This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah
for her neshama.
By Elisheva Maline
Iyar is the second month in the Hebrew calender after Nissan. Since Nissan commemorates our mass Exodus from Egypt it is called one of the four new years celebrated in the course of a Jewish year. Also, spring has arrived. Flowers bloom. The sun has crept out from behind its cloud cover.
Another name for Iyar is ziv (Kings I (6:1). which means radiance. In Iyar, before the hotter months round the corner, the sun shines with a quiet radiance. Early spring can fill in as a a metaphor for childhood: a time when one's slate is sin free. But like the weather that follows Iyar, adulthood sometimes brings harsher experiences to one's life. However, this does not result in a person losing the fresh outlook of his early youth. Grow up but remember: the option to live every day with a child's untouched perspective remains. We know this because the Jews left Egypt steeped in the forty-nine levels of impurity. However, our leaving cleansed us of all the blemishes we got from fraternizing with the Egyptian society. After Exodus, our nation transformed into something akin to a child; our slate was wiped clean. Poets usually recall Nissan as a time associated with rebirth: innocence, starting over.
However, others would retort that early spring is also a time of transition. For some, it must be a difficult process. T.S. Eliot said, "April is the cruelest month." Apart from every person's desire for rebirth of some sort, perhaps the move from winter and death into spring and life is a painful one? A closer reading of the verses in chumash reveals that the switch from Egypt to the desert wasn't a smooth one for the Jewish nation, after all. We find many instances where the Jews cried over the "comfortable" lives they'd left behind in Egypt. We grew up and dropped ancient habits. Yet, we couldn't help but miss what we couldn't have anymore. Although terrible, life there was familiar and we trembled at the thought of facing new challenges in the midbar (desert).
Iyar made the transition easier. Targum, a translation of ancient Hebrew into Aramaic, altered the name Iyar to nitzan to prove this point. In Aramaic nitzan means bud. As Nissan slipped into Iyar, the Jews turned from a small bud into a flowering nation of unified people.
How? During Iyar, we were given our first mitzvot (commandments) in an area of the desert called Marah (literal translation: bitter). We learned about shabbos, para aduma (the red heifer), and dinim (civil law). Why was our introduction to Torah through these mitzvot in particular? Eliyahu kitov gives an explanation in The Book of our Heritage: When the Jewish people got to Marah, their water supply was running low. People began to panic, "The only water available is in this acrid pond! Do something Moshe! Save us." Moshe prayed and Hashem answered, "Throw a bitter branch into the waters and they will become sweetened." Miracle of miracles: the feat worked and the nation slaked their thirst.
The mitzvot we learned in Marah reflected this miracle: One cannot work on Shabbos, yet the rest of the week is blessed through its being observed. The process of the para aduma makes impure the one who prepares its ashes while at the same time it purifies one who was impure. Civil law states that one who stole must return the goods. However, their removal from his possession will not impoverish him; he may even come to enjoy great wealth because he has been saved from the sin of theft.
Transition isn't easy but it's good. When the going gets tough, there's always Hashem. He will sweeten the bitter waters.