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12 April, 201112 April, 2011 0 comments Seasons in the Bible Land Seasons in the Bible Land

During the last several weeks, the regular weekly reading of the Torah was accompanied by a series of special readings, starting with Parshat Shekalim that announces the annual obligation to pay the ritual half shekel tax for the maintenance of the Temple. In so doing, these readings proclaim that this year's holy season of Passover has begun.


In practical terms, in every Jewish home, this is the time to clean house. Chametz, or leavening, permitted throughout the year, suddenly becomes a thing of dread-forbidden in any quantity. At an increasing pace, culminating on the night before Passover, Jewish households search out even the smallest speck of Chametz and cast it out. This week, a neighbor removed the seats and mats from his car, practically to the rocker panels, thoroughly cleaning all traces of cookies, chips, and cake left by his children to and from school.


Most of us, however, wait until after Purim. Purim provides an opportunity to get rid of lots of Chametz-cakes, cookies, pasta, cereal, whiskey-anything with a leavening agent has got to go. We even give it away to our neighbors as "gifts of food". This is a perfect time for a celebration because, at least in my house, after Purim it all gets tossed.


The dietary restriction on eating leavened products extends beyond "bread" per se, and attaches to the active ingredient, the leavening agent referred to as Chametz. Often defined as a souring or

5 December, 20105 December, 2010 0 comments Seasons in the Bible Land Seasons in the Bible Land

Throughout Jewish traditional literature, the relationship between joy and caution remains one of the central themes. In the midst of the joyful, our sages counseled us to remember that "this too shall pass." So, too, we find this theme reflected in our celebration of Hanukkah. While the early historians, such as Josephus, focused on the military campaigns between the Seleucids and the Hashmonians, the Talmud focuses on the laws of placing, lighting, and counting the festive lights. In fact, these histories mention nothing of the miracle cruse of oil, while the Talmud is silent on the military victories and the triumph of Jews over the Greeks.

Speaking generally, the Talmud says that there are three things that are good in moderation but bad in excess: salt, wine, and humility. It goes without saying that fire is clearly a member of that group. As a result, the sages writing about the Festival of Lights would focus on the miracle of Light in both a deep as well as surface sense. The sages specify where and when the candles are to be lit, with the primary intention that they shall be safe. Light in the small is an incredible gift to humanity. It gives warmth and glow to those who use it wisely. It cooks our food, it illuminates our manuscripts, it pushes back darkness in the literal as well as figurative sense. However, like many things in life, it is also taken for granted. Therefore the sages instituted the traditional recitation of the "rules" f

13 January, 201013 January, 2010 0 comments Seasons in the Bible Land Seasons in the Bible Land

Although in Europe and North America January is associated with winter's extreme cold, here in the Holy Land January marks the beginning of the wet growing season.  The colors of The Land are brilliant shades of greens and rich browns, unlike the grays and whites associated with winter. Moreover, from mid January on, the days are getting noticeably longer while sunset gets later. Unlike elsewhere, here in The Land, winter is a time of transition from dark to light, from dormancy to vibrancy.

From a Biblical perspective, the night skies of January are full of concern.  In a very short time, relatively speaking, the First of Nissan, and Passover two weeks later, will be upon us.  And it is at this time that astronomers in Biblical times would turn their attention to the sky at dawn full of concern.  What they were looking for and why they were concerned?

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