President’s Message – November 2011, Marcheshvan 5772
The holidays have ended and we enter the new year during the month of Marcheshvan, which means in Akkadian “the eighth month” of a year that starts with the spring and Nisan, the month with Passover. We call this month bitter, for ‘mar” means bitter in Hebrew. During this month, we will reflect on bitter moments, with a Kristallnacht commemoration, and besides Shabbat, we will have no religious holidays. Yet we may have wonderful moments during the month together. At Eastern’s Akus Gallery there will be an art exhibition on Ethiopian Jewry and their exodus to Israel during November. And many of us will be celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, after remembering the needs of our community during our WAIM Thanksgiving service and Walk for Warmth.
In my self-declared tradition of reading a book from the Bible beyond the Torah, this month I am looking into II Kings for inspiration. This book starts with the mystical ascent into heaven of Elijah the Prophet; he is said to have never died, enabling him to visit us at the sederim. His disciple, Elisha, is a miracle-worker, using artificial respiration to return to the living a dead son, curing a leper who bathes in the Jordan, avoiding the disease by not accepting gifts from the leper, feeding many with little food. The model of a prophet changes with the arrival of Isaiah, who first appears to warn against the siege of Israel by the Assyrians in the 8th century before the common era (BCE). II Kings concludes with the exile to Babylon, nearly 2600 years ago, in 586 BCE. Between the bookends of Elijah and Isaiah, we read of good and bad kings, often identified with their mothers, the idolatrous influence of Queen Jezebel (whose name gives us the word jazz), royal reforms and warfare between Israel, the northern kingdom, Judah and Jerusalem, and their neighboring kingdoms and empires. It is a wonder that we survived as a people given all of the worldly temptations taking us away from following our Creator.
Sections of this book appear throughout the year in our Shabbat and festival services. When we re-read the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, in the Torah in Vayera, this year on November 12, we also read in II Kings 4 about the resurrection by Elijah of a long-awaited son who suddenly died. On Shabbat Shekalim in February, when we read about the collections of dues for the Tabernacle in the desert, we also read for the haftorah, II Kings 12, on collecting dues for the Temple in Jerusalem. Before Pesah, when we read of cleansing our homes and ourselves, we read from II Kings 5 and II Kings 7 about how Elijah cured a leper and how Elisha predicted the end of a famine, involving the intervention of lepers. During Pesah, we read in II Kings 23 of how a king found a scroll of the covenant and rededicated the people and the Temple to the service of the Almighty.
As the days grow shorter and we long for light, please seek the comfort and warmth within our community. Let us know how we might rededicate ourselves to building a community that fulfills your spiritual and social needs. Happy Marcheshvan and Thanksgiving to you and yours.
David Stoloff, 2011-2012 President, Temple Bnai Israel, Willimantic, CT