One of my favorite things I learned when I was farming is that one plants garlic in the late Fall and then it somehow knows when it's time to grow in the spring. It reminded me that the winter is a time of gestational growth. There is a deep aliveness within the frozen earth. I have been reflecting on this as we come to the end of the Hebrew month of Tevet.
This week is what is referred to as Shabbat Mevarchim/The Blessed Shabbat, by which we mean the shabbat when we bless the coming month. In the Jewish calendar, the increments of time keep track of one another such that the six days of the week are for the sake of shabbat. And shabbat tracks the new moon and in that way the months. And the months are what track our sacred times and ultimately our years. In many ways, how we do time is a model for how we are instructed to live in community. That we keep track of each other, pay attention to the cycles of our lives, and mark transitions in our lives with blessings.
There are two reasons I feel called to teach about Shabbat Mevachim in the month of Tevet. The first is because the blessing one says explicitly references the Exodus story. And it has increased resonance to say it as we read the story itself this week in parashat Va'era.
And the second is because the Tanakh only mentions the month of Tevet once. It is in the month of Tevet that Esther approaches King Ahasuerus and he makes her his queen (2:16). There is no explicit divine intervention in the book of Esther. Yet the Talmud comments that there is a hidden reason for the date of Esther's arrival in the palace. Why did she enter the king's house in Tevet? Tevet is a season when one body benefits from the warmth of another (B.T. Megillah 13a). Sexual innuendos aside, this is a cozy time of year.
The story of Esther is the garlic seed in our holiday cycle. Even as the days begin to lengthen, it would be too much to look ahead to spring and the Passover story. But the cathartic release of Purim, the humor and the creativity, that is all gestating within us all winter long, waiting to sprout. And this is not just true in the Talmudic imagination, but in our community, too. Stay tuned for an invitation to help plan this year's Purim party and be part of the shpil magic!
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom U'Mevorakh,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.