Spiritual Themes with Universal Applicability for Each Jewish Holiday, Festival and Season
Each Jewish holiday season presents particular spiritual themes that can be raised and discussed with people of any heritage. The season related to each holiday can include the weeks preceding and following the actual holiday, creating a time-window often as long as a month. In addition, each Shabbat (Sabbath) represents a time when universally applicable spiritual themes can be contemplated, sometimes raised by the traditional readings of the week.
In some way, all Jewish holiday seasons involve a similar set of spiritual themes. Where each season differs is in how it gives emphasis to some themes over others. Some of the common spiritual themes include:
- A Sense of Purpose:
You, in who you are, make a difference just by being you.
- A Sense of Connection:
You are part of something larger than yourself.
- The most important things in life are the simplest things in life.
- You are rich if you are happy with your situation; Catalogue the things you have to be happy about.
- Bloom where you are planted; There are countless opportunities to serve.
- There are opportunities in front of you which are easy to overlook.
- We each have a Torah, a teaching, a calling, built on who we are and how we are situated. Try to discern yours.
- Healing , wholeness, forgiveness and fulfillment are available to each of us in some form.
- Being joyful itself is a great mitzvah.
Each Jewish Holiday presents its own specific set of potential spiritual themes:
- Overcoming obstacles; we can overcome what holds us back
- There are ways we may not see at first to overcome obstacles before us.
- escaping from what enslaves us and into freedom; escaping from what is troubling or oppressing us. – – Affirming that liberation is always possible.
- Any issue of social justice.
The Omer is the 50-day season between Passover and Shavuot, which has overtones of sadness and includes within it Yom HaShoah, Yom HaAtzmaut and Lag Ba’Omer:
Omer (Sfirat HaOmer, Counting the Omer)
– moving from Freedom to responsibility.
– wandering in the wilderness seeking direction.
– the effects of our inner life and our outer situation have on each other.
-the joys and challenges of being an individual within community.
Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Commemoration and Yom HaAtzma’ut/Israel Independence Day
– We can live and get through the darkest of times.
– enduring through trying historical times.
– the need to remember (or to forget??)
– embracing and redefining independence.
Lag Ba’Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer, and a day of joy and music and outdoors activities)
Joy in the Midst of Sadness, or Joy Following Sadness; arrival of Spring now that winter is over; joy of the outdoor; joy of music.
- Recall the bad times, but pause on the note of joy and hope.
- Joy following (or in the midst of) sadness.
- Enjoying spring outdoors at the end of winter.
- The Joy of Music
– Your Message for those around you. We each have a teaching and legacy.
What is your Teaching?
- We each have a teaching and a calling. How do we discern it?
- – with freedom comes responsibility. At Passover we gained freedom from slavery. On Shavuot we take on the responsibilities that come with freedom.
- We examine what values we are committed to as individuals and as a community.
Tisha B’Av (including the Three Weeks, and especially the last Nine Days, leading up to it) – There is too much needless hatred and insensitivity in the world. Hope for better days. “Acknowledging the darkness amidst the Light”
- It is summer, but we acknowledge the darkest times and move through them towards consolation and hope.
- – the need to recognize and uproot the needless hatred that exists within ourselves and in the world.
- to remind ourselves how real evil and tragedy can be in the world.
- Any issue of social justice
– Ultimately, however, to affirm life. We are not to dwell on sadness. The end of the holiday bids us to focus on consolation, and moves us into a much more joyous season.
The rest of the Month of Av = Time of hope and consolation
Tu B’Av –(15th of Av) a time of Joy
Month of Elul through Rosh Hashanah Rosh Hashanah (the period of the month before Rosh Hashanah into the days of Rosh Hashanah) – New Beginnings: Renewing and restoring relationships. Apologizing and making amends. Rectifying Regrets.
The Seasons of Elul-Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can be dealt with as one season with a change of emphasis. It starts off as Making Amends and Forgiveness, and becomes Forgiveness with Making Amends. Or perhaps it starts off with Recognizing and Rectifying Regrets, and ends with No Regrets.
Yom Kippur (beginning with the day after Rosh Hashanah and going through the days between Rosh Hashanah and up to Yom Kippur) – Forgiveness, and no regrets.
“The Call of the Shofar”
- Possible Selichot program during Elul before Rosh HaShanah, or in the Ten Days of Penitance before Yom Kippur.
- Possibly combined with Tashlich.
- Overcoming regrets; finding reconciliation and forgiveness.
- Personal introspection to take stock of what we have been doing and where we are going with our lives. We are one year older, and about to start another year together. Are we living our lives correctly? If not, how do we change?
- –Approaching people in our lives to ask them for forgiveness in case we have offended them in any way – even unintentionally or unknowingly.
Sukkot through Simchat Torah
- The Seasons of Sukkot and Simchat Torah really are one season, with a change in emphasis. It starts off as Gratitude with Joy, and becomes Joy with Gratitude.
- Sukkot – Gratitude: Catalogue the things you are thankful for
- Simchat Torah: Joy at being Who, What and Where you are.
Community visits during Sukkot; and Simchat Torah celebration.
- Teachings of joy and Gratitude
- Gratitude, Joy and Thanksgiving. Remembering that we are so dependent upon the world around us that we cannot shut it out. Being joyful in who you are, in your situation and in what you have.
- Catalogue what you have to be grateful for.
- Let your light shine; you bring meaning and joy to others just by being you.
- – Joy, light and religious freedom;
- – the ability of a small group or a small effort to make a big difference. Small efforts, especially if done with great dedication, can inspire big things. One candle can dispel all the darkness around it. A small weak people can overcome far greater strength. The human spirit can overcome great adversity.
- – somehow, especially with the help of each other, we can find within ourselves the hope and the strength to see our way through our most difficult times.
Tu B’Shvat (New Year of the Trees) –
- You are connected to something larger than yourself.
- You are connected to the world and people around you in ways far greater than you think. Take note of how you are connected.
- – interconnection between the physical and the spiritual realms.
- – we remind ourselves how we are all connected to each other and to the world around us. We remember that within ourselves, each one of us is an interconnected web of body and spirit. We celebrate the strength we can find when we honor all those relationships and interconnections that hold such an important place in our lives.
- – nature, ecology and the importance of the environment, all of which is another example of the interconnection between ourselves and all of life throughout the world.
- – Connection to the Land of Israel, heritage and community.
- – Hope and the promise of new beginnings, especially in the middle of winter when we most need to remember the connections and relationships that sustain us.
– Rejoice in who you are and what you have.
- a strong and joyous affirmation of life even in the face of threat and difficulty. Whatever has happened, and whatever might happen, we should celebrate that we are here and we are alive.
- The life-affirming importance of Joy; The importance of joy in making life better.