Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Tzav

Every so many years, we get to see our calendar in a new light. How many Jews understand how to explain why the Jewish holiday dates never stay the same on the secular calendar? The easy answer is that the Jewish calendar is a lunar/solar calendar. While we mark our months by the cycles of the moon, the Earth’s solar rotation is not quite so exact. So, if we did not periodically impose corrections into the calendar, we would end up celebrating Passover in December. The Muslim calendar is strictly lunar, so the dates of holidays do travel throughout the year. For us, seven out of every 19 years has an extra month … a second month of Adar (the 12th month of the calendar). Now, I understand that this explanation brings up all sorts of other issues, but for now, let’s just agree that this extra month idea affects all sorts of other changes in game plan.

Normally, The Christian holiday of Easter comes within a week of Passover. The Story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection tie closely to the Passover story. Because of this year’s calendar correction, Passover is much later. Easter closely follows Purim. This “coincidence” is one I cannot let pass without sharing a thought or two.

Purim revolves around the story of Esther. I won’t recount the story here, except to say that when one reads it closely, it is a most difficult tale … and hardly even PG rated. What we do get from the story are three lessons: 1. Miracles of redemption happen because we pay attention. The book makes no reference to God. Whatever role God plays in the story, all we know is that people have to act. 2. There are evil people out there, but they are not the threat to the world. The threat to the world is silent conformity … a greater evil than any one person can represent. Haman is horrible, but the King is even worse. He lets all sorts of tragedy befall his people without any concern beyond himself. Had the King made any effort to figure out what was happening, the tragedies of the story could have been avoided. 3. In the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is no reference to Esther, and so its origins are often debated. One theory I appreciate is that this story is not of Israeli or Judean origin. It is Persian and is a retelling of the Persian mythological creation story … probably for a Jewish audience in exile to Persia. Esther is the Goddess Ishtar, and Mordechai is the God Marduk. For all of the details of the story, it is a story about the rebirth of a nation and the salvation/renewal of a people.

Thus, Purim’s coincident timing with Easter is, for me, of note. The Christian story of Easter teaches much the same values. For the record, even the words “Easter” and “Esther” have common etymological origins. Both derive from the idea of “Dawn,” both the renewal or awakening and the ancient fertility goddess.

If you add this week’s Torah portion into the equation, we see a congruity in the faith-based message spawning from these different storylines. This week, we read that Aaron and his sons remain in the Sanctuary compound for seven days, during which Moses opens the Tabernacle for business and initiates them into the priesthood. Freed from slavery and idolatry in Egypt, this Shabbat, we speak of the rebirth and renewal of our faith tradition. We had to build and staff the Tabernacle, and the people had to rally to support this renewed expression of faith.

In all, my take away is that every tradition provides us the opportunity for renewal, but it does not happen to us. We have to do this faithful work and help others along their diverse paths, as well. Where we fail to do this work and walk complacently through our own narrow agendas, we stagnate, and we let those seeking power and destruction have their way. No differently than with Purim’s ignorant King, we have to pay attention; his failure caused massive slaughter. As we learn from the faith, and of those who transitioned from serving Pharaoh to serving God, or those who experience Christ’s renewal, where we choose renewal, we choose life. Shabbat Shalom.