President’s Message – February 2012, Shevat 5772
Every day now there is more light, earlier sunrises and later sunsets. To remind us that winter and the cold shall end, we celebrate our liberation from Egypt on Shabbat Shirah, February 4th this year, chanting the song of the sea, when we crossed the Sea of Reeds and left slavery. It is said that our ancestors would feed birds on Shabbat Shirah – in remembrance of the trees that grew miraculously in the Sea of Reeds to hold the waters back and whose seeds children would feed to birds. A few days later on the full moon of Shevat, February 7th this year, we celebrate Tu B’ Shevat, the Jewish Arbor Day, the new year for trees. Come join in the celebrations this month and share in exotic fruits that you may have only eaten on Tu B’ Shevat.
In my self-declared tradition of reading a book from the Bible beyond the Torah each month, this month I am looking into the book of Ezekiel for inspiration. We believe that Ezekiel prophesized during the 6th century before the common era (BCE), about 2600 years ago, writing as a member of the ruling class sent into exile to Babylon. The Book of Ezekiel provides haftorah readings about ten times during the year, with a good number of these readings on special shabbatot and holidays.
Ezekiel’s visions are often mystical and oriented to a return of the exiles to a land blessed by the Divine; it is a strongly Zionist text. As spring begins between Purim and Pesah, we read during haftoraot from Ezekiel 16:24 – “I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land” and in Ezekiel 45-46 of the instructions in rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem; both are messages from those returning from exile. During the intermediate days of Pesah, we read from Ezekiel of the resurrection of the dead from a valley of dry bones. The last verse of this haftorah is used at Yad VaShem in Israel – “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD” (Ezekiel 37:14). The haftorah reading on the first day of Shavuot is from the opening of the Book of Ezekiel, describing the merkabah, the divine throne-chariot, an inexplicable image of a flying vehicle surrounded by four creatures glowing in a stormy night. Our ancestors would be careful about studying this chapter for some feared that it would lead to madness; it was used by Ezekiel to display his power as a prophet. During the intermediate days of Sukkot, we read in Ezekiel 38 of the final battle over the land of Israel before the restoration of a peaceful era. The Book of Ezekiel (chapters 47-48) closes with a description of the land allocated to the tribes and their boundaries, but with the recognition that “you shall allot it as a heritage for yourselves and for the strangers who reside among you. You shall treat them as Israelite citizens; they shall receive allotments along with you among the tribes of Israel” (Ezekiel 48: 22). This concern for the strangers among us should inspire us also to remember those in our community who need our support.
My best wishes to you and yours for a month of joyous singing and a warm and fruitful Tu B’Shevat. – David Stoloff, 2011-2012 President, Temple Bnai Israel, Willimantic, CT