Rabbi Steven Schwarzman: Next year in Jerusalem

By Rabbi Steven Schwarzman

The Hebrew calendar starts with Nissan, the month of Pesach. (That’s why Rosh Hashanah comes in what the Torah refers to as the seventh month, and as I’ve written previously, that’s a nice metaphor for being able to correct our course in life halfway through.)

But why is Nissan the first month? That’s when our ancestors left Egypt and set out for the land of their ancestors – a land that they themselves hadn’t seen. They had only heard about it from their parents and grandparents, who heard about it from theirs. All they knew was the slavery of Egypt. The Exodus was the defining moment in the history of the Jewish people, so the Torah tells us that the month of Nissan would thereafter mark the beginning of the Hebrew calendar.

And if the Hebrew calendar starts with Nissan, then it ends with Adar, the month of Purim. So, on the Hebrew calendar it might make sense for Bettina and I to have timed our return to Israel after Purim.

But as it works out, we will be here in Edmonton for Pesach, and then set out to our new/old home in Jerusalem. Yes, at the seders this year – likely the last time we will ever do two of them – we will say Next Year in Jerusalem, but with renewed meaning this time. And then, with the gift that is the modern state of Israel, we will get on an airplane (or two) after Pesach and fly there. It is a dream that Jews were generally prevented from fulfilling for 2,000 years…and a dream that is strikingly easy to fulfill today. We will return to our homeland, and to the city that we have thought of as home since we met there.

Perhaps one day you will join us, and of course we’ll also be delighted to see you when you visit.

We leave with warm feelings for the people of Beth Shalom and the Edmonton Jewish community and for the many non-Jews we have met who go out of their way to support the Jewish people in true friendship, especially in these dark times of war. We leave you knowing that there remains work to do here, and trust that others will do that work faithfully in their way and in their time as we have tried to do in ours. We made it through the pandemic as a community, and that is something we can all be proud of.

In the Mishnah’s tractate Avot, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perahia teaches:

עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר

Appoint for yourself a rabbi, and acquire for yourself a friend.

I want to thank you for entrusting me with the pleasant work of being the rabbi for Congregation Beth Shalom, and for allowing me to acquire your friendship, as you have mine.

Next year in Jerusalem, and may we all go from strength to strength!

Rabbi Steven Schwarzman is the Rabbi at Beth Shalom, Edmonton’s egalitarian conservative congregation.


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