Thursday, January 29, 2009

This month is for you: the calendar as a divine -human partnership החודש הזה לכם

As this current semester feels like an old friend, it's hard to believe that I returned to my home here in New York less than two weeks ago. Between my three JTS classes and my work as Religious Life Coordinator on the Executive Board of Hillel, I have been extremely busy, barely having a free moment. However, it has been great to spend so much time busy with two of my passions: studying Jewish texts, and working in the Jewish community. In each of the three classes, I have had the privilege to study in depth a different aspect of our rich literary tradition, from a survey of Masechet (tractate Bava Batra), dealing with the laws of interpersonal relations regarding property, to a study of classical Piyyut (liturgical poetry), and a study of the 5th century Palestinian midrash on Leviticus, Vayikra Rabbah.
In many of these situations, especially my activities with Hillel, have encompassed the idea of partnership, whether it is my working with leaders from across the spectrum of Judaism or grappling with the talmudic text with my chevruta (study partner). Thus, when I flipped through the collection of midrashim from Shemot Rabbah (Midrashic collection on Exodus, probably compiled as late as the 11th or 12th century), I was attracted by the following, with its focus on a partnership between Israel and God in creating and executing the Hebrew lunar calendar.

דבר אחר:
החדש הזה לכם
אמרו מלאכי השרת לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא: רבון העולם!
אימתי אתה עושה את המועדות, שכן כתיב (דניאל ד, יד): בגזירת עירין פתגמא?
אמר להם: אני ואתם מסכים, על מה שישראל גומרין ומעברין את השנה, שנאמר (תהלים נז, ג): אקרא לאלהים עליון לאל גומר עלי.
וכן הוא אומר (ויקרא כג, לז): אלה מועדי ה' מקראי קודש וגו'. אתם, בין בזמנן, בין שלא בזמנן, אין לי מועדות אלא אלו.
אמר להם הקדוש ברוך הוא לישראל: לשעבר היה בידי, שנאמר (תהלים קד, יט): עשה ירח למועדים, אבל מכאן ואילך, הרי מסורה בידכם ברשותכם, אם אמרתם הן, הן! אם אמרתם לאו, לאו! מכל מקום יהא החדש הזה לכם. ולא עוד, אלא אם בקשתם לעבר את השנה, הריני משלים עמכם, לכך כתיב: החדש הזה לכם:
Another explanation: "This month is for you [the beginning of months]" (Exodus 12:1). The Ministering Angels said before the Holy One Blessed be He: Master of the world, when are you going to set the festivals, as it is written (Daniel 4:14): "The matter is by the decree of the watchers." ?
God said to the angels: I and you agree, that Israel will complete (establish) and fix (make leap) the years, as it is written"I will call onto God on High, the Lord who acts for me." It is further written, these are the appointed times of God, to be called holy, that you should establish them at their proper times (Leviticus 23:4). Them - whether they are at the proper times or not, I have no festivals other than these.
The Holy One Blessed be He said to Israel: previously, it (establishing the calendar) was in my hands , as it is written (Psalms 104:19) "He made the moon to set the festivals.", but from here and onward, if you say 'Yes! Yes!' (we have seen the moon), or 'No! No!' (We did not see it), in either case the month is yours. And furthermore, if you choose to intercalculate the year and make it a leap year, here to I will follow with you, as it says "This month is for you!"

This Midrash, explains the relationship between God and Israel so beautifully as seen the Jewish Calendar, set up by God in order to be given as a gift to Israel, that they could take ownership of it. The rabbis wished to emphasize here that while on one hand the covenant between God and Israel is steadfast and unchanging, it is also fluid, living and two-sided; while God is our Ruler, Commander and Creator, endowing us with the holiness of the Mitzvot, He has also asked us to lead in many cases, as we paertner with Him to establish the calendar.

This lesson can also be applied quite well to our own human relationships, as we struggle in the give and take of chevrutot, or determine how to be positive leaders and role models. Sometimes we must seek assistance and advice from others, but often it is upon us to take initiative. A good leader must look closely at a situation and decide what is necessary for the moment. As a leader within Hillel, I hope to follow the example set by God with Israel, initiating programs and relationships while listening and taking in advice from those with great ideas and experience, whether they be fellow leaders, other students or staff members.

Shabbat Shalom!

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