Do you remember the song This Magic Moment by Jay and the Americans? Magic moments occur throughout the course of the Jewish year. Sometimes, the magic is overt and apparent and other times, we have a greater hand in creating our own magic.
At either end of the Jewish calendar lives a major week-long festival. In the springtime month of Nissan, we celebrate Pesach. It is a massive undertaking to create a seder with its numerous accouterments, not to mention the weeks of advance preparation for the holiday’s arrival.
On the other side of the year, in autumnal Tishrei, we celebrate Sukkot. This holiday, too, requires a great deal of preparation: erecting a sukkah, securing a lulav and etrog, and eating—if not sleeping— outside no matter the climate.
While the similarities are striking, there is a fundamental difference between the two that can be gleaned from the recounting of their respective biblical sacrifices recited in the Mussaf Amidah (additional holiday service standing prayer).
On Pesach, we read the same portion in the Mussaf Amidah from the second day of the holiday until the end (Bemidbar 28:19), “And you shall present an offering made by fire, a burnt-offering to God: two young bullocks, and one ram, and seven he-lambs of the first year; they shall be to you without blemish.”
The Passover story is compelling, dramatic and easily relatable. From enslavement to cries for help to plagues to the crossing of the Reed Sea (just to name a few), the details of the narrative are memorable. The story of the Exodus needs no additional verbal fireworks, hence the simplicity of just one Torah text in our liturgy.
Contrast that with Sukkot. Its portion in the Mussaf Amidah is slightly different each day of the holiday. Notice the nuanced differences of the readings from one repetitive sentence:
On the second day, we read (Bemidbar 29:17): “And on the second day you shall present twelve young bullocks, two rams, fourteen he-lambs of the first year without blemish.”
On the third day, we read (Bemidbar 29:20): “And on the third day eleven bullocks, two rams, fourteen he-lambs of the first year without blemish.”
On the fourth day we read (Bemidbar 29:23): “And on the fourth day ten bullocks, two rams, fourteen he-lambs of the first year without blemish.”
And so on through the seven days of Sukkot and the eighth day of Shemini Atzeret.
The story of Sukkot does not boast the same verbal fireworks of Pesach’s Exodus narrative. As a matter of fact, there is much debate as to the historical reasons for celebrating Sukkot. It may commemorate the Clouds of Glory that followed our ancestors in the wilderness, or perhaps it is reminiscent of booths in which they dwelled, or maybe it is to recognize God’s divine providence, even when we are abiding in temporary shelters.
Sukkot seems to represent the often tedious monotony of day-to-day life. And yet, is that not most of our lives? Fireworks are more occasional, ephemeral events. Life plods on day after day, and our routine days are as important, if not more important, than the infrequent standout days. Hence, the Torah devotes multiple verses around Sukkot that are similar to one another because it reflects the actuality of life and reminds us that we need to find the magic in it.
What the Torah is teaching us is that Pesach should remind us to revel in the conspicuous magic that has been given to us and Sukkot should remind us to revel in the magic of everything else that has been given to us (even what seems mundane) .
What lesson can we apply to educational settings from this comparison? While special activities—retreats, field trips, exhibitions, and the like—are important to our students’ educations and lives, the more ubiquitous— and therefore more important—are the day in and day out activities and relationships that unfold during the normal course of school.
At times, regular classes may seem humdrum and tiresome. Yet, these are the undertakings that ultimately will help students forge an enduring connection to our Jewish texts, Jewish values, and Jewish traditions.
Fireworks, like Pesach, are important. So, too, are the pedestrian days, like Sukkot, that engage and intrigue our children. Remember that each day is an opportunity for change and growth, no matter how ordinary the day may seem.