Moon Musings, the Hebrew Calendar, and "Why ZMANIM?"- Part 2

11 Tevet 5776

by Rabbi Daria

Let's continue from the prior blog post:

We set the stage for what it means that the Hebrew calendar is a luni-solar calendar, and how this calendar is particularly structured to balance the differences that arise between the number of days in a solar calendar with the number of days in a lunar calendar.

But what does this have to do with us, and with ZMANIM?

Through ZMANIM community we aim to reconnect and attune to the cycles of the natural world that in reality we deeply rely on. These can include what's taking place on a large-scale sense, like the turning of the planets.  It can also help us connect to what is going on at any moment, season, or time in the most up-close and detailed sense, such as noticing the myriad miracles of the plant and animal life that surround us and live with us. 

If we translate the words "moment," "season," or "time" into Hebrew, we can find one word that captures them all: zman.  This is the same word that falls towards the end of the brakha/blessing that we call "She'he'khe'yanu." We may remember singing it: "she'he'kheyanu, v'kiyamanu, v'higi'anu, la'zman ha'zeh!"  "May we open our hearts in gratitude that we are alive and have arrived at this moment/season/time!"  It's what we recite when we do something for the first time, whether it's the first time ever (like when my 4-year old son Zev started to ride a peddle bicycle after having only used a balance bike until that point), or the first time in a particular year- like the first night of Rosh haShannah, Hanukkah, or Passover.

So why have I started a number of emails with a question about having noticed the moon? As an attempt, through this electronic format that we have, to invite you to attune to the planets that rule our Hebrew calendar.  It may seem hard to know how this calendar is shifting through the seasons if you don't have an app with the Hebrew dates loaded on your phone’s calendar, or you don't have a paper calendar that can be picked up in many synagogues around this country, often as a gift from a local funeral home. 

However, although these can be handy tools, we don't really need either of them. Without a copy of our civic calendar to help us stay on track with where we are in a particular month, we have no grounding for knowing if we are beginning the month, or ending it.  We can know when the days are starting and drawing to a close, and we can tell what season we are in, but we can’t know anything beyond that.  Even something as set as Thanksgiving: other than knowing that we are in late-autumn, how can we tell when the fourth Thursday falls?

For the Hebrew calendar, on the other hand, we need no paper, and no electronics.  We know that when it’s a new moon in the autumn, then one of those new moons is going to be Rosh haShannah, our new year, and 15 days later, on the full moon we’ll start to celebrate Sukkot.  The next new moon and month has no holidays other than our wonderful, much needed Shabbat, but once the moon again disappears and then re-appears, we know that the month is starting in which we will celebrate Hanukkah.  A little over a week after the full moon we will begin lighting Hanukkah candles, and that will take us into the early days of the next month and the next new moon.  Watching the moon grow full and then wane, we will enter the month in which- on the full moon- we celebrate the birthday and new year of the trees.  Just about one month later, also on the full moon, we celebrate Purim, and the month after that, also on the full moon, we celebrate Passover.  If we count from the new moon that fell two weeks before Passover, and we count for seven more new moons, we will find ourselves on the new moon of Rosh haShannah. And so we begin again.  Such is the flow of the Hebrew calendar.  With a holiday during many months of the year, and holidays that are often distinctly connected to the size of the moon, we need no paper nor electronics to know where we are in the year. 

All we need to do is to look up at the vast sky, and to notice what we see. Whether it's day or night we can ask: where is the moon in the sky? How large is she?  Is she waxing or waning? Follow that cycle and you will soon find yourself naturally attuned to the turning of our planet and our place in the solar system, as well as the flow of our holidays from month to month, and our relationship to the seasons, and what we can expect and hope for within them. (Some of our ritualized blessings also change throughout the seasons and reflect whether it's appropriate to ask for rain or for dew).

There is a rhythm that we are all part of, and our Hebrew calendar invites us to sink into it.  We don't need to just be ruled by the clock of the work day and week, and when our vacation time is and how that coordinates or not with children's schooling.  When we look up into the sky and connect with the moon we can receive many gifts: 1) those moments of awe that so many have when taking time with the moon; 2) a reorientation to our place in this magnificent universe through connecting to the stars of the night sky as well! 3) a place in the simultaneously ancient and wide chain of those generations of Jews that have come before us as well as those who presently are living in a rhythm that is rooted in the turning of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun, moment by moment.

So in between the clouds that have been blessing us with rain most recently, have you noticed the moon? As we approach the middle of the month of Tevet we can watch her growth and anticipate her impending fullness. In just about 1 month, on the 15th of Shevat (Tu b'Shevat), Jews around the world will be celebrating the New Year (or birthday) of the trees on the full-moon of Shevat. Our next Sunday Together b'Teva (in Nature) gathering on January 17 will be focusing on this theme, so be sure to let us know if you'll be joining us!

May we each remember to look up at the sky and to search out that shining, mysteriously glowing light that can help us attune to the universe as we open to the depth of each particular zman (time/moment/season).