Tammuz  by Rochel Schiffrin

Ma’agal al haZman - מעגל על הזמן
Introduction to year one of MISAVIV

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