Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No Kidding

Obviously, this time of year is celebrated by millions as the time when one year ends and the next begins. Most people assume that there is no recognition of this concept in Jewish thought. The two times associated with new beginnings are thought to be Nisan, the first of the months, and Tishrei, the beginning of a new year. Nisan marks the beginning of spring and the beginning of growth, and Tishrei marks the beginning of gathering in what one has worked for all year.

The truth is that, although not symbolic of a new year, this time period is, in fact, associated with a time of new beginning by Chazal. The Midrash (Tanchuma Haazinu 1) compares the life cycle of a human to the yearly cycle. While doing this, it states that after the individual has received his judgment from Tishrei (apparently enacted in Cheshvan) he begins anew in Teves. The Midrash mentions that this is why the mazal of Teves is a G'di, a kid. Just like a kid will develop into a mature goat, so too, this person is starting with a fresh start and able to mature.

Perhaps, the association follows the fact (certainly the secular new year does) that this time of year does mark a time of new growth. The sun's position begins to decline in the sky starting from late June. It continues to get lower and lower in the sky until right around the beginning of Teves. At that point the sun stops and reverses itself and begins to ascend higher and higher every day until late June. The days get longer and the nights shorter.

While no actual agricultural growth can be seen at this time, the sun's position allows one to see that things will turn around and the winter will end (hopefully sooner than later). This may not be a significant renewal to warrant a new year or beginning of the months, but it allows one to see that even though this time marks the beginning of the harshest season, it also marks the fact that that is already beginning its end. Eventually, when the sun is high enough the earth will have heated up enough and the spring will come around again!!!

8 weeks of not missing Tachanun on a weekday

An interesting phenomenon occurs in any year containing two Shabb'tot Chanukka, such as this year: From after the end of Chanukka until the end of Shvat is a period of 8 consecutive weeks in which there is no calendrical reason for omitting Tachanun on any weekday. This is the longest consecutive period of not missing Tachanun.

As we will not have two Shabb'tot Chanukka again until 17 years from now (5787), so too we will not again have 8 consecutive weeks of Tachanun until 17 years from now.
Thanks to Shtikler, Rabbi Heber, and Tzvi Goldman for discussing this issue with me 3 years ago.

Friday, December 18, 2009

קדוש לבנה Advisory

The מולד for this month was at 12:59am Thursday morning, ירושלים time. That translates to 5:59pm EST. If we were to subtract the 21 minutes from the conversion to Standard Time, that would make the מולד at 5:38pm. Many shuls on the Eastern Time Zone might very well be leaving shul at exactly that time on מוצאי שבת. Although I have previously advocated adjusting for the 21 minutes, my "Rabbinic Advisory board" has advised against it for concerns regarding the Equation of Time which at present, I don't quite understand.

Some facts about this שבת

  • This is the last time we will have two שבתות חנוכה for another 17 years
  • I believe this is the longest possible laining we can have without a double פרשה
146 from מקץ
50 from נשא and בהעלתך
=196 פסוקים