Happy New Year!
There was no sound of the shofar (Rosh HaShanah) or tree planting (Tu B’shvat), but on March 23, the Jewish community entered a new year. In fact, it was the new year in that it was the first day of the first Hebrew month Nisan. None of that Rosh HaShanah language of “On the first day of the seventh month,” which leads to great confusion. (Per the Mishnah, there are four new years, each marking a different type of accounting.) This time, it is actually the first day of the first month, so: Happy New Year!
We celebrate this new year by having a special haftarah portion the Shabbat prior as an announcing tool and naming that Shabbat not the typical “Rosh Chodesh” — “new month” — but “HaChodesh” — “the New Month.” That is where the celebration more or less ends while the shopping lists and plans for Passover begin in earnest. Two weeks and counting.
In the first days of this New Year, we are engulfed in the Torah portion Vayikra. The tabernacle is complete and consecrated and ready for use. The menu of offerings is described in detail: sin offerings, good will offerings, guilt offerings…But alas, the tabernacle and even its successors, the First and Second Temples, no longer exist. How do we connect to a type of sacred donation that not only no longer exists but which many of us do not pray for its return?
Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver teaches in “Where Judaism Differs: An Inquiry into the Distinctiveness of Judaism” (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1957): “The moral life and human aspirations are the ‘sacraments’ of Judaism. It recognizes no others. There are no beliefs which ‘save’ men. There are no ceremonial or ritual acts the very performance of which bestows supernatural grace and saving power. There are visible symbols in Judaism, signs of the covenant, memorials of fidelity, but no sacraments. From earnest and faithful quest of the good life, in all ways, great or small, flow all divine grace and power.” This excerpt, brought forward by Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan, PhD, in the book I edited, “Prophetic Voices: Renewing and Reimagining Haftarah” (CCAR Press), offers us an invitation to consider what “doing sacred” looks like today for all of us, not only the Kohanim and Levites who had front row seats in ancient times.
Rabbi Kaplan calls us to action in his commentary: “We agree with Rabbi Silver that beliefs do not bestow divine saving power upon humans. Judaism is urging us to take advantage of our short lives to do something good in concrete terms for our fellow human beings and for the world.”
It sounds like a New Year to me. PJC
Rabbi Barbara AB Symons is the rabbi of Temple David. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association.