Soon, (May 14th eve – May 16th) we will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuoth. In a sense, Shavuoth is observed with less fervor than the other pilgrimage festivals. It suffers from being a bit too close to the summer and seven short weeks after Pesach, which is a hard act to follow. But it is a deeply important spiritual moment in the Jewish calendar. It is the anniversary marking when the Israelites first stood at Sinai and understood themselves as vehicles for God's will, as carriers of His message of joy, and having profound responsibility to the world at large. That was a deeply joyful and profound moment, and one that our tradition claims was experienced by every Jewish soul, past, present and future. Therefore, it is our responsibility to taste of it and reflect upon it yearly, as Shavuoth comes around.
Shavuoth has three names–“Holiday of Weeks,” “Holiday of the Giving of the Torah,” and “Holiday of Boundaries”–Atzeret. One can easily understand why Shavuoth is called the “Holiday of Weeks,” for it falls exactly seven weeks after we begin counting the omer toward it, taking a daily spiritual reckoning each day, beginning from the second night of Passover. It is also understandable why Shavuoth is called the “Holiday of the Giving of the Torah,” as Shavuoth marks the anniversary when God orally encountered the people at Sinai, accompanied by a message of ten commandments, the commandments on which the entire Torah is based. But why is it called the “Holiday of Boundaries?”
In a recent sermon, I spoke about an interesting issue that occurs when we have a leap year. The Jewish calendar adds the month of Adar—Adar 2. Since being standardized by the Sanhedrin in the days of Hillel II, in 358Ce, the leap month falls seven times in a 19 year cycle, thus appearing in the Jewish calendar every three, sometimes every two years. The question arises: what happens when a loved one has died in the month of Adar of a regular year? Does the relative say Kaddish on Adar 1 or in the month in which we celebrate Purim, Adar 2? In other words, will the real Adar please stand up!
Our Haverware follows a majority Ashkenazic opinion; that Kaddish should be said on Adar 1. One should say Kaddish and fast in that month if that is one’s custom. Adar is Adar is Adar, as it’s listed on the calendar, and it comes first. To not say Kaddish at that time is to ‘squander a mitzvah’. On the other hand, many major rabbinic authorities, such as Rambam, view the real Adar as Adar 2. The real Adar, they say, is the one closest to Pesach, because the miracle of Purim began when Achashverush couldn’t sleep, and that was on the night of Pesach. They also view the real Adar as Adar 2 because we connect the rescue of Purim to the rescue of Pesach. We observe Purim and all of its customs in Adar 2. Finally, they say that it is Adar 2 because Purim and the Megillah are absolutely observed in Adar 2. Adar 2 is primary and yahrzeit and Kaddish should be said on Adar2!
There is also the opinion of the Tashbetz, who tells us to say Kaddish the first year in Adar 1 (the end of twelve months) and in all subsequent years in Adar 2. And then there are Rabbis such as Shlomo Luria and the Kol Bo Aveilut, who say Kaddish should be said on both Adars! Dizzy yet? I hope so, because on Adar we are supposed to be a bit off kilter. My advice: listen to Haverware; it will guide you nicely. But truly, you have a choice and may institute your own custom, so long as you hold to it from leap year to leap year!
Rabbi Silverman has recently had an article published the CCAR Spring 2013 Reform Jewish Quarterly Journal, entitled Ancient and Medieval Musings on the Akeidah: A Test Primarily of Sacrificial Devotion or of Hearing the Right Message? (CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Spring 2013:97-112.) This Journal, under the auspices of the Reform movement, selects stimulating and innovative articles from any quarter in the Jewish world. Rabbi Silverman is honored to be among those in their most recent issue. Watch for a link to the article, coming this spring.
Rabbi Silverman's March message:
There are four sections of the Seder–the Kiddush, the telling, the grace after meals, and the Hallel. Each section is punctuated by one of four cups of wine. There are also four children, with four questions. Four is, therefore, a pretty important number at Pesach.
Given this significant use of the number four, it's important that we go through four phases of “being” as well, as one goes through Passover. Why the four cups of wine? To fulfill the passage in the Bible in which God tells us "I rescued you, I brought you out, I redeemed you and I made you into my people". This implies four stages that we should move through with the vehicle of this tremendous and intense holiday. The first phase allows us a sense of being rescued, and that is, in fact, the role of the Seder. Each of us, in each generation, and with every new year, must work to see ourselves as though we were rescued from Egypt; that we ourselves were slaves in Egypt. Eating the marror, the bitter herbs, gives us the sense of immersing ourselves in the story of the enslavement of the Israelites, and the drama of the ten plagues through which we were rescued. At the end, we must strive for the sense that God rescues us.
Why do we wear costumes on Purim?
• Because it’s fun!
• Because it’s important to relive the Purim story by “becoming” its characters!
• Because Purim is a holiday that’s a lot more Jewish than Halloween!
• Because Esther hid her identity and we, too, get to hide ours on the outside...but like her we must be Jewish on the inside!
All of these are excellent answers. Here yet is another answer. When Joseph met Benjamin after some 20 years in Egypt, he gave all of his brothers a robe, but he gave his brother Benjamin five robes. Why did he do this and what does this have to do with Purim? He did it because he wanted to see if his brothers would still act on their feelings of jealousy and to see if they had learned their lesson. In fact, the brothers followed all the directives given them by Joseph and were protective of their youngest brother Benjamin. This proved that they had repented and changed. The Talmud says that Joseph gifted Benjamin with five robes because he had a prophetic instinct that the tribe of Benjamin would include a man who would indeed wear five robes. Who would this man be? None other than Mordecai.
Lately, we have been having some services "in the round," which provides a more intimate and cozy feel. We generally dance a bit, hora style, during the course of the service to, as the psalms say, feel what it's like to worship G-d "with all our bones." Those who have attended have enjoyed the more casual feel, and I sincerely hope that many more of you will come down and try it on for size. our Chazzan always finds a joyful and melodic way to inspire and energize us, and I have sought out some dialogue formats that get us to ponder the significance of Shabbat, upcoming holidays, or explore a theme in the weekly Torah portion. At the last "in the round," for example, we discussed the importance of Shabbat for each or our families and what it means that "the Shabbat Queen is descending." I shared these lyrics, which I composed to the popular Don McClean song, "Starry, Starry Night." The song was about the famous artist Vincent Van Gogh. Perhaps you will like it and sing it at your Shabbat table. Hopefully, we will see you next Shabbat!
Sung to "Starry, Starry Night," by Don McClean
Starry, starry night, Shabbat is upon us soon
Rebbe talks and the Chazzan croons,
To celebrate the day that we love best...
it's a day of rest.
For animals and servants too,
Not to mention all of you, who are davening and looking nicely dressed.
Starry, starry night, paint your tallit white and blue,
And look out the avenue
and welcome the beloved Shabbos queen...
time it can be mean.
It can swallow you with one big bite,
If you let it dominate without a fight,
Of slowing down and glowing candlelight.
Now I understand,
What G-d tried to say to me,
and how we suffered in our vanity,
And how he tries to set us free.
We don't listen often that is sad.
Without Shabbat we might go mad.
Starry, starry night, G-d paints his pallet with our souls,
Diverse and wondrous in our roles...
he looks upon it and he says it's good.
Each of us a star,
Who shines upon the world with hope
Making G-d's kaleidoscope. Our colors brighter with every brand-new year,
Now I understand.
What Shabbos means to me,
An opportunity for sanctity.
So to set our spirits free and when no hope is left inside,
on the starry, starry night.
Thank G-d for blessings G-d imbues,
The Torah tells us have hevra.
The world's a gentler place with the Shabbostik milieu.