Sunday, March 18, 2012

Torahbytes: Cycles of Life (Vayikra & Hahodesh)

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, "This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you." (Shemot / Exodus 12:1, 2; ESV)

Often when people read these verses they wonder why it speaks about the Jewish month of Nisan, which occurs at this time of year, as the beginning of months, while Rosh Hashanah, the traditional Jewish new year is in the Fall. Judaism regards several new years for different occasions. Rosh Hashanah (literally "head of the year", meaning "new year") is regarded as the civil new year and traditionally marks the anniversary of creation, though this is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. According to the Torah, Rosh Hashanah is actually Yom Truah (the day of blowing [of the shofar]), a remembrance feast ten days before Yom Kippur (English: Day of Atonement) and two weeks before Sukkot (English: Feast of Tabernacles). The first of Nisan, as referenced by the verse we read, is regarded as the beginning of the religious year.

The Torah doesn't prescribe a special New Year observance except that this is the month in which Pesach (English: Passover) occurs. Acknowledging this as the "beginning of months" just as I read certainly makes sense, since Pesach is the birth or more accurately the rebirth of the nation of Israel.

It also makes sense that ancient cultures understood the year as a cycle. However people understood the earth's annual journey around the sun, it was obvious that there was a pattern of months and years that was repeated over and over again. It is this pattern which perhaps led some cultures to develop the concept of reincarnation. Reincarnation is part of an extreme cyclical world view whereby all the stuff of the universe goes through an unending process of birth, death, and rebirth.

The Bible doesn't view the annual cycle in this way, however. While it acknowledges that life does have a definite cycle in that it marks such things as the beginning of months and harvest festivals, it sees the annual cycle as only the environment within which history develops over time. That God has established predictable and repeatable aspects of life doesn't mean that everything about life is predictable and repeatable. God, through the Scriptures, doesn't call us to simply learn the cycles of life with the aim of keeping in step with the way things are. Far from it! The very event which this time of year marks stands in opposition to any philosophy or religion that claims that the pathway to peace and liberation is to be derived from accepting life as it is. The oppressive situation that Israel found itself in Egypt was not acceptable as far as God was concerned. So he came to rescue them from it.

Not all cycles of life are acceptable. God wants to break the cycles of evil and its consequences in all its many forms. You don't need to resign yourself to cycles of destructive habits or victimization. Like the Israelites in Egypt, God wants to rescue you.

There are cycles of life that we would be advised to accept such as the changing seasons. There are annual events such as Passover, which are good to commemorate. But, there are other cycles, however, that we need to break once and for all. With God's help may this be the time.

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