Friday, February 15, 2013

Two Obscure Fasts: Burying Conflict and Burial Societies

Although Valentine’s Day is behind us, you might want to catch up on why I think it’s not only OK for Jews to celebreate Valentine’s Day, it fits perfectly into the Jewish calendar, especially this year, when we are fast closing in on Purim (next weekend) and this week we read the portion Terumah, which literally means “gifts of love.” In ancient times, the rabbis instituted two fast days that occur at this time of year, and one of them, on the 9th of Adar, is all about conflict resolution – in other words, taking those gifts of the heart and directing them toward building a peaceful world.  On Shabbat morning, I’ll explain more about this obscure fast day and why some are calling next Tuesday, the 9th of Adar a “Jewish Day of Constructive Conflict.”

The other obscure fast day set to occur this weekend is Adar 7, traditionally the yahrzeit of Moses (and also his birthday). Some say that the timing has to do with the fact that next week’s portion, Tetzave, is the only one in the last four books of the Torah that does not include Moses’ name.  Moses’ yahrzeit is also considered a time when communities call attention to the important work done by the local burial society, the Hevra  Kadisha.   Why?  The most common explanations: When Moses led the Exodus from Egypt, he carefully brought Joseph’s bones out with them. Then in return for that act of kindness (which Jewish tradition considers to be among the greatest acts of kindness of all – a Hesed Shel Emet) , tradition says that when Moshe died at 120, God Him/Herself served as the Hevra Kadisha for him, preparing his body and burying it with love and care.

This Sunday night, our local Hevra Kadisha will gather for its annual dinner.  I am proud of the ongoing support TBE lends to this community organization and of the several TBE members who are actively involved in this loving work.  “Love is as strong as death,” says the Song of Songs, and for Jews, Valentine’s Day extends beyond the grave.

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