Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sharing ancient traditions

היום שני ימים בעמר
Today is two days of the omer
גבורה שבחסד
A day of strength in a week of loving kindness

One of the things I love about Jewish rituals is the many layers of the traditions brought by different interpretations through the centuries. Rabbi Arthur Green teaches that a bit of oil is left of the Torah from the fingertips of the generations as it passes through their hands. I see this also in our celebrations, as different times and places leave their mark on our holiday customs. The deeper the levels, the further back they go, the more intrigued I become. The most ancient ties, linking us back to our roots before Abraham, are the ones that resonate deeply.

Sukkot is the chag-the holiday-that seems to connect most directly to those ancient, pagan times. We shake the lulav, with its myrtle, willow, and palm branches, and the etrog, that special citron, in six directions--north, south, east, west, up down. We march in a circle asking that higher power to please, save us. However the early rabbis justify these rituals, it seems much like magic incantations that seem to hark back to an era that would predate the lech l'cha--the going out of Abraham.

But it is in Chanukah and, I now realize, Pesach, that our ancient rituals feel in sync with people all over the globe. As all my students can tell you, the lighting of the candles on Chanukah has little if anything to do with the story that is told. It is our tribe's ritual of bringing light into the season of darkness. It's a ritual manifested in Christianity with the lights of the Christmas tree and the Hindus with the fireworks of Diwali.

Just as the ancient peoples needed to bring in light to ward off the darkness, they also needed to mark and give thanks for the rebirth of plants and animals that comes with the spring season, bringing life and sustenance. Eggs as a symbol of new life, rebirth, and fertility permeate both Passover and Easter. In Torah time, the first of Nissan, the month of Passover and Spring is the beginning of the year. In the same spirit, the Persians/Iranian/Afghani celebration of No-rooz/Nowruz on the spring equinox to mark the beginning of their year.

I find strength in the rituals of my people and love being able to use them as an entry into the endless stream of time both forward and back. Seeing the connection with other cultures reminds me that global connections have an existence beyond this digital age, with roots in the ancient world.

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