Every year my pre-high-holyday anxiety begins when the Torah is turned to the first chapter of Deuteronomy. Moses confesses that he needs help, he pleads with his far senior partner that it’s time to delegate to wise-ones and elders. The job is simply too big and too much. Deuteronomy is the last of the Torah’s five books and when it comes around in our annual cycle and one side of the scroll is noticeably heavier than the other I know that Rosh HaShanah is about ten weeks away. Gulp.
But a quick look at any regularly read Torah scroll is its own calendar revealing the time of year. If the right side of the scroll is skinny it’s usually October or November, if it’s thick it’s usually August or September and so on. The rhythms of our faith reveal themselves in many ways, how the Etrog and Lulav dry out over Sukkot, how over eight days the right-most candle holder of the Chanukah Menorah gets far waxier than the left-most, how seven days of Matzah-only during Passover has a cumulative effect on most of us … Matzah is reminiscent of past Seders when we begin the Haggadah, but by the end of Pesach enough is enough.
The Jewish calendar, which has deep zodiacal roots, is lunisolar which means that it is fixed by adjusting for both the moon and the sun. Islam’s calendar, for instance, is not lunisolar which is why the Fast of Ramadan comes at different times of the year. Judaism’s agricultural ties to the Land of Israel mean that each of the three pilgrimage festivals must come at specific harvest and planting times. This process of adjusting the calendar with leap months and the like assure that Passover is in the spring and that Sukkot is in the fall. This adjustment process is called intercalation.
In our COVID time, so many of our rhythms are thrown off and dependable grooves are far beyond disrupted for so many of us, work and income grooves, learning and teaching grooves, cooking and exercise grooves. Amidst so much disruption our Jewish calendar is dependable and the rhythms of our faith are solidly fixed.
With so many of us working from home, one day can flow into the next with one day feeling oddly like its predecessor. Now in our seventh COVID month I find myself grateful for the rhythm of Shabbat candle lighting through new eyes. The seventh day is set apart and holy in a very new way … and for that I am grateful.
Rabbi Marc L. Disick