Dvar Torah from Rabbi Saul I. Grife
"The Jewish Spring Holiday Season of 5779 has Arrived!"
This morning Philadelphian's woke up to snow, but on the Jewish calendar, the spring holiday season has officially commenced!
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shekalim, the first of 5 Shabbatot that bear a unique name that appear to identify the Purim - Pesach season. Shabbat Shekalim is the first one. This Shabbat when we read Parshat Vayakhel, the penultimate sidra from Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus 35:1 - 38:20 from the first Sefer Torah, we will also remove a second Torah scroll to read the beginning of Parshat Ki Tissa (Exodus 30:11 - 16) that describes the half-shekel that each Israelite male 20 years old and upward was supposed to donate to the Tabernacle as a poll tax that was designed to protect him and his soul during wartime. The Torah specifically states that everyone had to donate an equal amount...
The rich could not give more nor could the poor contribute less.
By doing so, a sense of equality amongst all the fighting men was established. Though this institution has been abandoned since Temple times, nevertheless we become aware of its practice from the Torah narrative. The concept of promoting equality amongst all continues to apply and inspire us to create a more just and level world for everyone. In this way, an ancient practice bears modern relevancy as we strive to fix our communities and our world.
Two weeks from now we'll celebrate Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. Shabbat Zachor is the Sabbath that precedes Purim which falls out on Wednesday evening March 20th. Then we recall the evil that Amalek perpetrated against the Israelites when they were headed out of slavery in Egypt. Two weeks after on March 30th is Shabbat Parah, the Sabbath of the Red Heifer, we recall a mysterious ancient purification rite that was designed to purify the impure. One week later is Shabbat HaHodesh, the Sabbath that proclaims the arrival of the month of Nisan to remind us to prepare for the oncoming Pesach holiday. This year, Shabbat HaHodesh coincides with Rosh Hodesh Nisan on Saturday April 6th. To honor the aforementioned 4 Shabbatot, we will employ 2 Sifrei Torah on Shabbat morning to cover both the regular parsha and the holiday reading. One singular Shabbat in this collection is left - Shabbat HaGadol: The Great Shabbat. Annually, Shabbat HaGadol is the Sabbath that precedes Pesach. This year, Shabbat HaGadol is Saturday April 13th; the first night of Pesach and the first Seder is the following Shabbat, Friday evening April 19th. I will explain the traditions and more of the significance of these Shabbatot in upcoming weeks.
The Talmud states, Kishenichnas Adar, marbim bi'simcha! With the arrival of the month of Adar our joy greatly increases!
Jews look forward to the spring celebrations of Purim and Pesach with fervent expectations. Both are joyous commemorations that bear marked historical, national and ethical significance. We rejoice for at least 3 major reasons during this season. One, on Purim we celebrate our survival from the evil machinations of Haman along with other evildoers that we have battled throughout history. Two, on Pesach, we celebrate our freedom and the birth of our nation. And three, we rejoice over the arrival of spring, the imminent conclusion of winter, promising warmer days and agricultural rebirth upon the horizon. This renewal is designed to extend to our souls as we embrace new days, new opportunities and new possibilities for ourselves and for others. We take advantage of the chance to give thanks for all that we have endured, out-maneuvered and survived across 4 millennia. We take the opportunity to celebrate the multitude of strengths that the Jewish people have demonstrated throughout 40 centuries. We celebrate our leaders and our heroes who rose up, were counted and did what was needed to do to navigate our people through their challenges to live to witness better days. Finally, we embrace the present and being in the moment to accomplish all this in the company of our family and friends throughout the spring holiday season. These spring festivals inspire us to be cognizant of and appreciate our past, embrace the present and boldly and optimistically confront the future. I hope that each of us will enjoy the Jewish spring season of Purim and Pesach 5779 and share our blessings and love with all others!
Shabbat Shekalim Shalom to all!!