Like a few other cultures, our Jewish calendar is a lunar one, following the cycle of the moon. It still consists of 12 months, but because each cycle of the moon is 29.5 days long, every month is either 29 or 30 days, sometimes not the same each year. It makes the year only 355 days long unlike the Gregorian calendar of 365 days. This is why we say “oh! The holidays are early (or late) this year!” Now, every so often (It actually occurs 7 times in a 19 year cycle – but don’t ask me for the logarithm, I’m a rabbi, not a mathematician), there is a leap – where in the Jewish calendar we add an entire month (instead of a Day in February every 4 years which is MUCH easier to keep track of!). This is when the holidays seem to jump ahead again and then slowly move earlier and earlier until we need another jump. For this reason, our Jewish months only mostly coincide with the same American months. This year, we are lucky and January, February, and March each have one Holiday – nicely balanced.
This is all to lead us into the intriguing idea that our Jewish holidays do not only stand alone as celebrations, ceremonies, or memorials, but rather also take us on a journey through the year and our lives, teaching us valuable lessons as we travel together. Even if we do not celebrate each holiday, knowing about them can help us to glean lessons to help shape our lives.
This year, on January 3rd, there is a holy day known as the Fast of Tevet. It falls on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tevet and in Hebrew is called “Aseret B’Tevet”, just meaning the 10th of Tevet. Unlike religious holidays, this day of remembrance, repentance, and commemoration begins at sunRISE on January 3rd and ends at night on the same day. The 10th of Tevet is not a later thought in our history, it is actually mentioned in our bible as well. In the book of Second Kings, chapter 25, verse one, our Bible states, “In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army. He besieged it; and they built towers against it all around. The city continued in a state of siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.” Thus the 10th of Tevet is a day to remember when Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem until it finally fell, and the first Temple was destroyed on the 9th of Av over 2 years later. This day of fasting bears witness to the destruction of our people’s way of life and what could have been the complete destruction of our people.
A month and three days later, on February 6th this year, we will celebrate Tu B’shevat. Another holiday known only by its date (the 15th of Shevat), Tu B’shevat is one of our four Jewish new year. It’s not so unusual to have more than one new year. We in America have January 1st as the official new Calendar year, with April 15th marking the tax year and sometime in September marking the school year. So, Jews have many new years as well. Tu B’shevat is the new year of the trees. It is not mentioned in the bible, but rather has a later creation, when the Jews are more settled in our lands and we can actually count how old the very trees we planted are. On Tu B’shevat, it is traditional to have a seder mirroring our Passover seder with four glasses of wine, but they move from white wine to rose to red in order to celebrate the seasons. We plant seeds in the hopes that new life will grow, and it has become somewhat of a tradition to plant parsley on Tu B’shevat to use when it grows as the parsley on our seder plates for Passover.
Yet one month later on the evening of March 6th to the evening of March 7th is the holiday of Purim. A holiday of complete joy and celebration. A holiday where our Heroine Esther saves her people through dishonesty, seduction, and bravery. (Feel free to attend my Purim class as we get closer to this holiday to hear the true Danielle Steel novel that the book of Esther really is!) Anyway, the book of Purim is pure joy, fun, and silly antics rejoicing in the saving of our people.
So, what do these holidays come along to teach us on this journey? From the Fast of Tevet through Tu B’shevat to Purim we go from destruction to planting seeds in the hopes that they will grow, to celebrating the success and survival of our people. Our holiday timeline echoes the line from Psalm 126, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.”
So let us remember as we travel through the winter to the spring from January through March, to keep our holidays in mind. When we feel like we are under siege, when we feel that our walls have been breached and all is lost. Take the time to mourn – but only from sunrise until nightfall, not the full time of a normal holiday. Then plant a seed and tend it. If we tend it and care for it, we will one day reap in joy and laughter as the book of Esther says, “La Yehudim Hayta Ora, v’simcha v’sasson vikar. For the Jews had light and gladness, happiness and honor. May it be so with us and all the world.”
Kein Y’hi Ratzon. Be this God’s will.