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Re-Connecting to Nature

by Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz

  

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One of the striking phenomena of modern Orthodox life is how distant we are from nature.  In the ancient world, both among Jews and among the other nations of the world, people were very connected and sensitive to the cycles of the sun, moon, and the stars and the planets.  Today, even navigation is no longer done by the stars, but by machine. 

I remember when I was in Israel and looked up at the sky: thousands and thousands of stars!  This is what our forefathers saw every evening when they looked up at the night sky.  It is easy to forget our natural connection to the world, and how much we rely on the natural cycles and natural resources Hashem has given to us. All of our holidays and the cycles of Judaism are based on the natural cycles of the world. 

Of course, Pesach is about Yetziat mitzraim, the Exodus from Egypt, and Shavuot celebrates Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah.  Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret commemorate our wandering in the desert.  But, it is also true that Pesach is the beginning of the spring when the barley was harvested.  Shavuot was also the time of the harvesting of the wheat, and Sukkot is the ingathering of the produce and the fruit. 

It is easy to forget our natural connection to the world, and how much we rely on the natural cycles and natural resources Hashem has given to us
Last year, we had two months of Adar in the Jewish year.  Why do we have Jewish leap years in which we add an additional month of Adar?  Because the Torah says that Pesach must occur during the spring.  So, when Pesach gets a little too early in the solar calendar, we have to put in an extra month to push Pesach back into its proper alignment.

Why is it so important that Pesach be in the spring?  The Gemara says there's an intimate bridge between the physical structure of the universe and the spiritual universe.  What happens on this earth models the “spiritual vibe” that God is putting into the earth at that time.  For example, take freedom.  That will be manifested by the fact that the earth itself becomes liberated after a long cold winter, after it was dormant, to begin with productivity and growth.  Pesach occurs in spring because that’s the time of freedom. We judge the nature of the physical and spiritual “vibe” by the season in the land of Israel.  When it is spring there, Hashem puts freedom into the world, and it spreads from there to places like Australia or South Africa, where it is not spring at that season.  In eretz Yisrael, however, it must be springtime during Pesach, because what happens in nature is a mirror is a reflection of some deeper spiritual truth. 


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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Shevat
The eleventh month on the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to January-February.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Adar
The twelfth month on the Jewish calendar. This month (which falls out approx. February-March), is the most joyous month on the calendar due to the holiday of Purim which is on the 14th and 15th of this month.
Shacharit
Morning prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Shul
(Yiddish) Synagogue.
Shavuot
Early summer festival marking the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1312 BCE).
Hashem
"The Name." Out of respect, we do not explicitly mention G-d's name, unless in the course of prayer. Instead, "Hashem" is substituted.
Maariv
Evening prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Tefillah
Prayer. The Jewish Sages instituted three daily prayers, and an additional prayer on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
Tefillot
Plural form of Tefillah (Prayer). The Jewish Sages instituted three daily prayers, and an additional prayer on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
Shemini Atzeret
A joyous one-day autumn festival immediately following the holiday of Sukkot. Outside Israel this holiday is celebrated for two days, the second day is known as Simchat Torah.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
Pesach
Passover. A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Minchah
Afternoon prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
Yisrael
1. Additional name given by G-d to Patriarch Jacob. 2. A Jew who is not a Kohain or Levi (descendant of the Tribe of Levi).
Shema
The most fundamental Jewish prayer, recited twice daily. This prayer, of Biblical origin, professes the belief in G-d's absolute unity.