Taking Notice in Our Time
Renewal is possible at every moment.
Subtle changes of weather, daylight, and flora signify complex changes in time. When we pay attention to our actual experience of these changes, we find a dynamic source of connection with our Creator. Far from being conceived as purely linear, our Jewish calendar reflects the cyclical nature of the year with a precise system of holidays and observances connected to each moment and season.
The Jewish Calendar
The beginning of our year, as proclaimed in the first commandment in Parashat Bo, is the lynch pin of that connection. The Torah calls Passover "Hag haAviv," the holiday of the spring, and the Talmudic prescription of the Jewish leap year, implanting an extra month in the year, is done in order that Passover will indeed always occur in the spring.
This is a dramatic statement of environmental consequence. The Sages could have declared a purely astronomical, lunar-based calendar, but based on the Torah's prescription, they took steps to ensure that the calendar also reflects the cycles of nature. This demonstrates Judaism's deep awareness of the Divine character of nature's processes.
The confluence of redemption and springtime is no coincidence. Everyone is aware of the tremendous energy of renewal that occurs in the springtime. The rebirth of flowers and greenery, the new life in the fields--these are all symbols of our redemption. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Lyadi in a teaching about Passover mentions an anthropocentric view that the renewal of spring actually stems from the redemption of the Jewish people.
The truth, he teaches, is that there is no such primacy or causality--the Divine energy that brings forth the birth of spring in nature is the exact same energy that brought about the redemption of our people in Egypt. And it is precisely the return of spring each year that inspires our personal redemption with each Passover.
Months and Years
The word we receive with the commandment of time is hodesh--month, or more literally, newness. It is extremely instructive that our word for this basic time unit implies renewal and revelation, as opposed to a continuation of the status quo. Even the word for year, shanah, is connected to the word for change, shinui.
Although we do view history as a march towards an ultimate Redemption, we are reminded--on Passover, on Rosh Hodesh, on Shabbat, and with the rising of the sun each day--that the renewal possible at every moment is of as much significance as the final goal. As we experience the changes of time, we should be changing and adapting along with them. And as we grow, we cannot afford to ignore the natural world, or to act in ways that suppress or spoil the inherent wisdom of God's Creation.
Finding the revelation of God through time happens when we connect with the Divinity of natural changes. I was once a Shabbat guest in a very well-to-do synagogue. Many of the people there wore fine watches on their wrists. But as the third meal of Shabbat winded down, the Rabbi walked outside, looked up at the sky to count the three stars that mark the end of Shabbat, and only then gave the call for the evening prayer.
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