The Sacred Nature of Time and Calendar

January 19, 2018

Parshat Bo, this week’s Torah portion, contains part of the Passover story with which we have become so familiar because of the Haggadah.  The last of the ten plagues are sent upon the Jewish slaves in Egypt and the Jews flee in a hurry, without any time for their bread to rise.  This Torah portion lays out the laws of Passover, including duration of the holiday and prohibitions on leavened food.  

Tucked away in the text is the first mitzvah to be given to the Jewish people: to establish a Jewish calendar based on the cycle of the moon.  I found this an interesting mitzvah – and even more interesting given that it was the first mitzvah to be given to the people of Israel.  I have often learned about the sacred nature of time in Jewish practice.  The mitzvot surrounding Shabbat and Chagim are all intended, among other things, to mark time and make it holy.  However, it is only here in Parshat Bo that I have learned of the Jewish calendar itself as a sacred commandment.  

It is interesting that this parsha and this learning about the parsha would show up in my universe right now.  I am deep into discussion and analysis of next year’s school calendar. I am busy contemplating re-enrolment and what the next school year will look like. I am considering deeply the case for Jewish Education, as we ask you, our parent body, to entrust us with another year of the privilege to educate your children.  

There are many compelling reasons to choose Jewish Education for one’s child.  In a recent blog post in the Times of Israel, Dr. Erica Brown made a number of compelling arguments for committing to Day School education.  Among her reasons were: academics enriched with critical thinking, a treasured group of friends and an education for the soul.  Her arguments are convincing as she intelligently identifies the long term impact of Jewish education and the difficulty in sometimes only seeing the effects of the experience much after the school experience has ended.  

I would like to make an additional argument for Jewish Day School: the calendar.  The rhythm of our school calendar at Paul Penna DJDS makes us acutely aware of the rhythm of the Jewish year.  Our school holidays follow those of the Jewish calendar and allow all of us in our homes and at school the opportunity to be reminded about, to learn about and to practice Jewish customs, rituals and traditions that without the imposed break we may not experience in the same way.  Our calendar, with its natural ebbs and flows, infuses life and culture into our school environment.  We, as families and faculty, are driven by the waves of holidays and often find the realities of the calendar an opportunity to create communal experience rich in Jewish meaning.  

As we find ourselves in a long stretch with full weeks for learning, we are made aware of the stretch between the fall and spring.  When Passover arrives in 10 weeks time, we will be itching for a break.  It will be the Jewish holiday of Passover that gives us the needed change in pace that always comes at that time of year.  With this, our children will see the relevance of the Jewish calendar to their lives as they will recount the story from Parshat Bo, amongst which is the mitzvah of establishing a calendar.  

I see tremendous wisdom in the commandment to establish a calendar, as there is an intrinsic relationship between calendar and culture.  I feel that each day, month and year I live the rhythm of the Jewish Calendar, which is a direct product of my wholehearted commitment and involvement in Jewish Day School.  I deeply hope that, as you look at all the many reasons to trust us once again with the education of your children, you will count amongst your reasons the deep desire to live your life in the rhythm of the Jewish calendar, and you will give us at Paul Penna DJDS the tremendous honour to help you do that.