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The Limbs of the Year Months and days and nights and solstices and seasons and cycles and passages of the year were before the Holy One of Blessing. The Holy One passed through the year, and then passed these teachings on to Adam in the garden of Eden, as it is written—This is the book of the generations of Adam. . . . Eve taught these things to Enoch, and he entered into every limb and passage of the year. . . . It is written: There will never cease from the earth planting (zera) and harvest (katzir), heat (chom) and cold (kor), summer (kayitz) and winter (choref). “Seedtime” is the season of Tishrei. “Harvest” is the season of Nisan. “Cold” is the season of Tevet, and “heat” is the season of Tammuz. “Summer” in its time and “winter” in its time. —PIRKEI DE-RABBI ELIEZER 7 2 n a midrash in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, based on the story of Adam and Eve, the first sacred book is called the Sefer Toldot Adam, the book of the generations of Adam. In this book are the secrets of the months and the days and the summers and the winters, secrets even the Holy One had to learn to enter Creation. This book of days, like that vanished one, seeks to uncover the secrets of days and seasons so that we, like Adam and Eve, may enter into every limb of the year. We often experience the Jewish year as a reliving of myth and history: In Jewish time, the Exodus, Sinai, the destruction of the Temple, the victory of the Maccabees all become part of our experience as the months pass. This way of viewing the Jewish calendar connects us with the line of past and future. Yet the Jewish year is also a circle reflecting the cycles of the natural world. Throughout this yearly circle, planting and harvest, cold and heat, become our spiritual teachers and guides. They lead us through moments of joy and celebration and through times of mourning and destruction. The voice of the Divine comes to us not only from text and history but also from trees, the sky, the waxing and waning moon, and the wondrous and fragile functioning of our own bodies. The generations of architects of the Jewish calendar deeply understood this. They instructed us to mark the trees as one year older in late winter on Tu b’Shevat (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 2a), count the sheaves of grain in the spring before the wheat harvest of Shavuot (Leviticus 23:15–16), and pray for rain in the autumn as part of Shemini Atzeret, the last day of the autumn holiday season (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 28b). As we smell the etrog, the fragrant yellow citron, on the harvest festival of Sukkot, we are meant to experience the mysteries of growth and decay that come with autumn; and as we tell the story of the Exodus at the spring festival of Passover, we are meant to think of the seedlings escaping the ground to burst into the air. We have the human gifts of intellect, spirit, and history, and the Jewish gifts of text, law, and tradition; yet we are still part of the natural world, 3 I 4 dependent on its bounty and subject to its tides. The deep wisdom of the Jewish year invites us to understand ourselves as embodied beings, rooted in the earth and in our own sensory experience and rooted in the truths of our people. When legend and nature are combined, they weave a powerful web of meaning and connection. Nature also offers us the gift of gratitude. Genesis Rabbah 1:4 states that the world was created for the sake of challah (the dough offering), tithes of the crops, and first fruits of the harvest. All of these offerings represent the bounty of the earth. Why should the rabbis teach that the Divine created the world so that we should give a tithe of the harvest? What is so valuable about the practice of offering part of the earth’s produce? Perhaps this teaching emphasizes that gratitude for what we have been given is the core meaning in our lives. In that sense, the natural leads to the ethical, for gratitude compels us to acknowledge what we have and to give back what we have received. Many of us have come to believe our sympathy with nature and our affection for Jewish tradition are two separate entities. This book, building...


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