Monday, March 26, 2012

A Belated Hodesh Tov for Nisan!

In the beginning of the Maftir portion this past Shabbat, we read as follows:

HaShem said to Moshe and Aharon in the Land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.” (Shemot 12: 1 – 2)

It was especially poignant this year to read this on Shabbat because it was in fact a Shabbat Rosh Hodesh, but not just any Shabbat Rosh Hodesh, but Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Nisan. So why should we care? After all, with all the Pesah preparations and planning, who has time for this additional Jewish observance? WHO HAS TIME, you ask? Why, WE DO, as free people!!!!!

This commandment to observe not just Rosh Hodesh, but specifically ROSH HODESH NISSAN, and this year as SHABBAT HAHODESH, is the first mitzvah given by G-d to the nation of Israel as a free people, a collective of free individuals tied together by nationhood, by the shared experience of leaving Egypt and slavery behind under the watchful eye and outstretched arm of G-d. AND IT IS QUITE IMPORTANT!

Consider this --- a few months ago, we celebrated and observed Chanukah. With that holiday, we cherish the spirit and fortitude we as Jews have had to fight for and value our freedom. Antiochus and the oppressive Greek/Syrian entity that dictated so much for the lives of its Jews so long ago forbade three practices specifically, Brit Milah for our baby boys, the observance and celebration of Shabbat and the marking of our months through Rosh Hodesh. Why these three? Without a Brit Milah, one’s very identity is questioned as he cannot bear the mark of being a Jew and living as G-d commanded. Without Shabbat, we cannot celebrate and refresh ourselves as community and as individuals – the very essence of our weeks and lives was removed. And Rosh Hodesh – by marking our new moons and keeping track of our days and cycles of time, we were living as people who had a sense of control. Take that away, have someone else mark and define your time, and you lose a basic right of existence and freedom.

We as Jews are always conscious of the marking of time. Our days begin with sundown and the transition continues until the coming out of stars. We pray according to daily markers of time. We mark our weekly Shabbatot and keep track of our holidays and celebrations through our luni (some say loony) solar calendar. THIS CANNOT BE DONE WITHOUT FREEDOM. Any survivor of the Holocaust or of the days before Soviet Jews were able to leave the land of their oppression will tell you this is so.

We know that one of the worst forms of torture and inhumane treatment of fellow human beings is to take away their sense of time. This is used in torture of prisoners, and is the source of so much depression and disorientation for those who live in regions where time may not be so easily marked by simple things we all take for granted – sun rise and sun down.

Marking our time for us is a gift – OUR GIFT as free people who left the slavery and the beatings and the determination of our schedules by our oppressors in Egypt so long ago. Let us appreciate this gift and use it well. May the new year of time, beginning with Rosh Hodesh Nissan be one in which we use our gift of time purposefully, appreciatively and without taking it for granted.


Monday, March 12, 2012

An Interesting Lesson from the Academy Awards

So, we are not such “religious” movie-goers, that is to say, we rarely go. Last year, when the Academy Awards were on, we realized that we had no right to watch the Awards as we had not been to a single movie all year and didn’t even know what they were and who was in them. So, instead, while the show was airing, we elected to go watch The King’s Speech, about which he had heard so much. We returned home in time to see it win the best actor award and the best picture award among others. We loved the movie and its message, so were happy to see we chose well. This year, we improved a bit. Prior to the start of the show in which Oscar is the star, we had seen three movies, the third of which we caught at a 4:30 p.m. showing Sunday, a few hours before the start of the big Hollywood bash in which the awards are distributed. So, we spent Sunday afternoon watching and thinking about The Artist. Once again, we picked not a, but THE winner.

Soon after the announcement of this as the Best Movie of the Year, it occurred to me that the Academy chose films for two years in a row about trying to find one’s voice! I really think there is an important lesson here for all of us as human beings, as well as for the Jewish individual and collective soul. By the way, another excellent film we saw, The Help, fits into this thematic rubric as well.

With the concentration of text study that is just part of my life and the ongoing conversations about those texts between my students and myself, my friends and colleagues and myself and my family members and myself, I am fully aware of how much words and speech are an ongoing part of my life. This is even before we get to the technology formats that further enable the spreading of words (like what you are reading right now!), the bombardment of so many words and sounds and so forth.

One of the scenes in The Artist that just struck me as so poignant (which is I believe the intention of all involved with the film) was when the sounds of everything surrounding this silent film star turned into this deafening and painful cacophony of sound. During this sequence, I was thinking about how I always love to be one of the first to be in the Netilat Yadayim line at our Shabbat and Yom Tov meals, simply because I love (really, believe it or not) the permission to just be quiet for a while with no one expecting any words to come out of my mouth. I am left with my thoughts and I just smile. For me, who REFUSES to stand in line for food at a buffet, this is a line I will get in first if possible!

I DO feel the overwhelming sounds of words and am often struck by the degree to which people think (or not) before those words are sent out into the airwaves that then resound with sound for all of us. We in the United States are certainly experiencing this now, for example, with all of the misspoken comments and other problems going on in certain political posturing of candidates for President in the upcoming elections.

We are all aware of how VERBAL bullying has taken a more prominent place in our lists of concerns as being as dangerous, or even more so, than physical bullying. There are campaigns to get all of us to THINK BEFORE WE SPEAK, as the age old adage goes. There are days of intentional silence in various circles, and so on.

And now Hollywood comes to teach us that finding our voice in a thoughtful, intentional and deliberate way might not be so easy for a variety of reasons in many different situations. Black “help” in the South found their voice through the writing project of one of the more fringe members of the community, The Artist found his voice in his tap dancing feet, and King George VI finally was able to find his voice when it was so needed at a critical time in his country’s (and world) history.

Maybe if we all had more challenges that would require us to work harder to find our voice, we would value it more and use it appropriately to build, not to destroy; to improve, not to make things worse; and to validate and include all, not insult and exclude them. Otherwise, our voices screaming and fighting too often sounds to me like a cacophony of sounds that can be painful and harmful.