eagerly anticipating our first bites of pizza Saturday night and that we may be pretty tired of eating matzah. However, can you imagine what life would be like if we never had holidays?

Yom tov. That is the term used to describe a holiday. It literally means “good day,” a day that is elevated, made holy, separated from the regular days of our lives. It stands out. These days help us mark time in a sacred way.

I invite you to think about your favorite family memories. For many of us they center on holidays. I will never forget going to hide the afikomen in the china cabinet and coming back to the table full of family and friends with the last year’s afikomen. (I guess my grandfather never did find that one!) My mom was slightly embarrassed at the time, but now it is a prized memory. I would imagine each of us has memories of different holidays, whether it is Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah or Shabbat. We mark our personal timelines through these memories.

This timeline of memories is a part of what makes us value our tradition and our families. These holiday recollections, for many of us, are a main source of our connection to our faith. They serve as an impetus for our desire to pass these traditions onto our children and our children’s children.

During Passover and other holidays we sing special prayers. They are referred to as Hallel, which literally means “praise.” This service is one of my favorites to lead because it contains prayers filled with praise and joy. When I reach the line, “This is the day that God has made for us, let us embrace it and rejoice in it,” I sing just a little bit louder. For this is the day, these are the days, which God has made for us. Let us embrace and delight in them.

I hope all of your pizza is yeasty, bready and delicious, but let us remember to give thanks and rejoice that God gave us all of the holidays to celebrate and to create memories.

Rabbi Amy Greenbaum is spiritual leader at the Beth Israel Center. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.