Aug. 11, 2020 (Tuesday during Pandemic)
I’d like to believe that I’m in good company with others who also procrastinate! I tend to put off starting things such as an exercise regimen, a diet, or organizing my office until what seems like a more logical (or convenient!) time to begin. I find myself saying that I’ll make regular exercise one of my resolutions for the new year; I’ll start my diet the day after my birthday, and when things quiet down a bit in the summer, I’ll have some time to file papers and sort my music.
Rather than waiting for a once a year opportunity, the Jewish “calendar” gives us the opportunity every month to renew ourselves and to start over, just as the moon renews itself each month.
The Hebrew calendar has been based on the lunar year since Biblical times. Rosh Chodesh (the festival of the new moon) had much greater significance in Biblical times than it has today. Numbers 10:10 states that trumpets were sounded and special sacrifices were offered on Rosh Chodesh. There is Biblical proof of Rosh Chodesh being celebrated with a festive meal and refraining from all business transactions. In Talmudic times, the Rabbis allowed men to work, but Rosh Chodesh continued to be a semi-festival for women in recognition of the women in the wilderness of Sinai who, unlike the men, refused to contribute their jewelry for the building of the golden calf.
In anticipation of each Rosh Chodesh, we are even given the chance to plan ahead. On the Shabbat immediately preceding the first of the month (except for Rosh Chodesh Tishrei which is actually Rosh Hashanah!), a special prayer to announce the specific date of the upcoming new month is added to the liturgy towards the end of the Torah Service. This blessing, called “Birkat Hachodesh” begins with a paragraph attributed in the Talmud (Berachot 16a) to Rav, who used to recite it daily at the conclusion of the Amidah. Since it already contained a full gamut of people’s spiritual and physical needs, including a moving plea for a life of peace, sustenance, health and abundance, and a life based on love of Torah and awe of God, a phrase was added later relating it to the new moon. The second paragraph of Birkat Hachodesh refers to God as a performer of miracles and calls for Jewish unity, reminding those of us in the diaspora to stay connected to Israel.
From the time of the Middle Ages, community leaders wanted to be sure that everyone knew when Rosh Chodesh fell so that they could keep track of the calendar and be able to say the appropriate special prayers such as Hallel (in its shortened form). The announcement of the new month has always been said on Shabbat simply because that is when the greatest number of people are congregated.
We at CBI have a lot to look forward to in this coming month! The re-opening committee has been working hard examining and planning how to carefully and safely get at least some people back to our building to daven together – in person – for those who wish. Please watch for those opportunities to attend outdoor evening minyanim and also (soon!) on Shabbat mornings. Our thriving virtual services will of course continue, but for those of you who wish to attend in person, please also consider volunteering to help with COVID screenings and ushering at those services. We simply won’t be able to gather without volunteers.
I am especially excited that in the next several weeks, we will once again be celebrating B’nai Mitzvah at CBI. Though the service won’t be exactly what we’ve been accustomed to for so many years, I know that our community will nevertheless find a way to show our love and support to those families who have been so patient, understanding and flexible in planning their simchas during this pandemic, and to the B’nai Mitzvah students who have worked so hard even while quarantining (over many hours of Face Time lessons with me!) to prepare for this special milestone in their lives.
This new Hebrew month of Elul also ushers in the High Holiday season! We are supposed to use this month as an opportunity for introspection and “taking stock” of our lives – called “Cheshbon Hanefesh” (accounting of the soul) in Hebrew. As the shofar is sounded each weekday during Elul (you’ll be able to hear it at our Morning Minyanim being held on Mondays and Thursdays, and also at the start of evening minyanim as a special addition during the Pandemic!), its piercing blasts are meant to awaken our conscience and to reflect on our potential to do great things – for our families, our communities and for the world. Our wonderful CBI shofar blowers often make the task of blowing shofar look easy, but it takes significant effort and perseverance. It teaches us that nothing meaningful comes easily. When we are faced with challenges, we must work hard and not give up!
I look forward to spending this month working closely with Rabbi Isenberg, along with the High Holiday and Religious Affairs committees, planning for the many varied services and experiences we are eager to share with you which we hope will help make this year’s High Holiday season as meaningful, spiritual, and community-oriented as possible in these challenging times. We are fortunate to have great support and valuable input from Rabbi Julie, Harvey Brenner and our dedicated lay leaders to help us in this effort.
I pray that this new month will hold the blessings of health, safety, justice, goodness and peace for everyone. And may it be an opportunity in our lives for a renewal of wonder, love, hope, friendship, compassion and holiness.
Cantor Lorna Wallach