We sing of Twilight Time,
Heavenly shades of night are falling, it's twilight time
Out of the mist your voice is calling, it's twilight time
When purple-colored curtains mark the end of day
I'll hear you, my dear, at twilight time
and the Autumn Leaves...
The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sunburned hand I used to hold
How do we know when day becomes night and then night becomes day again? Rabbi Prinz will tell this story tonight as well.... It is told of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav who asked his disciples the same question. One offered: "When you can see the difference between a dog and a sheep in the distance." Another suggested: "When you can tell the difference between a fig and a peach tree at the edge of a field." No, R. Nachman said, it is when you can look in another person's eyes and recognize there your brother or sister.
How do we know when an infant becomes a baby and then a toddler... child... adolescent... young adult, etc.? Each time we use one of these terms we associate different expectations in our minds. Some have defined adolescence as the time from first onset of puberty until the child finishes his or her advanced degree and/or gets a job, becoming completely (at least for basic normal needs) financially independent. I have begun to describe middle age as the entire period from when someone who's parents are still alive becomes a parent him or herself (after all, you're still a child and you're also a parent... right there in the middle, regardless of how many years you've been alive.)
We know that, as the evening shadows lengthen and the autumn leaves start to fall we (more or less) adult Jews gather to note the passing of an old... and welcome in the beginning of a new year.
How you behave depends on where/who you think you are in that flow of time.
This is true, both for individuals and for groups.
Some people think we Jews are still in the biblical period.
A group called the Brit-Ish, (not the UK Hip Hop group of the same name),
but the odd people who think the British are the people of the Covenant (get it "brit" "ish" "covenant" and "man" you know "man of the covenant" "British"):
They believe that very first inhabitants of Gibraltar, since... get this: "the Creation of Adam, were NOT Spanish they were Brit-ish Gadites who arrived between 1500 and 1000 B.C. and were later joined by more Gadites in 722 B.C.E. [when the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians]."
Even the highly respected Israeli literary critic Hillel Halkin gets caught in a related idea (in his book Across the Sabbath River : In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel) thinks the Mizo people of northern India are the descendants of Menashe.
But we are all concerned. Rabbi David Wolpe at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, caused a tremendous amount of upset when he stated that there probably was not an Exodus (at least the way it's described in the Bible).
So, it is interesting that in a recent issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review (29:5), Baruch Halpern a leading biblical historian claims that the Song of Miriam was possibly (if not probably) written within memory of the event.
Now, this is significant, because, most Arabs & Muslims deny that contemporary Jews have any connection with the Judaeans of the ancient world, let alone the Israelites or Hebrews of the Bible. This way they can deny we have any connection to, or right to, the Land of Israel.
Yet, in an odd twist the August 9, 2003 edition of the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, had an interview with Egyptian Law Prof Dr. Nabil Hilmi, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Al-Zaqaziq who is preparing an enormous lawsuit against "all the Jews of the world." He thinks all Jews today owe the Egyptians for the goods including for "Trillions" of Tons of Gold they took when they left at the time of the Exodus. He wants to think of us as the ancient Hebrews of the Biblical period.
While trying to find the source of another story I want to share with you tomorrow, I opened a floodgate of reminiscences by colleagues . These rabbis had been asked by well meaning Christians in their neighborhoods, who still believe that we Jews live in the time of the Temple. They wanted to know, when visiting the synagogue in which room we did our sacrifices!
So, are the British the Jews? Do Jews descended from Menashe live in India? Did the ancient Hebrews live in Egypt as slaves? What difference does it make to us today?
My teacher, R. Mike Signer (Abrams Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University) taught me the importance of periodizing Jewish history. The way you divide time (history) determines how you see events in relation to each other.
The Biblical Period ended long ago. It ended even before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 of the Common Era. Since then we generally say that we Jews live in what's called the Rabbinic Period. Scholars divide that up into the Early Rabbinic Period, etc. Non-Jewish historians refer to that time as "late antiquity" which, with the fall of Rome becomes the "Dark" or "Middle Ages" until we come to "the Renaissance", "the Enlightenment" and "modern times."
Now, people tell us that we live in the (depending on how you look at things) Atomic Age, Information Age, or we are Post Modern, others have yet more different names for our current period. Because I look at the world through Jewish-colored glasses, I have a different perspective.
Many Jews believe that the Rabbinic Period has ended (I'll find links for this later). After all, rabbis have no clout when it comes to Jewish life today. You could say that the period is best described as being the Zionist period, or (in America) the Federation period. We use the phrase "Holocaust to Rebirth" to describe the joined efforts of this group. It is odd that some of the very people who claim that the Rabbinic period has ended recently began calling themselves Rabbi! Why would anyone want to use that title if it represented something that wasn't valuable?
You know "I like being a rabbi". I believe that the rabbinic way of looking at the world has been under serious attack for the past two hundred years, and many rabbis even gave up and "sold out", but I also believe that there is much emotional and metaphoric power left in the rabbinic world view. So, I say we are in the Late Early Middle Rabbinic Period. That's a pretty complex time period, but basically, it means that we've got a lot more juice in the Rabbinic way of looking at the world. (We're only in the Middle-Rabbinic period, even if we are in the later portion of the early middle section... got that?) We are no where near the end of the Rabbinic period of Jewish life. There's a lot more to come than has already passed.
What does that mean and why should you care?
Have you ever been tempted to buy a counterfeit Rolex watch or Guess? pair of jeans someone offered you on the street? The cost is much less than the real thing and it looks just like the real thing. But something nags at you. You know that the quality inherent in the name is not present in the counterfeit version. It's likely that the watch will stop working shortly after you buy it and the seams of the jeans will split after the first few washings. The purchase is not worth the lower cost offered.
Well, among the many honest and true spiritual paths,there are many counterfeit versions offered on the streets now-a-days. Some of the honest ones are Jewish and some are not. Some of the counterfeit ones are Jewish as well.
About two thousand years ago we rabbis began to explain to the Jewish people this simple statement (I've told the members of my Intro to Judaism class this many times) as expressed by my teacher Ellis Rivkin (I paraphrase):
God so loves the world (and the Jewish people) that God gave the world (through the Jewish people) the two-fold path: the written Torah and the oral explanation of that Torah; so that, whoever would live their life, integrating its observances, celebrations, and values as their path through life, would gain connection to the cosmic annual and life-cycle celebrations of eternal Jewish people, and through that, eternal life.
Tomorrow, I'll explain a bit more about how the words we share aloud during our services help us make that connection.
So, sleep well tonight, use that time to good purpose.
Time, how we understand it, name it and mark its passing are very important to us. We are now about to begin another year. We have work to do. Don't forget to take home and share your work-sheets.