Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Passover: The Jewish Spring Holiday


 The Holiday of Matzot

 G-d's name for the holiday we call "Passover" (Pesah) is Hag HaMatzot -- the Holiday of Matzas (because the Matza represents our trust in G-d because the Children of Israel left Egypt without letting their dough rise) and we call it "Passover" because G-d passed over our houses when sending the plagues on Egypt.

From Slavery to Nationhood

Plagues and Mirrors

The story of Passover really starts with G-d telling Avraham (Abraham -- who was born in the year 1948 from the creation of the world or about 1812 BCE -- Before the Common Era) in the Brit bein haBetarim (the covenant of the pieces) that his descendants would be strangers in a land that wasn't theirs. Avraham's grandson Yaakov (Jacob) had 4 wives -- Rahael and Lea and their maidservants, Bilha and Zilpa. Between them, they had 12 sons. Yaakov loved Yoseph (Joseph) more than his other sons and gave him a striped coat. The other brothers were jealous and plotted to kill Yoseph. When he came to the field to tell them something their father had asked him to tell them, they attacked him and threw him into a pit.

The brothers then sold him to Yishmaelites who sold him in Egypt. Through a series of events, including his "master's" wife trying to seduce him, being thrown in jail by his "master" (Potifar), his interpreting dreams first for two of Pharaoh's servants then, two years later, for Pharaoh himself, Yoseph rose from lowly slave to second only to Pharaoh in the Egyptian hierarchy.

When famine struck Canaan, where Yaakov and his family lived, they were forced to come to Egypt for food (because of Yoseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dream, Egypt knew to store up on food for the coming famine) and, after several tests to see if they had matured enough to accept him, Yoseph revealed himself to his brothers and the entire family, 70 souls, moved down to Egypt.

 Eventually, the Children of Israel (another name of Yaakov) multiplied and the new King of Egypt (also called "Pharaoh") was concerned that they would join Egypt's enemy in time of war, so he plotted with his advisers to trick them into slavery. The Children of Israel spent 210 years in slavery. In those 210 years, they suffered mightily under the whips of the Egyptians. 130 years after Yaakov and his family came to Egypt, a baby was born to Amram and his wife Yocheved.

Yocheved was the daughter of Yaakov's son Levi and Amram was Levi's grandson. They already had two children, a 6 year old daughter Miriam and a 3 year old son Aharon. Then Pharaoh decreed that all the sons born to the children of Israel should be thrown in the Nile river and drowned. So Amram separated from his wife because he didn't want to lose a child that way. Miriam convinced her father to return by saying to him, "Pharaoh decreed only on the boys; by staying away, you are decreeing on the girls too."

Amram returned and 6 months later a baby boy was born. Because he was premature, they were able to hide him in the Nile in a basket made of reeds. One morning, Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, was bathing in the River when she found the baby and named him Moshe. She adopted him and Miriam, who was always keeping an eye on her baby brother, asked Batya if she wanted a wet nurse, so Batya hired Yocheved (the baby's own mother, unbeknown to Batya) to nurse the infant. Moshe grew up in the palace of the Pharaoh.

But one day, he saw and Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave and he beat the overseer to death and buried him in the sand. He knew that he would be discovered one day, so he ran away. Eventually, he ran to Midyan where he met the daughters of Yitro (Jethro) the priest of Midyan. The women were shepherding their father's sheep and were being hassled by male shepherds. Moshe helped the daughters of Yitro and went home with them.

Moshe eventually married Tzippora, one of Yitro's daughters. He lived in Midyan and shepherded sheep for many years. One day, when Moshe was 80 years old, one of his little lambs got lost. Moshe sent the other shepherds home with the other sheep and, in the rain, climbed the nearby mountain looking for the lamb. He looked all night long and into the dark morning hours. Just as dawn arrived, Moshe found the lamb shivering from the cold and rain. Moshe picked the lamb up and put him under his coat. He climbed down the mountain, holding the lamb all the way. When he got down to the bottom of the mountain, he saw a burning bush. The bush was on fire, but it wasn't being consumed. Suddenly, Moshe heard a voice from the bush. It was G-d speaking to him. G-d told Moshe to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Children of Israel go. Moshe went and Pharaoh said, "no". So G-d sent 10 plagues against the Egyptians. After each plague, Moshe again asked Pharaoh to let the Children of Israel go and each time he refused.

These are the ten plagues:

  1. Blood -- the Nile River was turned into blood, but for the Children of Israel it remained water. 
  2. Frogs -- there were frogs everywhere -- it started with one frog, but every time some hit a frog, it split in two and became two frogs. 
  3. Lice -- there was an infestation of lice all over Egypt. 
  4. Wild Animals -- they roamed the streets of Egypt. 
  5. Cattle disease -- all the cattle started dying from disease, so they couldn't be eaten. 
  6. Boils -- the Egyptians began breaking out in huge boils all over their bodies. 
  7. Hail -- big hailstones with fire (the hail didn't melt and the water didn't put out the fire) fell on Egypt. 
  8. Locust -- waves of locust infested the fields of the Egyptians. 
  9. Darkness -- there were 9 days of total darkness, each 3 days was worse than the last 3 days with the darkness being so thick on the last 3 days that the Egyptians couldn't move. It was light for the Children of Israel. 
  10. The plague of the first born -- All the first born sons of the Egyptians started dying. 

Because Pharaoh was a first born son, he got very nervous at this last plague and told Moshe to take the Children of Israel out of Egypt. They left so quickly that their dough didn't have a chance to rise and it baked on their baked, making matzo instead of bread. The holiday of Pesah (Passover) marks the time when the Children of Israel became a nation. A few weeks later, they stood at Mount Sinai and received the Tora (the Laws) from G-d.

Sukkot and the Happy Holidays


 Z'man Simhateinu -- The Time of our Joy

Sukkot begins on the 15th of Tishrei and continues for 7 days. On Sukkot, we build a Sukka, a temporary house, where we eat (and, in some cases, sleep) for 7 days. We also get the "Arba Minim" -- Four "Types" (of plants) -- Lulav (Palm Frond), Hadassim (Myrtle), Aravot (Willow) and Etrog (Citron -- like a large lemon). The Arba Minim are shaken together (after a blessing) all the days of Sukkot (except for Shabbat -- the Sabbath). The first day of Sukkot (the first two days outside of Israel) are Yom Tov (literally "Good Day" but used colloquially to mean the holiday days when television, cars, etc. are not used) days. The rest of the days are "Hol HaMoed" -- "Weekday Holiday" -- kind of an oxymoron, but they are days that we sit in the Sukka (and "shake the lulav") but can go to work, drive, watch TV, etc. The 7th Day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabba The day of great praising. On Hoshana Rabba, branches of willow are laced together and hit against a surface while saying a verse. This is reminiscent of the Temple service (Sukkot is the Harvest Holiday, one of the 3 Pilgrimage Holidays during which Jews congregated in Jerusalem in the time of the Temple). Immediately upon the completion of Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret/Simhat Tora begins. In Israel, these two days are combined into one, but in the diaspora (outside of Israel), they are two separate days. Both are Yom Tov days. Shmini Atzeret is the additional 8th day that G-d asked us to stay in Jerusalem (the 7 days of Sukkot represented all the nations of the world, but Shmini Atzeret was a time for us to spend with G-d, Our Father, The King). Simhat Tora, which is a separate holiday for the diaspora, is the day in which the Tora (the 5 books of Moses, the Pentateuch, which is read section by section on Shabbats throughout the year) ends and begins the cycle all over again. There is dancing and singing with the Tora (Simhat Tora means joy of the Tora). In some places, the streets outside synagogues are closed off and the congregants celebrate in the streets.

Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year)


 The Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashana literally means the head of the year. It is the first day of the Jewish Year and the first day of the ten days of penitence. These ten days begin the Tishrei (first month of the Jewish Year, which usually coincides with September and October) holiday season (which ends with Simhat Tora on the 23rd of Tishrei).

Rosh Hashana: the Preparation

Rosh Hashana is a time for introspection and prayer. Because of this, Jews around the world prepare for Rosh Hashana. Sephardic Jews (Jews who originally came from Spain) get up early throughout the month of Elul (the month before Rosh Hashana) to say Slihot (prayers requesting forgiveness for our sins). Ashkenazic Jews (Jews from Eastern Europe and Germany) say Slihot from the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana. In addition, Ashkenazic Jews also blow the shofar (the ram's* horn blown on Rosh Hashana) during the month of Elul.

Rosh Hashana: The Day

Rosh Hashana, like all Jewish holidays, begins at sundown. Right around this time, evening services begin at synagogues around the world. At dinner, after synagogue services, kiddush (a blessing over wine that sanctifies the day) is recited, just as it is recited on other Jewish holidays and Shabbat (the Sabbath). And, again just as is done on Shabbat and holidays, a blessing is made over Halla (bread). During the rest of the year, Halla is generally braided, but for Rosh Hashana, the Halla is baked in a circle to represent the cycle of the year. On Rosh Hashana, the halla is dipped in honey as a symbol for a sweet year. Then a slice of apple (or a new fruit -- a fruit that one hasn't eaten yet that year -- like a pomegranate) is dipped into the honey and a blessing asking for a sweet year is recited.

On the days of Rosh Hashana (there are two days of Rosh Hashana), services begin in the synagogue much like every Jewish holiday and Shabbat. But in the later part of the services, there are more prayers and the Shofar, a Ram's horn*, is sounded. The total number of blasts on the Shofar adds up to 100 per day. In the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashana, Tashlikh (a prayer said at a body of water) is said. In large Jewish communities, synagogue members often congregate together at the nearest body of water to pray together. It is a custom during Tashlikh to drop bread crumbs, which symbolizes getting rid of our sins, into the water.

 * While a Ram's horn is the traditional horn used as a Shofar (because of the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac), other kosher mammals' horn may be used.

After Rosh Hashana: What comes next?

Tishrei is the Month for Jewish Holidays

The 10 days of Penitence ends on the 10th or Tishrei, which is Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a fast day. People spend the entire day praying. Many people dress in white to represent purity and our similarity to angels. Five days after the high holy days, with their introspection and somber mood, comes Sukkot, a holiday that is called "the time of our joy". Sukkot is the harvest holiday and one of the pilgrimage holidays. In ancient Israel, people would go to Jerusalem on the pilgrimage holidays and worship at the Holy Temple. The holiday season of Tishrei ends with Sh'mini Atzeret (the additional 8th day after the 7 days of Sukkot) and Simhat Tora. Simhat Tora is a day for celebration and dancing and singing with the Tora scrolls. When we read the Tora, each week we read a different section of the Tora. On Simhat Tora, we read the final section, which describes Moses's death, and then begin over again with the story of the Genesis. After all this holiday revelry, is it any wonder that the next month, Heshvan, has no holidays?

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Favorite Jewish Music


I Love Jewish Music!

this lens' photo
I began getting into Jewish Music with the group "Safam". I actually sang solo on one of their songs (with one of the Jewish Community choirs I have sung with) with the parents of their lead singer in the audience. (I suppose I should add that I went to school with the lead singer's younger brother and I knew his parents for most of my life)

Hebrew, Ladino and English Music with a Jewish Theme

My love of Jewish Music started many years ago. I started singing with a local Jewish community choir in the 1990s. When that choir "broke up" (the conductor moved away), I have a bit of a void, and then a new community choir arose from the ashes (and with some of the singers from) that choir. I sang with them for about 5 or so years, until it got to be too much work and not as much fun. But I still love to sing and I still love Jewish Music. I have collected some YouTube videos of some of my favorites -- I chose versions I liked because of the music, not necessarily the video part. I hope you enjoy them too.

Compugraph Designs Jewelry Page

This design is in acrylic on a brass chain with a magnetic closure.  There are more designs on the site.