When we zoom out the calendar and look at the month of May, we see a month that is very full. Full not just in terms of days to note — though, with all of May falling during the period of the Omer, each day is a day to note. Full not just in terms of holidays — though between Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Ha’atzmaut, and Lag B’Omer, there are lots of commemorations and celebrations.
More than this — or, more accurately, because of all of this — May is a month that, overlaid with our Jewish calendar, feels very emotionally full.
Part of this is because of the intense emotional valence of the sanctified days themselves. Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron mark moments of extreme horror and tragedy — some of the darkest hours of Jewish history, and some of the most challenging corners of the Jewish present. Yom Ha’atzmaut and Lag B’Omer, on the other hand, are times of raucous celebration — communal gatherings, bonfires, fireworks, and song.
Even more than the days themselves, though, is the acute juxtaposition of these events, one right after the other. This is felt most profoundly with Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, which blend one into another. Experiencing this transition in Israel — and watching the country move so intentionally and so powerfully from deep mourning to deep celebration — really made clear for me how jarring it can be to move so quickly from one spiritual extreme to another.
This emotional whiplash reminds me of a passage from the Babylonian Talmud that I often find myself reflecting on or referring to — the section in Masechet Ketubot that asks what happens when a funeral procession and a wedding procession collide. In a small alleyway or narrow street, which procession would have the right of way?
The Talmud does (unusually!) give a clear answer to this dilemma. But what strikes me more about this passage is not the answer, but rather the question itself. It seems like the Talmud is facing a month like May — an intense juxtaposition of joy and sorrow, of celebration and mourning. It is acknowledging what so many of us know to be true: In a community that is large and full, or even in an individual life that is complex and multifaceted, there is often cause both for joy and for sorrow at one and the same moment. This time of year, then, gives us permission to experience, explore, and bring to the forefront all of these different parts of ourselves and our lives, even — or especially — when it feels like they might conflict or be in tension with one another.
Rabbi Sarah Krinsky
Rabbi Sarah Krinsky is an assistant rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.