Reflections from Rabbi Klirs
During the months of January and February we will be making our way through most of the Book of Sh’mot, or Exodus. In the first two Shabbatot in January we read of the oppression and suffering of the Hebrew slaves, Moses’ commission to be God’s representative before Pharaoh, the ten plagues, the celebration of the first Pesach, the laws of Pesach and the Exodus from Egypt. Much of the Passover Haggadah is based on these parshiyot. On the third Shabbat we read of the arrival at the Sea of Reeds, of Pharaoh’s change of heart and his army’s pursuit of the Hebrews, the miracle of the splitting of the sea, the drowning of Pharaoh’s army and the celebration of the final redemption through the Song of the Sea.
On the fourth Shabbat the parashah includes the arrival at Mount Sinai and the first iteration of the Ten Commandments. On the first Shabbat in March the parashah contains much of the civil, moral and religious code that the Israelites are to follow, and on the 2nd and 3rd Shabbatot we read the instructions for the building of the Mishkan, or Tabernacle. On the last Shabbat in March the Torah reaches its nadir as it describes the sin of the golden calf.
We read these stories, which are really about the transformation of a demoralized and powerless group of slaves into the beginnings of a nation with a divinely appointed mission and new-found purpose, in the dead of winter when nature lies dormant. We also celebrate holidays which seem out of step with the season, most notably
Tu B’Shevat. Tu B’Shevat, which means the 15th of the month of Shevat, is also known as the New Year of the Trees. It was originally nothing more than an agricultural marker. Biblical law forbade the harvesting of fruit from new trees until they were 3 years old. To simplify matters, a single date was set for purposes of calculating a tree’s age, so that trees of the same type could be harvested together in their season. In time it became a minor festival, celebrating the produce of trees from the land of Israel. But why set the birthday for the trees in the middle of winter? For the answer, you will need to come to Shabbat services and the Tu B’Shevat Seder which I will lead on the weekend of
I will mention one more oddity of this season. The Hebrew month of Shevat generally coincides with January and/or February, and is followed by the month of Adar, in which we celebrate Purim. Hence, we would expect Purim to occur in February this year. But 5779 happens to be a leap year, and in the Hebrew calendar, rather than add a single day to leap years, we add an entire month. That month happens to be Adar. In a leap year we have Adar I followed by Adar II. When that occurs, Purim is always celebrated in Adar II. Hence we will have to wait until March to celebrate Purim. My February visit will be on the 15th and 16th.
Rabbi Tracy G. Klirs