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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘New Years’

December 31st, 1912

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

The next year  sweeps around the earth like the hand of a clock, from Australia to Europe and across the great stretch of the Atlantic it rides the darkness to America. And then around and around again, each passing day marking another sweep of the hours.

In Times Square crowds of tourists gather in clumps behind police barricades, clutching corporate swag beneath video billboards shifting and humming in the cool air. And the same scene repeats in other squares and other places even if it doesn’t feel like there is a great deal to celebrate.

While the year makes its first pass around the world, let us leave it behind, open a door in time and step back to another year, a century past.

December 31, 1912. The crowds are just as large, though the men wear hats. People use the word gay with no touch of irony. Liquor is harder to come by because the end of the year, one hundred years ago, has fallen on a Sunday.  There are more dances and fewer corporate brands. Horns are blown, and the occasional revolver fired into the air, a sight unimaginable in the controlled celebrations of today’s urban metropolis.

The Hotel Workers Union strike fizzled out on Broadway though a volley of bricks was hurled at the Hotel Astor during the celebrations. New York’s finest spent the evening outside the Rockefeller mansion waiting to subpoena the tycoon in the money trust investigation. And the Postmaster General inaugurated the new parcel service by shipping a silver loving cup from Washington to New York.

On Ellis Island, Castro, a bitter enemy of the United States, and the former president of Venezuela, had been arrested for trying to sneak into the country while the customs officers had their guard down. Gazing at the Statue of Liberty, Castro denied that he was a revolutionary and bitterly urged the American masses to rise up and tear down the statue in the name of freedom.

Times Square has far fewer billboards and no videos, but it does have the giant Horn and Hardart Automat which opened just that year, where food comes from banks of vending machines giving celebrating crowds a view of the amazing world of tomorrow for the world of 1912 is after all like our own. We can open a door into the past, but we cannot escape the present.

The Presidential election of 1912, like that of 2012, ended in disaster. Both Taft and Roosevelt lost and Woodrow Wilson won. In the White House, President Taft met with cabinet members and diplomats for a final reception.

Woodrow Wilson, who would lead America into a bloody and senseless war, subvert its Constitution, and begin the process of making global government and statism into the national religion of his party, was optimistic about the new year. “Thirteen is my lucky number,” he said. “It is curious how the number 13 has figured in my life and never with bad fortune.”

Americans of 2013 face the light bulb ban. Americans of 1913 were confronted with the matchstick ban as the Esch bill in Congress outlawed phosphorus “strike ‘em on your pants” matches by imposing a $1,000 tax on them. This was deemed to be Constitutional. In Indianapolis, the train carrying union leaders guilty of the dynamite plot was making its secret way to Federal prison even while the lawyers of the dynamiters vowed to appeal.

The passing year, a century past, had its distinct echoes in our own time. There had been, what the men of the time, thought of as wars, yet they could not even conceive of the wars shortly to come. There were the usual dry news items about the collapse of the government in Spain, a war and an economic crisis in distant parts of the world that did not concern them.

A recession was here, after several panics, and though there was plenty of cheer, there was also plenty of worry. The Federal Reserve Act would be signed at the end of 1913, partly in response to the economic crisis.

Socialism was on the march with the Socialist Party having doubled its votes in the national election.  All three major candidates, Wilson, Roosevelt and Taft, had warned that the country was drifting toward Socialism and that they were the only ones who could stop it. The influence of corporations was heatedly debated and the Catholic Church clashed with Socialists.

January 1st is Not New Year’s

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Imagine the Jews wanted to take down the giant Xmas tree in Rockefeller Center, or the huge Xmas tree on the White House lawn! First of all, no Jew in America would have the guts to demand such a thing. But that’s what happened this week in Jerusalem. Some clown at the Jerusalem Municipality gave his approval to place a Xmas tree at the entrance to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. Residents of the Jewish Quarter complained, along with a representative of the Shas party, and the Xmas was removed. That’s one further example of the difference between living in a foreign country and our own Jewish State. Here in Israel, public Xmas trees are out.

Let’s face it. America is a Xtian country. So are most of the countries of Europe – that is, where Islam hasn’t yet taken over. Yesterday was the fast day of the 10th of Tevet, marking the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem. But the siege continues even today. Look how all the countries of the world condemned Israel for wanting to expand building in Jerusalem. They want to keep us under siege, in compartmented areas of the city, without a chance to grow.

Who are they, the Europeans and Americans who go bananas every time one of their spy satellites spots a Jew in Jerusalem clearing ground to build a house? The same Crusaders of old, now dressed in suits and ties. They don’t want the Jews getting any stronger in Jerusalem, because all of humankind, in its deepest unconscious psyche, knows that the nation which controls Jerusalem is the Chosen Nation, chosen by God to bring His word to the world, and they don’t want it to be the Jews and our Torah, because they want to be free to continue paying lip service to God while carrying on with their fornicating, robbery, and murder.

And while we’re talking about the upcoming pagan holidays, we should all remember, that for Jews, New Year’s is Rosh HaShanah, a time of judgment and prayer – not drunken orgies. Celebrating January 1st as the beginning of a new year, in the manner of the gentiles, is following after their ways, and a practice that all pious Jews should avoid. After all, for a Jew, counting the years from the birth of the founder of Xtianity is absurd, to say the least, and sadly schizophrenic. Think about it. Why count the years from the birth of Jezeus? The world was around a long time before he appeared. Why mark that as the beginning of history? Why identify with Xtians? Why should the calendar start with them?

But that’s what happens when a Jew is cast out from his own Jewish Land and compelled to wander among the gentiles. He begins to identify with the culture around him. It’s a sad but natural phenomenon. That’s what happened to the Jews in Egypt too. They descended to Egypt just to sojourn there during the famine, but they ended up staying. That’s what happens. It’s happened again and again, from Berlin to Brooklyn. We forget that our real home is in Israel.

We learn this from the end of this Shabbat’s Torah portion of “Vayigash.” The verse tells us: “Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt in the region of Goshen; they possessed property in it and they were fruitful and multiplied” (Bereshit, 47:27).

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would say, “They settled and sank,” referring to our propensity to get stuck in galut. Citing the commentary of the “Kli Yakar,” Rabbi Kahane explains that this verse is a condemnation of their behavior. Hashem had told Avraham that his descendents would be temporary “aliens” in a foreign land, but they sought to become permanent settlers by acquiring property and building villas for themselves – just like we see today in many Diaspora communities.

Interestingly, the Hebrew for “they possessed property in it, “ויאחזו” is written in the passive form, literally meaning that “they were possessed by it.” That is the situation in galut. We become possessed by the foreign lands and cultures where we live. We come to identify with foreign languages, customs, values, holidays, and nationalities – very much like the Jews who were slain in the plague of darkness in Egypt, a staggering 80% of the Jewish community, because they didn’t want to leave Egypt and go on aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. They actually liked Egypt! Would you believe it? Just like Jews like Brooklyn and Berlin.

While Yaakov only came to Egypt to temporarily sojourn in the land, his descendants let themselves become gripped by it. This is why Yaakov gave his children the order to bury him in Israel – so they would never forget that Eretz Yisrael was their homeland, not Egypt, America, France, Canada, Mexico, or Australia, and that Rosh HaShanah was their New Year’s and not January 1st.

I can understand how an assimilated Jew who doesn’t study Torah could come to love a foreign Xtian place – but for a religious Jew who believes in the Torah, I simply cannot understand it at all. Can you?

Q & A: Tu B’Shevat: The Hidden, The Revealed

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Question: Why is Tu B’Shevat, known as the New Year for Trees, in the middle of the month and not at the beginning of the month – like all other New Years?

Pesach Bernstein
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The first mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashanah lists the various New Years. Each of them, like you write, falls on the first of the month except for Tu B’Shevat.

There are exceptions, however. For example, the Gemara (ibid., 4a) asks regarding the New Year for festivals (which is also used to reckon the years of a king’s reign): “How can the New Year for the festivals be on the first of Nissan, when surely it is on the 15th of Nissan?” The Gemara answers that the mishnah means to say that the festival, Pesach, that occurs in the first month of the year marks the New Year for festivals. The New Year itself, though, starts on the 15th.

Two additional New Years – not enumerated in our mishnah – also do not fall on the first of the month. The New Year relating to the omer – the sacrifice that permitted one to partake of newly harvested grains of the five species throughout the land – occurs on the 16th of Nissan, and the New Year for the shetei halechem (two loaves) – permitting the use of flour from newly harvested grains for meal-offerings in the Beit Hamikdash – occurs on the 6th of Sivan. The Gemara explains that the mishnah does not list these two New Years because they start during the day rather than the previous night.

Thus, we see that Tu B’Shevat is not that unique. However, perhaps it appears to be so because it is the only New Year listed in the mishnah that does not occur on the first of the month (in some sense of the word) according to Beit Hillel, whose ruling we follow. Beit Hillel states that sufficient rain has fallen by the 15th of Shevat, enabling trees to blossom. We therefore set the New Year for trees at that point.

For a more esoteric understanding of the significance of the 15th of Shevat as the New Year for trees, we turn to the author of the chassidic work, Ohev Yisrael by Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta, who discusses this matter. We glean from his words:

“Regarding Tu B’Shevat, we must know and understand why it is stated specifically there (in the mishnah), ‘The New Year of the Tree, according to Beit Hillel, is on the 15th of Shevat, while according to Beit Shammai it is on the first of Shevat.’ It is also important to understand the reference to ‘tree’ in the singular, when it should have stated [the New Year of the] Trees, in the plural.

“We must answer that it states in the Torah (Deuteronomy 20:19), ‘For man is the tree of the field.’ [Here the author is alluding to the interpretation in Gemara Ta’anit 7a.] Just as the tree possesses roots, branches, leaves and fruit, so does the Jew possess all these because of his good deeds. How are these drawn to man? They stem from their source, the root of the Jewish soul, which is the Holy Tree – the Tree of Life under which all Creation’s animals and birds of the skies seek shelter. It is the tree that is blessed so that all its shoots are like it.

“The word ilan [tree in Hebrew] is numerically equivalent to the two Holy Names, Havaya and Adnut (their combined total is 91). This is in accordance with the hidden meaning of ‘Tzaddik katamar yifrach – A righteous man shall blossom as the date tree…’ (Psalms 93:13). Just as the palm tree has the means of propagating itself, so, too, do the righteous bring forth those that will propagate themselves.”

Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel continues with a citation from Tractate Rosh Hashanah (10b-11a). R. Yehoshua claims the world was created in Nissan, but R. Eliezer argues it was created in Tishrei. (These two months both launch the beginning of a different half of the year.) Rabbi Heschel points out that both these statements are “the living words of G-d” – both are true in some sense. He explains: “On [the first of] Tishrei the thought came to His mind to create the world, as the paytan notes [in our Rosh Hashanah liturgy], ‘Hayom harat olam – Today You have conceived the world.’ However, the actual creation was in Nissan.”

He then offers a lengthy explanation, comparing the tree to the original Creation by presenting the month of Shevat as a microcosm of the 12 months of the year and dividing Shevat into two parts. He compares the first half of the month to the conception of trees – the part of creation that is hidden. This is actually the essence of Beit Shammai‘s opinion, whose rulings hold sway in the Heavenly Court. Beit Hillel, on the other hand, represents that which is revealed – like the blossoming of trees. For the most part, blossoms appear on the first day of the second half of the month – Tu B’Shevat.

Understanding America’s ‘Holiday Period’

Wednesday, January 7th, 2004
As Americans, we Jews share with our fellow countrymen (more or less) certain portions of the annual “holiday period.” Extending from the secular holidays of Thanksgiving to New Years, this span imposes on all the United States the breathless rhythm of a machine. Noisy and relentless, it is a rhythm associated in the popular imagination with enhanced reverence and spirituality, but in reality it produces a decidedly opposite effect. Indeed, looking over the seasonal cacophony of cash registers and vulgar entertainments, the glaringly obvious end of all this delirium is to prevent us from remembering G-d.

How ironic it is! Society is essentially the sum total of souls seeking redemption, but today, in these United States – with the holiday period approaching - millions preoccupy themselves busily with consumption, mimicry and empty ritual. Seeking to defy the unstoppable movement of Time, we Americans seem generally less concerned with making each life authentically sacred and meaningful than with extending this life at all costs. There is nothing objectionable, of course, to vitamins, improved health care and exercise – quite the contrary. But at some point one does need to ask about life-extension: Why? To what end? Surely we are “here” for some greater purpose. Let us discover what it is.

Time is a great deal more than the invented measure of clocks. It is also the unsteady duration of each individual life, an oscillating stream of experience filled with joy, sadness, suffering and ultimately death. In the end, time may be either sacred or profane, and it is our unceasing obligation, especially as Jewish-Americans, to choose the former. While it is true, in the physical sense, that our time on Earth is inevitably a period of deterioration, it is also an opportunity for creating new life and for taking each day as an indispensable challenge for renewal.

At all times of the year, but especially during the holiday period, we Americans are present at the gradual unveiling of a secret, but the nucleus of meaning - the essential truth of what is taking place - is ignored. However strenuously we insist that it is important work we do and that we merit the most tangible forms of salvation, present day America largely ignores what is meaningful while it attends slavishly to petty, prurient and greedy satisfactions. The world’s agonizing impact on our own personal lives is hardly examined. Lying in stupor, we proceed about our day-to-day affairs with nary a marginal tic of genuine reverence or worthy
consciousness.

The fearful anarchy confronting our world during this holiday period is vastly more ominous than it was even 50 years ago. It is now more far- reaching, extending not only between nations, but deep within them. It is a distinctly primordial anarchy, the murderous mob of the boys in William Golding’s novel, Lord Of The Flies, an impending chaos from which there will be no safety in weapons, no help from political authority, no convenient answers from science.

Should we fail to halt this anarchy, it will rage until every flower of culture is trampled. If it is accompanied by the continuing spread of weapons of mass destruction to Arab/Islamic countries or to movements that make a religion of annihilation, entire societies - especially Israel and the United States – may feel the effects of chemical, biological and nuclear violence.

Whoever has not felt the unique danger of our times palpitating under his or her hand has not fully understood what it means to be human. Now is the time for all Americans to recall what is truly important. Now, together with all other residents of this endangered planet, we must promptly decide whether we shall endure as a nation and as a species, or whether, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea, we will be erased.

Disabused of the quaint notion that the holiday period is a sacred and eternally recurring promise of permanence, we could finally acknowledge our personal and collective fragility and begin to look squarely at history’s most perilous crisis of human survival. Unless we all approach the season with a unique sense of awe in the world, with a sober awareness that G-d’s promise to America is contingent upon our responsibility to make the most of ourselves as persons, we will be eluded by each and every form of salvation.

It is time to make the souls of our citizens better. The known universe is said by astronomers to be about 68 billion light years “across,” yet here, in these United States, most citizens are still openly terrified to become persons. “I belong, therefore I am.” This is the unheroic credo of our country, a not-very-stirring manifesto that social acceptance is overwhelmingly vital (hence the ceaseless search for status through money) and that real happiness is solely the privilege of mediocrity.

One can be inconsequential anywhere, but personal sadness in America, a product of immobilizing anxieties, ritualized imitation and empty dreams, grows even more intense during the holiday period. At a time of year filled with lavish devotions of a pretended happiness, the audacity of an American who would dare stand apart and alone from the conforming mass and warn of an approaching chaos can never be tolerated.

The spectre of loneliness haunts the holiday period, yet all of the great religious leaders and founders sought their essential meanings “inside,” in seclusion, within themselves and in communion with G-d. To achieve any sense of real spirituality in life, even at this particular time of year, one must be willing to endure some loneliness. Nothing important, in science or industry or art or music or literature or medicine or philosophy can ever take place without loneliness. To be able to exist apart from the mass - from what Freud called the reconstituted “primal horde” – is indispensable to the very sort of intellectual breakthrough now needed to rescue an imperiled planet.

The shallow material world has infested our solitude, especially during the nation’s holiday season. Facing an indecent alloy of banality and apocalypse, we Americans seek both meaning and ecstasy in this world, but it is surely a vain effort. Rejecting all opportunities to disturb the universe, to take our G-d-given capacities seriously, we stubbornly insist upon dying slowly even as we desperately seek not to die at all.

It is not enough to claim that G-d is on our side, even during these holidays. Living in a most unsacrosanct moment, we Americans must recognize that although we are free as a PEOPLE, we are largely imprisoned as INDIVIDUALS. Before this can change, it will be necessary for us all to emerge from the low estate of mass society and to discover more authentic bases of status and immortality. Should we fail, our misunderstanding of the holiday period may push us unceremoniously toward greater unhappiness and to far more grievous spasms of war and terror.

 

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and has written widely on international relations and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs Analyst for The Jewish Press.

Questions & Answers

Friday, February 14th, 2003

Tu-BiShevat

QUESTION: I am intrigued by the fact that the New Year for trees is in the middle of the month and not at the beginning of a month, as all the other New Years. Even the gentiles begin their New Year at the start of a month. Do you have an explanation for this?

Pesach Bernstein

via e-mail

ANSWER: Our reader is obviously referring to the first Mishna in Tractate Rosh Hashana (2a), which lists the various New Years, each falling on a Rosh Chodesh ? lit., the head or beginning of the month ? with the [textual] exception of the New Year for trees, which falls on the 15th of Shevat.

In actuality, the New Year for festivals (regalim), the second of the New Years listed (which is also used to reckon the years of a king's reign), does not fall on a Rosh Chodesh either. The Gemara (ibid. 4a) asks, “How can the New Year for the festivals be on the first of Nissan, when surely it is on the 15th of Nissan? [The Torah states (Numbers 28:16-17), “In the first month, on the 14th day of the month, is the Passover [offering] to G-d. On the fifteenth day of this month is a festival; for a seven-day period matzot shall be eaten.”] Thus the festival that occurs in the first month of the year marks the New Year for festivals.

We also find two additional New Years not enumerated in our Mishna, and these do not fall on the first of the month either.

The Gemara (ibid. 7b) lists the New Year related to the omer ? the sacrifice that permitted one to partake of the newly harvested grains of the five species throughout the land ? as occurring on the 16th of Nissan, and the New Year for the shetei halechem (lit., the Two Loaves), brought on the 6th of Sivan, to permit the use of flour from newly harvested grains for the meal-offerings in the Beit HaMikdash.

The Gemara explains that these were not included in the Mishna as the Tanna only listed those that start on the previous evening.

Thus we see that Tu- BiShevat is not that unique. However, perhaps it appears to be so because it is the only New Year actually listed in the Mishna that does not occur on the first of the month, according to Beit Hillel, whose ruling we follow. Beit Hillel's reasoning is that sufficient rain has fallen by this time to enable trees to blossom. Therefore we set the New Year fortress at that point.

For a more esoteric understanding of the significance of the 15th of Shevat as the New Year for trees, we turn to the author of the hasidic work Ohev Yisrael, R. Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta, who discusses this matter. We glean from his words:

“Regarding the 15th of Shevat, we must know and understand why it is stated specifically there (in the Mishna), 'The New Year of the tree, according to Beit Hillel, is on the 15th of Shevat, while according to Beit Shammai ? it is on the first of Shevat.' It is also important to understand the reference to 'tree' in the singular, when it should have stated [the New Year of the] trees, in the plural.

“We must answer that it states in the Torah (Deuteronomy 20:19), 'For man is the tree of the field.' (Here the author is alluding to the Gemara in Ta'anit 7a.) Just as the tree possesses roots, branches, leaves and fruit, so does the Jew possess all these because of his good deeds. How are these drawn to man? They stem from their source, the root of the Jewish soul, which is the Holy Tree ? the Tree of Life under which all Creation's animals and birds of the skies seek shelter. It is the tree that is [heavenly] blessed so that all its shoots are like it.

“The word ilan, tree in Hebrew, is numerically equivalent to the two Holy Names, Havaya and Adnut (their combined total is 91). This is in accordance with the hidden meaning of 'Tzaddik katamar yifrach ? A righteous man shall blossom as the date tree…' (Psalms 93:13). Just as the palm tree has the means of propagating itself, so, too, do the righteous bring forth those that will propagate themselves.”

R. Avraham Yehoshua Heschel continues with a comparison in Tractate Rosh Hashana (10b-11a): There is a dispute between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua. R. Yehoshua says that the world was created in Nissan, and R. Eliezer says that the world was created in Tishrei. (Each of these two months is at the beginning of a different half of the year). He points out that both these statements are “the living words of G-d” ? both are truthful.

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