Holiday E-shiurim

Purim: A Holiday is Born, Forever

By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb

Purim – A Holiday is Born Source Sheet
Purim – A Holiday is Born Shiur

Purim is a strange holiday – fun and “funny” at the same time. It is not commanded by the Torah, it lasts only one day, it has neither prohibitions nor Hallel (Psalms of praise), and God’s name is not mentioned in Megillat Esther, the reading of which is the focus of the celebration. The name Esther itself suggests “hidden,” we disguise ourselves with masks, and the story of the Jews being saved is nahafoch hu, a turning of the tables and quite the opposite of what Haman had planned. As we shall see, even Purim’s fate is different from that of the other holidays.

Purim is well known for the joy with which it is celebrated. The mood starts ahead of time – simcha is welcomed from the beginning of the month of Adar (Source #1). The Megilla reading is interrupted noisily each time Haman’s name is mentioned and the “mitsva” of drinking alcohol until one cannot distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai” is also “fulfilled” with enthusiasm by those with little connection to Torah and mitsvot. Even those who come to hear kri’at haMegillah often lose interest once the ten sons of Haman have been hung and the Jews have defeated those who sought to destroy them (Esther 9:1-17). The drama is over, the rest seems dry; administrative details. Yet the second half of Chapter 9 is fascinating because it gives us the genesis, the creation, of the holiday we now celebrate, step by step, including the four central mitsvot of Hag HaPurim: 1) Mikra Megilla (reading the Megilla); 2) Seudat Purim (the festive meal during the day); 3) Mishloach manot ish l’re’ehu (sending portions/gifts to one’s friends; and 4) Matanot l’evyonim – gifts for the poor.

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The Jewish Calendar: As Early and Late as it Gets

By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb

The Jewish Calendar As Early and Late as it Gets Source Sheet (pdf)
The Jewish Calendar As Early and Late as it Gets (pdf)

purimMuch has been made of the fact that Pesach, last March 26, and Rosh Hashanah, on September 5 (2013), were the earliest on the Gregorian calendar since 1899 and the earliest these holidays will fall until 2089.  We can add to this the rare coincidence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving (November 28) and even the recent Tu B’Shvat, on January 16, actually a day later than in 1900.  But while many articles, blogs and emails celebrate these facts, few, if any, really explain them.

The calendar in Judaism, as indeed in many cultures, is not simply an administrative tool; it can also be an expression of national identity.  In the past certain nations, e.g. France in 1793 and the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, asserted their sovereignty by instituting new, original calendars.  The children of Israel were instructed to adopt a new calendar, sovereignty in time, even before they began their departure from Egypt (Ex. 12:1-3).  Rashi’s first comment on the Torah is to explain why the Torah did not begin with the command of the calendar (Source 1).

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The Miracle of the Oil – Why is Hanukkah Connected with Fire and Why is it Eight Days?

By Dr. Joshua Kulp

The Miracle of the Oil Sourcesheet (pdf)
The Miracle of the Oil E-shiur (pdf)

The roots of Hanukkah as a holiday celebrating a historical event are fairly clear.  In the year 166-165 B.C.E., the Hasmoneans (called Maccabees in Greek sources) led a rebellion against the Greeks which culminated in the rededication of the Temple on the 25th of the month of Kislev.  Subsequently, the Hasmoneans and their descendants established an eight day holiday to commemorate this occasion and to instill loyalty in their dynasty.  This extra-biblical holiday came to be known as Hanukkah, which means rededication.

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Simhat Torah: Are There Limits on Innovation?

By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb

Simchat Torah: Are There Limits on Innovation? Sources (pdf)
Simchat Torah: Are There Limits on Innovation? E-shiur (pdf)

simchat torah dancingRecently I heard a discussion on whether we can declare a new Jewish holiday.  In fact Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is a newly-created holiday, to celebrate the rebirth of an independent Jewish State.  Needless to say, how it is defined and celebrated continues to be the subject of much debate – halakhic, theological and political.

Simhat Torah is a “recent” holiday, if it should be considered a separate holiday at all.  It has no basis in the Torah and is in fact an embellishment of Shemini Hag Ha’Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot.  It has no separate identity liturgically – it is called “Yom HaShemini Hag Ha’Atseret hazeh (zman simhatenu)” in the Amidah and the Kiddush.  The name Simhat Torah was apparently first used in the Geonic period (8th – 10th centuries), in Bavel and Eretz Yisrael and is found in Rashi’s Siddur (11th century, Ashkenaz).   And the practices we now associate with it developed at different times and places, in the Geonic period and later.

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Freedom and Necessity at Mount Sinai

By Rabbi Shmuel (Richie) Lewis, Rosh Yeshiva

Freedom and Necessity at Mt. Sinai Sources (pdf)
Freedom and Necessity at Mt. Sinai E-shiur (pdf)

grain shavuotOne of the most famous images in the Talmud is that portrayed by Rav Avdimi in Shabbat 88a; G-d held Mt Sinai over the heads of the Children of Israel and threatened: if you accept the Torah – fine, but if not – this will be your burial spot.  Rav Avdimi derives this from the words in Exodus 19:17 b’tahtit hahar (see source #1).  Rav Avdimi was not the first sage to use the image of the mountain being held over the heads of the children of Israel.  Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael (a tannaitic midrash on the book of Sh’mot) is probably the earliest source to interpret the phrase b’tahtit hahar as implying that the Children of Israel stood under an uprooted Mt Sinai (see source #2).  According to this midrash, exposed to a host of frightening natural phenomena (meteors, quaking, thunder, lightning), the people huddle together underneath the mountain.  The darshan reads tahtit not as the “foot” of the mountain, but as the “underside,” and explains that the mountain was uprooted to provide a secure place for Israel in the face of these frightening phenomena.  Israel voluntarily goes under the mountain.  The image here is one of protection, reassurance and playful intimacy (Let me see your face, hear your voice, etc).

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