February 2024

Letter from the Rabbi

Dear Temple Israel Community,

Hodesh Tov – Here’s to a good new month to you and yours!

  Again, we begin the month of February and very soon afterwards begin a new month in the Hebrew Calendar, Adar #1. Adar is the month in which Purim takes place, one of our most festive and joyous holidays that celebrates our salvation from near total destruction under the rule of the Persian Empire. However, this year is a leap year in the Hebrew calendar which means that we will not celebrate the festival of Purim in February, but rather towards the end of March. In the Jewish calendar which uses the moon’s cycle to mark time, when we have a leap year we add not simply one day to the end of February, but an entire extra month of Adar!

  If you were to choose a month of the year to double, Adar would be a good choice since we are told in the Mishnah “When we enter Adar” our joy increases! But why? What is it about this time of year that lends itself to joy? 

  For one, as I already mentioned Purim is a joyous holiday that celebrates an averted disaster which always makes for a good occasion to celebrate. Through a more naturalistic lens rather than a historical one, Adar is also the early Spring in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel). It is the time when the first edible crops of the Spring harvest can be found. So, our ancestors rejoiced to have made it through the Winter season. 

  This year, however, in addition to many spirited Shabbat services and a number of thought-provoking learning gatherings, this past month of January has been one of loss for our community and for the Jewish people. Here in the Binghamton area, we have buried more than a handful of our community members and relatives, may they rest in peace and may their memories be for blessing. In Eretz Yisrael, this past month has brought the worst casualties for Israelis since the dreadful day of October 7th which instigated this ongoing, heart-wrenching war. 

  So, this presents for us an acute challenge. How can we increase in joy (as we are taught to do in this season) while making room for our ongoing grief and sadness as we continue to follow the deadly proceedings of war and to remember those in our community whom we have lost? 

  On one level, this is a challenge for each of us to carry with us each day of our lives. How can we make room in our hearts for both grief and gratitude, for sadness and celebration? Simply by holding on to this question we create an opening for the possibility of holding such apparently paradoxical emotions together. 

  I will offer us two Torah teachings which I personally find to be resources for this difficult emotional/spiritual/human avodah (effort). The first comes from the name of the month of Adar. It is understood midrashically to mean Aleph – Dar – the One who is the Beginning Dwells. This is to say that perhaps the true cause of joy in this month of Adar is not our ancestral salvation from persecution or the promise of a bountiful Spring, but the simple truth that the One Who Created and Sustains the World Dwells with us here in this world, even in our grief and sadness, and every other difficult experience we encounter. 

  In a way, this first teaching is the same as the second one I offer now. Traditionally, when we attempt comfort mourners we utter the expression “HaMakom Yenakhem Etkhem” or “may The Place bring Comfort to You.” We refer to G-d here by the rare name of HaMakom – The Place. In a Midrash, the ancient rabbis asked “Why do we call G-d The Place?” Their answer comes from the Torah portion we will read during the first Shabbat of February:

מִזְבַּ֣ח אֲדָמָה֮ תַּעֲשֶׂה־לִּי֒ וְזָבַחְתָּ֣ עָלָ֗יו אֶת־עֹלֹתֶ֙יךָ֙ וְאֶת־שְׁלָמֶ֔יךָ אֶת־צֹֽאנְךָ֖ וְאֶת־בְּקָרֶ֑ךָ בְּכׇל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּֽיךָ׃

Make for Me an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you.

Exodus 20:21

  From this we learn that every single place, every physical place and every emotional place, from which people try to connect with the Source of Life, G-d can be found.

  In this spiritual truth, we can experience joy and gladness because even in the midst of challenging and sorrowful times, the Compassionate One is there with us.

Rabbi Micah R. Friedman

הרב מיכה שמחה פרידמן