Reb R' Yair Hillel Goelman
When Shabbat Meets Millennium
By Reb R' Yair Hillel Goelman
The issue of a Jewish response to Y2K takes on even greater urgency when we note that the day on which Y2K begins is Shabbat, the 23rd day of Tevet, 5760.
The Torah reading that week is Parshat Shmot and that shabbos is also Shabbat Mevorchim ha Hodesh Shvat when we announce that the new moon will begin (on the following Shabbat). Whether any particular damage, cataclysm or glitch results from Y2K is also unknown at this time. But we do have an ancient tradition of learning and deriving meaning from the flow of time within and across every moment and the Shabbos/Y2K contrast/confluence says to us all "darsheyni" -- explore me for meaning and understanding. And so I've been thinking.
As the B'nai Yissasschar and other holy texts have taught us, Jewish time does not have the linear, sequential quality of the daytimers we use to plan our linear, sequential activities. Reb Zalman has taught us that the verse in Shir HaShirim "kol dodi dofek" refers not just to the beating on my door by my beloved, but the "defika" the beating of my heart moment by moment by moment.
We attune ourselves to the rhythms and qualities of time by attending to the flow or energies throughout the year, across and within months, through the periodicity of the holy days, and the ways in which our bodies, souls, minds and hearts respond to and accompany the flow of time with our harmonies.
The daily, weekly, monthly and yearly cycles speak to us as we prepare for Shabbos, as perhaps we have never prepared before, for the 23rd of Tevet, Shabbos Parshat Shmot, Shabbos Mevorchim HaHodesh. This Shabbos will come 5760 years following the creation of the world, "ha ba aleynu l'tovah " for goodness and peace in just about 57 weeks from now.
The daily and weekly cycle. Shabbos is coming and the question is whether we will be ready. The technology of time has given us nano-seconds, carbon dating and 24 hour banking but the basic software of Jewish time is Shabbos. Six days we live in a world governed by the means and ends of production. Shabbos, as Rabbi Heschel said, is a palace in time and we are facing the possibility that the palace itself could be severely damaged. Instead of sitting in the warmth and light of shabbos, we may be sitting in cold and darkness.
Outside our homes there may be technological and social chaos; a massive disruption which can threaten what is supposed to be for us a day which is a "ta'anug" an utter delight. Will I be prepared for that Shabbos? Will my friends and neighbors be prepared? For that shabbos, my friends, we prepare enough cholent for many days, for many friends and many families. This "mother of all Shabbosim" provides an opportunity for gatherings of heart and home and healthy fare to honour a day we call "yom sh' kulo tov" and a day which is completely good
Where I live, on the west coast, Shabbos will come in that week around 4:00 PM or 12:00 midnight, Greenwich Mean Time which is when and where Y2K will "officially" begin. I'm supposed to be lighting Shabbos candles just as electricity grids around the world may be shutting down. The only lights on my block may well be my Shabbos candles. And then? Traditionally, in the erev Shabbat davenin', we recite the "Ba meh madlikin" section from the Mishnah which asks, "From what substances can we make Shabbos candles?" In preparing for that Shabbos, we have to ensure that we, our friends, families and neighbors all have reliable sources of light, heat and sustenance.
The monthly cycle. The bios in our computers may have trouble understanding that last click from 1999 to 2000, but Shabbos Mevorchim runs on a different set of control statements. How can we bring the wisdom and insights of Shabbos and Rosh Hodesh to inform our actions and understandings in response to the hazards of relying too heavily on the flimsy artificial and technological devices of our time?
On the monthly cycle we will be preparing for Rosh Hodesh, the vessel which will hold the blessings for the month of Shvat. That shabbos is the 23rd day of the month of Tevet. In the last days of Tevet the moon will be getting smaller, the reflection of the source of all light will be getting fainter. In the dark of the moon in the dark of the winter we ask that the life-sustaining rhythms and sequences of time continue to nourish us and all creation in the month of Shvat.
The B'nai Yissasschar points out that the symbol of Shvat, the bucket (Aquarius), gives us the means to access the deepest well-springs of knowledge, understanding and Torah, the Tree of Life whose existence and re-awakening we celebrate on Tu B'Shvat. On the 15th of Shvat, the New Year of the Trees, the roots of trees begin to awaken, to run sap, to begin again to reach out to sustain new life.
How will we greet the new moon of Shvat on that Shabbos, the 23rd of Tevet 5760?
Traditionally, we pray that the new month will bring us sustenance and prosperity, honourable ways of making a living, the healing of body and mind, and for peace, shalom. We must work hard to prepare ourselves and our vessels - our work, our planet, our actions - to ensure that Shvat is indeed a month of the "d'lee" the bucket of Aquarius.
If we are not prepared, the B'nai Yissaschar teaches, the yud, the last letter of "d'lee", will disappear. And with the disappearance of that little yud which symbolizes God's presence in the world, we are nothing by "dal" - poor, weak and impoverished.
Preparing for Rosh Hodesh means holding on to the letter yud and the entire bucket, the d'lee. Little things, indeed, will make a big difference for bringing in the blessings of Shvat like the little tiny points of sap beginning to stir deep beneath the ground. We will need to attend to our collective needs for continuing access to Torah into the month of Shvat and beyond.
And, to remember, even in the face of possible social and technological breakdown, that we have a continuing commitment to serve as stewards of this precious earth and all that grows within and upon it. Tu B'Shvat 5760, will be a New Year of the Trees like one we have never witnessed in our lifetime. It is a z'chut a merit which we have been given and one which will try our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual readiness for Shabbos, the 23rd of Tevet.
The yearly cycle. Shabbos, Parshat Shmot. We begin reading the second book of the Torah that Shabbos. A new reality, a new paradigm. "Vayakom melech hadash asher lo yadah et Yosef," a new king arose who did not know Joseph. The bounty and wealth of the good life was abruptly ended for our ancestors and instead of being the beneficiaries of an advanced civilization and technology, we became its slaves instead.
For our ancestors things changed quickly, dramatically, and tragically. The book of Shmot is about massive disruptions, social breakdowns, and the loss of hope in a world enamored of its power, strength and technological prowess. In what way(s) will we be entering our own new book of Shmot, attempting to recount the names of our ancestors as we face a new world with possibilities of slavery, plague, death.
A Midrash asks why Ribbono Shel Olam let us live in slavery for 400 years before acting to redeem us from slavery. The answer given is that for those first 400 years we had hope that redemption was near. Then, more tragically than the loss of our freedom, was our collective loss of hope that our slavery would ever end. It was at this point that God heard our cries of despair and the wheels to free us from slavery were put in motion.
What paradigm will be entered - either profoundly or subtly - on Shabbos, Parshat Shmot? What learnings have we gained to avoid slipping back into hopelessness and despair and oppression?
Leading up to Parshat Shmot 5760, we must re-double our energies regarding the social, economic and political slaveries and oppressions which are already upon us. That as many people as possible should be working gainfully; that social systems are attending to the sick, the poor, the orphan and the stranger; that food banks for the hungry should be full and shelters for the homeless are provided. A running head start into Shabbos Parshat Shmot can provide the means and the momentum for preventing the transition from d'lee to dal.
Havdalah. With lights or without, with heat and water or without, Shabbos the 23rd of Tevet will come to an end. The B'nai Yissasschar calls the moments prior to the end of Shabbat an ait ratzon, which is usually translated as "a time of will." It is more. It is a time of yearning, of intentionality, when the Source of all Creation is open and receptive to our prayers and wishes for the coming week.
More than anything, on that Havdalah, we will pray that the coming week will bring sweet tastes, sweet fragrances and sweet light to guide us from one Shabbos to the next. And the next Shabbat will be Rosh Hodesh Shvat. Reb Zalman has taught in the name of Rabbi Heschel that on Friday night we say Kiddush to bring in the special holiness of the Shabbat and on Saturday night we say Kiddush to bring in the special holiness of the weekdays. God willing, preparing for that Shabbos will provide us with the opportunity to intensify our holy work towards tikkun olam. It is only through incredibly hard work -melacha, the work of angels - that we can truly enjoy an incredibly joyful Shabbos.
Get out your daytimers and start calling. Teshuva, tefilah u'tzedaka - by doing the hard karma-stopping work of repentance, prayer and good deeds, we can do our part towards the creation of a sustainable and equitable place for us to live in, for our children and our children's children. Who is coming for dinner that Shabbos? Pot-luck or small groups? Is everyone looked after? Better call some more. Who is davening and reading Torah that week? And who is giving the D'var Torah? There is much to be done. And, if there is no computer crash?
Thank God. And then we can prepare for the next Shabbos with the same level of intensity and love.
Gut Shabbos, gut yontof,
R' Yair Hillel Goelman