Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – January/2012 – Sacred Time

The month of Tevet, falling in late December – early January, contains the fast day of the 10th of Tevet (this year, Thursday, January 5) commemorating the start of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia and culminated in the destruction of the Temple.  In 1951, the Israeli chief rabbinate decided to turn this day into a memorial day for Shoah victims whose date of death is unknown.  Despite this, in 1954 the Israeli Keneset passed a law creating a Holocaust Memorial day on the 27th of Nisan, a day approximately midway between the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the celebration of Israel Independence Day. Nevertheless, the 10th of Tevet remains the official Yahrtzeit day for victims of the Shoah whose actual Yahrtzeit is unknown.

Sometimes, Jews complain that Judaism has too many holidays.  I sympathize.  However, I think the human being has an psychological need to mark and celebrate time. Freethinkers have a calendar of events that often include seasonal celebrations, such as winter solstice parties, as well as regular gatherings. I sometimes wonder whether the over-commercialization of Christmas is related to the relative paucity of sacred days of the Christian calendar.  If our calendar doesn’t give us enough of a variety of days to celebrate, then we will take the celebrations that we have and expand them.

Sacred days are event magnets.  Rarely does a holiday commemorate only one event.  Most Jewish holidays, like the 10th of Tevet, have multiple associations.  The Biblical festivals, which began as Harvest festivals, accumulated additional layers of meaning.  the 9th of Av, the day on which both Temples were destroyed, is also the day on which Jews were exiled from Spain in 1492 as well as other national calamities and exiles.

As Americans, we live our lives by the rhythm of the secular calendar.  The day of the week often determines when we will wake up, where we will go, and what we will do.  We know what the next holiday is because that gives us a break from our routine to look forward to.

To live a dedicated Jewish life, we live our lives by the rhythms of the Jewish calendar. We are aware of the number of days until Shabbat, and that determines when we wake up, where we go, and who we see.  If we know the day of the month, then we also know the phase of the moon and approximately how many days until the next holiday, which not only breaks our routine but also most likely will require some preparation to celebrate properly.

The Jewish calendar ought not be something to resent (or worse, to ignore).  Rather than seeing it as an intrusion on our lives, we might see it as an opportunity to examine a different dimension of our lives.  In the short, cold days of winter, isn’t it nice to have Tu Bishvat (February 8), Purim (March 8), and even Pesah (April 7) to look forward to?

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On the Death of An Enemy

What do you do and say when your enemy falls?

Do you follow the advice of Proverbs 24:17, ” If your enemy falls, do not exult; If he trips, let your heart not rejoice?”
Or do you follow the advice of Proverbs 11:10, ” When the wicked perish there are shouts of joy.”

Do you follow the practice of the Pesah seder and spill drops of wine and tears over the loss of life?
Or do you sigh with relief that a man dedicated to evil and death has been eliminated from our world?

Do you bless God, the righteous judge?
Do you bless God who breaks the enemy and humbles the arrogant?

Did you rejoice, or would you have rejoiced on this day 66 years ago when Hitler’s death was announced?
Did you take a breath in wonder at the coincidence of Osama Bin Laden’s death on that anniversary, on the oh-so-grim day that we remember the Shoah?

Along with that sign of relief and that grateful breath, let me just say that I am grateful to our President and our armed forces for their persistence. May it be understood as a message to Islamic fascists that attacks against our country will not go unpunished.