Holiday Thoughts

Shavuot: An Evolving Torah

“Rav Yossi said: It would have been appropriate had the Torah been given through Ezra, but Moshe preceded him… and even though the Torah was not given by him [Ezra], it was changed by him” (Sanhedrin 21b). The Talmud explains that this change relates to the “font” of the Torah, which was changed from ketav Ivri, the initial font in which the Torah was given, to ketav Ashurit, the “font” we have today in our Torah scrolls.

Yom Yerushalayim: Natural and Supernatural

The Jewish nation waited for close to 1,900 years to regain sovereignty over G-d’s chosen land. It took an additional 19 years until sovereignty was established “in the place that I will choose to place My name.” The famous words of Brigade Commander Motta Gur, “Har haBayit b’yadeinu, the Temple Mount is in our hands,” marked one of the momentous events of Jewish history; the presence of G-d was closer that it had been for almost 2,000 years.

Yom Haatzmaut: Thoughts at Seventy-two

“Shimon ben Azzai said: I have received a tradition from the seventy-two elders on the day when they appointed Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah head of the academy, that all sacrifices which are eaten, though slaughtered shelo lishma, without proper intent, are valid except that their owners have not fulfilled their obligation, except the Paschal lamb and the chatat, the sin offering” (Mishna Zevachim 1:3).

Purim: Time for a Change

Purim marks a transition point in Jewish history. It ushers in the time period of hester panim, the transition from G-d's obvious and active role in history to a period when G-d's role in history is difficult to discern. Esther, whose very name is an allusion to this concept of hiding, is the last of the prophets. No longer would the word of G-d be directly revealed to man. There would be difficult choices to make, and man would have to work hard to try to determine the best course of action devoid of direct Divine guidance.

Chanukah: Timing the Market

Before there were clocks and standard time, time was determined in relation to the position of the sun—hence, the importance of the sundial. As a rule our Sages followed this course, teaching, for example, that one may daven mincha until sunset, may recite the morning shema until a quarter of the day has passed, or that the earliest time to do a brit milah is at sunrise. 

Shmini Atzeret: Election Day

Tomorrow is Shmini Atzeret. It is also Election Day in Canada. While that is no doubt unfortunate for (observant) Jews, these days, Election Day is a bit of a misnomer. People have been able to vote for weeks, and some 4.7 million voters, or 1/6 of all eligible voters, have already voted. And when one considers that in the past nine elections turnout has been under 70%, some 25% of all votes have likely already been cast. 

Shabbat Chol Hamoed: Opposites Attract

Sukkot is a holiday full of contradictions. At the time we celebrate our harvest, we are bidden to leave the comfort of our home and expose ourselves to the elements of nature. Even the two reasons given for sitting in the sukkah are contradictory. According to Rabbi Akiva, the sukkah is meant to replicate the sukkot that the Jews actually resided in as they sojourned in the desert: flimsy huts representing the temporary nature of life on earth.

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