5777

Introduction to year two of MISAVIV

On Tables and Testimony - על הלוחות והעדות

We have gotten used to tables, in telling time.  We reach out and take our days and weeks from them, like a buffet line.  They are well-arranged in columns and rows.  Even next year’s days may be known in advance.  Time has been foreseen and pre-prepared; we must only pick up our utensils and chow down.  

But there was a time when time knew no tables, when the year was a series of circles, and each month was not closed until a person like you or me looked up at the sky from our backyard garden and saw that glorious sliver of renewal (hit’chadshut) that was the new-born moon-month (chodesh).  He who was graced with such a vision was immediately obligated by G-d to pack up and travel to Jerusalem, if it happened to be within the range of one day and one night’s journey—even if the vision occurred on the Sabbath and the journey would violate Sabbath prohibitions (Mishnah - Rosh Hashanah 1:4-6).

It was upon our vision (al piy re’iyah) that the Torah intended for the Jewish calendrical system and sense of time to be built.  And it was upon our testimony about our vision that the sanctification of the month depended, twelve times a year (and sometimes thirteen).  Yes, there was a gathering of sages in Yerushalayim that set the paramaters for valid testimony with their cheshbonot (calculations) and their tables (luchot).  But these figurings amounted to nothing without the pollination, so to speak, of the Jewish visionaries who traveled from afar with their lunar report, their celestial testimony, their intangible but indispensable treasured wares.  It was this testimony that lit the fires upon the mountains and sent out Jewish runners to the ends of the land carrying good “news” of the month’s dawn. 

We were plunged into the era of calendrical tables by exile, after the Roman conquest of our people.  Hillel the Second, head of the Sanhedrin in the 4th century CE, felt that our system was so threatened by imperial decrees that we needed to set it on a permanent basis.  In terms of regularity and reliability, the fixed tables he invented—which we have been following ever since—are clearly an improvement.  Who wants a system of telling time that is vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and human error, not to mention the geo-political realities of roads?  Who wants to experience each month, until the very last day, unaware of when the new month will dawn?  And who wants to be unable to see in advance on which day of the week our beloved holidays and pilgrimage festivals will occur?  And yet, this is the vision that the Torah sets forth, and this is the first commandment given to us, just as we are leaving mitzrayim (Egypt) and becoming a people for the first time: “This month is for you… (ha chodesh ha’zeh lachem, Exodus 12:2).  Time was intended to depend upon our individual capacity to see; this was such a new idea (chiddush) that according to our Sages even our greatt teacher Moses had to be taught by G-d to look at the moon in its renewal: “like this, see and sanctify” (k’zeh re’eh v’kadeish, Mechilta 12:2).

We who have been involved with producing the Misaviv Hebrew Circle Calendar for 5777 are not, alas, capable of instantly throwing off the temporal regime of the Roman world.  Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, we are all deep in exile still; we barely know the difference between advertisements, information, and sacred truth.  We are accustomed to tables that are “useful” but bankrupt of intentions other than to self-promote or sell.  Yet, like you, we may contribute our vision to the re-vision of time and space that we need in order to emerge upright and ready for the redemption.  Our calendar is a circle, and it offers a new vision of each month.  We do not claim to transcend the epoch of fixed tables, but we do believe that it is our duty to bring the memory of our intended testimony into the very midst of our present time.  Such testimony will matter again in future times, when the faithful art (emunah/omanut) of our nation is truly restored.

Calendars in general have this cosmic quality, though we often forget: they are celestial apparatuses that reach down into and affect our daily lives.  May we be blessed together by this collaborative project and its second year of fruits.  And may we fix time (kov’ea ittim) both by studying the alternative vision for the world that the holy Torah offers—as well as by bringing this vision into our world, and mamash fixing our time.

 

Jorian Polis Schutz, יונה בן שלמה
Publisher, Orphiflamme Press
Director, Yeorvelah, LLC


5776

Introduction to year one of MISAVIV

On Circular Time - מעגל על הזמן                

We walk in circles, literally.

Every step we take on the surface of G-d’s earth is part of a great circle that ultimately encompasses the globe. 

It is easy to forget this fact because more often we seem to move in a world of lines. We go down boulevards and up elevators; we have destinations; we can measure our progress on a simple chart or stock graph. Lines give us a feeling of directedness, empowerment, accomplishment. On the contrary, the roundness of circles can seem idle, indecisive, self-defeating. Expressions like “walking in circles,” “round and round we go,” “here we are again,” imply that moving in circles is unproductive and monotonous.

The same dynamic applies to time. We experience time moving forward inexorably; we arrange history as a timeline; we use rectilinear calendars with the days stacked upon each other and progress marked in a well-ordered series of a rows. At the end of the week, a magical corner is turned without turning, and we appear again at the front. 

There is no crime in this arrangement. It corresponds to the way we generally read, line after line. But ultimately such forms are arbitrary, obscuring our involvement with cycles. For time moves just as much in circles as in lines, and the Jewish tradition firmly upholds this—even in the way we read. The word sefer (ספר) now refers to any book, but it once only meant “scroll,” that ancient frame for our holy texts, which sends out a flat section like a linear emissary from the rolls and then soon after “gathers it in” to the forever-furl of its brother pole. It is a powerful metaphor for our own lives, which seem to emanate from and return to a place beyond time, and which at times feel as if they are superimposed on primordial rolls, with prophetic letters shining through.

There are circles to be found explicitly in Torah. The manna, which sustains the people in the desert for forty years, is round (Ex. 16:14). The etrog we hold together with the lulav on Sukkot unites circle and line in one gesture. The unique prayer power of Honi the Circle Drawer (Honi HaMa’agel) is set apart from his generation by a circle drawn in the dirt (Ta’anit 23a). But there are also more hidden references. What is the deeper meaning of the first two rivers going out of Eden, which are said to encompass (ha’sovev) the land? What are those ma’aglei tzedek, (circles of righteousness?) that King David sings about in Psalm 13? What is the significance of the stones that Ya’akov places in a circle around his head before he dreams of ascending and descending beings (28:11)? And why does the Torah tell us just as we exit Egypt that G-d does not lead us on the direct route but rather “curves” (vayaseiv) the people towards the desert path (Ex. 13:17-18)?

The Hebrew calendar is an incomparable marvel of circles within circles, of temporal rhythm and symmetry, of balance between solar and lunar. Each month (chodesh) follows the cycle of the moon, beginning and ending with its renewal. The seven-day shabbat cycle is extended into the weeks (sefirat ha’omer), into the years (shmitah), and into the weeks of years (yovel). We journey along with the patriarchs and matriarchs and with the children of Israel in a spiraling journey of ascent; we return to the same place/time, and we remember, but we are changed. The beginning of the solar year, Tishrei, is opposite the beginning of the lunar year, Nisan; Sukkot is opposite Pesach, one marking the beginning of the rainy season, and one marking its end. On Simchat Torah we move from the final to the first Torah portion, proving that the cycle does not pause or finish, and we learn that the final letter and first letter, seemingly enclosing the “white space” of the world, spell the word lev (לב), heart. 

On this first year of a new sabbatical cycle, we welcome you to join us in this new evocation of the holy imagination, for the purpose of a new circular inhabitation of Jewish time-space. And we invite you to consider submitting sketches and concepts for, G-d willing, next year’s calendar.

The circle is necessary. It reminds us of our equidistance to the center, no matter where we stand, and the equivalence of every arc and angle in this world. The intention of MISAVIV, G-d willing, and its potential toledot (offspring), is not to overthrow the rectilinear regime on time, but to show that another possibility, and indeed many other possibilities could exist. And that these could be just as practical guides through the year as their counterparts, while representing a beautiful, holy window to cyclicality, spirality, and to the great circle of which we are all a part, and all will become a part, as our Sages teach:

In the future the Holy One will make a circle (machol) 
for the saintly ones, and He will sit between them in the garden of Eden, and each one will show with his finger, as it is written (Isaiah 25:9), “And it shall be said in that day: ‘Behold, this is our Lord, for whom we waited, that He might save us; this is G-d, for whom we waited, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation’” (Ta’anit 31a).

עתיד הקדוש ברוך הוא לעשות מחול לצדיקים והוא
יושב ביניהם בגן עדן וכל אחד ואחד מראה באצבעו
שנאמר ׳ואמר ביום ההוא הנה אלהינו זה קוינו לו
ויושיענו זה ה 'קוינו לו נגילה ונשמחה בישועתו׳ (תענית
לא.)

With blessings for a year of joyful spiraling ascent,

Jorian Polis Schutz, יונה בן שלמה
Publisher, Orphiflamme Press
Director, Yeorvelah, LLC