The Journey Now: Finding our Footing in Nature and History

April 26, 2024


Did you notice the bright, beautiful full moon that accompanied us on the nights of the seder? Passover is one of three pilgrimage festivals – chagim, in Hebrew (this is why we say “Chag Sameach!” to greet one another on these holidays), along with Sukkot and Shavuot, all of which fall in the middle of the Hebrew month. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, and the dates specified in Torah for these three pilgrimage festivals are always in the middle of the month, when the moon is full. Our Israelite ancestors brought offerings to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem on these festivals, and needed the full moon to light their way in order to make the journey.

The cycles of night and day, of seasons, of weekdays followed by Shabbat, of holy days, are such an anchor during times of distress, disruption, or disorder. During the past couple of weeks here in our area, many trees at long last burst into bloom, and the tulips and daffodils revealed their full splendor in fits of color. It has been a blessing to be surrounded by such beauty during Passover, but it is more than the colors and fragrances that bring blessing right now. Our tradition, with daily blessings recognizing the miracle of the cycles of day and night and of seasons, asks us to be mindful of these cycles of nature that mark time for us. Remembering that we are both surrounded by and a part of the natural world, part of cycles which we do not control (though of course, the human impact on the earth has brought shifts and changes to these cycles), can be a balm for when our moment in history is particularly rife with challenge and feels chaotic. As the trees bloomed, so too did the scourge of antisemitic rhetoric and violence, in particular on college campuses during this past week*. Many among our Jewish people are feeling shocked and afraid. Remembering that we are connected to the cycles of nature and of history, and to our people throughout the generations and right now across the world, can be a powerful anchor for us. I’d like to share with you one resource that places the antisemitism we are experiencing at this moment into historical context (and in general, I have found the author of this source, Debbie Lechtman, to be excellent in her clarity and accessibility on issues related to Jewish history and this chapter in particular). Like being mindful of the cycles of nature, it can be helpful to remember that we are part of history, and to take the long view. 

Right now in the Jewish calendar we mark the period of the Omer, inviting us to partake in a journey that evokes both the natural world and our people’s history. The ritual of “counting the Omer” (you can read more about it at this link) is so simple – we say a blessing, sanctifying the act of counting, and then we state what day of the Omer it is. With this act of counting, we remind ourselves that we are always both remembering the past and moving forward through the present and into the future. We move from the festival of liberation to the festival of revelation (as Shavuot, originally an agricultural festival, became the commemoration of the revelation of Torah), which reminds us that where we are right now in the journey, whether in the cycles of nature of the arc of history, is not permanent; that on the stage of history, we are active participants who are part of a chain of generations. This, again, can be an anchor in a world that can feel like it is spinning off its axis. To paraphrase Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l, the world as it is is not the world as it must be. In his book, Future Tense (you can read an excerpt here), Sacks writes: “To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope in a world serially threatened by despair. Every ritual, every mitzvah, every syllable of the Jewish story, every element of Jewish law, is a protest against escapism, resignation or the blind acceptance of fate. Judaism is a sustained struggle, the greatest ever known, against the world that is, in the name of the world that could be, should be, but is not yet. There is no more challenging vocation.”

We take the next step into the future, grounded in this particular moment – one in which blossoms blanket and surround us with their temporary beauty, knowing that we are part of a people that remains connected to one another throughout time and space; connected to our tradition’s call to see ourselves as part of something much more vast than we are and much bigger than this moment. As we traditionally say during these intermediate days of Passover: Moadim l’simcha – may these days be joyous. And, as is commonly said in Israel these days: Besorot tovot – may we know good news. I’m so grateful to be on the journey with you, our beloved community.


Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman