Archive for October, 2010

The Moon and the Month

October 18, 2010
The Moon as seen by an observer from Earth. So...

Look upward and see the almost-full moon.   When the moon becomes completely full, you’ll know it’s the 15th of the current Jewish month.   Right now we’re in the month of Heshvan.

Or, just remember that in the Jewish calendar the new moon is always the new month.  In fact the Hebrew noun for “month” is HOdesh, and the Hebrew adjective for “new” is haDASH. Their shared linguistic root is perfectly obvious.

The new moon/month is always occasion for a Jewish holiday.  It’s called Rosh Hodesh in Hebrew, literally “head of the month.”   (Recall that Rosh haShanah means “head of the year.”)

Paradoxically, the English word “month” comes from the English word “moon,” and yet they are not (any longer) tied together.   Can you look up at the sky and be able to tell that it’s October 18?

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Tishrei 30: Everything You Do Matters

October 8, 2010

Have you ever stopped to think that everything you do matters?

Today is the last of our 60-day spiritual journey.  Today’s theme for contemplating, journal writing, and awareness, is “Everything You Do Matters.”  Quoting from Rabbi Jacobson:

“In Jewish mystical thought, space, time, and matter are understood to be forces of Divine energy — sparks that fell to earth at the time of Creation, which became embedded in all aspects of existence; these sparks must be elevated in holiness for the world to achieve perfection as per the Divine plan.

This is why the little things you do in life are sometimes more important than the big things — the journey is sometimes as or more important than the final destination: going to work, people you meet on the way there, the cup of coffee you drink while waiting for the bus, the piece of paper you throw in the trash can — all are changed by your actions.”

I wish I could remember this wisdom more constantly.   It’s not that I don’t believe it — it seems powerfully true.  But sometimes when things are hard, or I have to make difficult choices, I forget that everything I do matters.  When I’m fortunate enough to remember (or read about it!), life feels better.  More complicated, perhaps, but in a good way.  It really does require stopping to think about.  I hope it matters that I’m posting this today.

It’s a new moon.   Tishrei is over.  Heshvan is beginning.*  Time to move on, and try to remember: every little thing matters.

Hebrew vocabulary:

*Heshvan = a month of the Jewish calendar

mar = bitter

This new month is sometimes called Mar Heshvah, which means “bitter Heshvan,” because it has no holidays in it.

(or Mar Heshvah, which means “bitter Heshvan, because it has no holiday

Recommended Text Book for Biblical Hebrew

October 6, 2010

The First Hebrew Primer, Third Edition: The Adult Beginner’s Path to Biblical Hebrew, by Simon, Resnikoff, and Motzkin.  EKS Publishing.

This is the text book I’ve used most for teaching Biblical Hebrew to adults over the past thirteen years.  It’s useful to students ranging from rank beginners to advanced, whether you’re studying on your own, working one-on-one with a tutor, or participating in a group class.  NOTE: This is not a hard-core serious grammar such as one might study in a university context; rather, this text is aimed at adults studying Hebrew part-time, who have only a few hours per week to devote to it.

This book starts at the very beginning, with the Hebrew alphabet.  Eventually, over the course of 30 chapters, it provides the advanced student with instruction regarding five of the seven binyanim (Hebrew verb structures), all two and a half tenses of Hebrew verb conjugation, guided readings through the Book of Ruth, and lists of the most-used vocabulary in Biblical  Hebrew.

It’s not perfect, but then no Biblical-Hebrew text book is.  My students keep asking me to write one myself, based on the way I teach; maybe I’ll do that soon.  In the meantime, this is the existing text book I recommend most.

Last Three Days of the Jewish New Year Journey

October 5, 2010

Click to get free emails about the 60-day journey

The first time I read 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, it was summer 2006.  I followed his suggestions for thinking hard about my life, my personal goals, and how to enjoy the Jewish new-year season more deeply.  I made lists, wrote in my journal every day, read the daily essays, asked myself the daily questions, and did my best to do the daily exercises.  It changed my life!  And I learned a lot about the Jewish holidays, too.

Anyone can still sign up for Rabbi Jacobson’s free emails about the 60-day journey, even if you haven’t been following along over the past 57 days.  Just click on the image of the book.

Tishrei 27: Four Days Left in the Journey

October 4, 2010

Finished-off sukkah after post-holiday storm.

The setting of this evening’s sun ushered in the 27th day of Tishrei, which means there are four days left of our 60-day spiritual journey through the months of Elul and Tishrei, including the Jewish High Holidays.  Perhaps your sukkah was vulnerable enough to be destroyed by a post-holiday storm.  The mahzorim (High-Holiday prayer books) have been packed away, the Torah rewound back to the beginning.  Winter’s coming, it’s time to get back to work.

But don’t let go of your spiritual travels of the past two months!  It’s not too late to reflect on the Eternal Moments you may have experienced, even record them in writing.  The task before us now is to draw in all that Divine energy we felt during the holidays, let it fill us, and turn our inspiration into action.  There are blessings to be said, people to be loved, Hebrew to be learned, a broken world in need of our help.

Judaism teaches us not to abandon the material world or separate ourselves from it, but rather to transform every “mundane” thing into a holy one.