Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Rarest Jewish Trifecta

Amidst all the hubbub of the Israeli elections, it’s barely been noticed that this weekend we will experience the rarest of Jewish seasonal trifectas: Rosh Hodesh Nisan, Shabbat Hahodesh and the 1st day of spring will coincide.

In the 21st century, Rosh Hodesh Nisan has come out on Shabbat Hahodesh three times: in 2001, 2005, and 2008. Future occurrences in the 21st century will take place in 2021, 2025, 2045, 2048, 2052, 2072, 2075, 2079, and 2099.  Whenever that happens, we read from three Torah scrolls, another rarity, which we’ll do this week.

But how often does that take place on the date of the vernal equinox? Just this year and in 2020. That’s it.  Twice in a century.

Let me throw in another spectacular alignment.  This Friday, spring will commence at exactly 6:45 pm (EDT).  Now that’s well into Shabbat in Israel and elsewhere, but here in Stamford the candlelighting time is 6:48, almost to the minute exactly when spring will be sprung.

And to top it all off, snow is expected to be falling here at precisely that hour.  I can hear God laughing.

Oh yes, and there is also a total solar eclipse that night.  The next solar eclipse coinciding with a vernal equinox will not happen for another 19 years – which is precisely the duration of the Jewish calendar’s cycle (7 leap years occur in those 19 years).

So why is all of this significant?  When the vernal equinox, called Tekufat Nisan, falls on the first of Nisan, there is a special blessing, as detailed in this essay by Jill HammerBaruch ata adonai, eloheinu melekh ha’olam, oseh vereishit. Blessed are You, God, sovereign of the world, who makes creation. Hammer created an entire ritual to mark this occasion.

In a year of bountiful precipitation in Israel and here in this corner of the Diaspora, with the flowers beginning to proclaim the reemergence of life with incredible color, we can’t allow this rare trifecta to pass unnoticed. As we ruminate over how wrong the exit polls were and the fallibilities of human calculation, we can’t allow ourselves to miss this prime example of nature’s spectacular synchronicity.

In Pirke Avot, Rabbi Eleazar Chisma, himself an astronomer, called the calculation of equinoxes “the side-dish of wisdom,” of far less significance than actual Torah law. But at a time when so much is uncertain in the political world, we need to turn to the natural cycles of our planet, the sun, moon and stars to find some comfort and unity in their consistency – and to treasure this fragile ecological balance.
So this Shabbat, let’s take a moment to set aside our differences, share a deep sense of wonder as to the mystery of natural regeneration and rebirth and the never-ending promise of spring.  Together we should stop whatever we’re doing, whether at synagogue, at the mall or at the beach, and look up in amazement toward the sky – once the snow stops falling, that is.

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