D’Var Torah: Top five answers on the board … study Torah and do mitzvot

My three children love to watch old reruns of the game show “Family Feud’ on television.  

Remember the famous catch phrase?  “Top five answers on the board.”  Let’s play together now and call it “Family Feud New Year’s Edition.” Top five answers on the board.  Name five resolutions for the new year of 2020.  Buzz in and rattle off the predictable exercise more, eat less.  Find work/life balance.    Study Torah and do mitzvot.    

Yeah, yeah, I know. As a Jewish educator, those last two are wishful thinking on my part for the secular Jan. 1 laundry list of self-promises. But mark your calendar for Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, the first day of the new Hebrew month of Shevat. It is said that this Rosh Chodesh is well suited for renewed inspiration in the study of Torah and the doing of mitzvot (commandments or good deeds, depending how you personally define it). But why? Why this time of year? 

First we must ask, what is Rosh Chodesh? Rosh Chodesh, translated as “head of the month” is the celebration of each new month of the Hebrew calendar, marked by a new moon. Yes, it doesn’t line up neatly with our everyday Gregorian calendar because the Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycle. 

It is said on the first of Shevat, inspired by God, Moses spoke to the Children of Israel and recited the complete words of Devarim, Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah. Moses reviewed many of the laws that had been taught at Sinai (where he received the Torah) and at the “Ohel Moad,” the “Tent of Meeting,”  the gathering place of the Jewish people around the Mishkan (the portable sanctuary in the midst of the desert for the wandering Israelites), where they had come to learn Torah from Moses.  He also taught them many additional laws at that time. 

The later sages have said that the first of Shevat can be compared to the days of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  Therefore, this rerun from a previous season is an appropriate time for a renewed acceptance of the Torah, and your personal connection to it and your personal interpretation of it. 

Moses spoke for 37 days straight, from the first of Shevat until the seventh day of the Hebrew month of Adar. Thirty-seven days of one channel and no channel surfing by the Israelites. I’m putting it our there to use this 37-day interval like a thoughtful commercial break. I’m not talking about a mundane act like grabbing a quick snack from the fridge or changing laundry over from the washer to the dryer.  Use this purposeful, designated pause to be inspired to learn Torah and do mitzvot. This is a time we are reminded about the rereading of our Torah, Moses’s inspirational script.  The beauty of Judaism is you can interpret those actions as your own personal Judaism dictates. As my 15-year old daughter, Sydney would say, “You do you, Mommy.” I put it out there to you to not fast forward through these 37 days from Monday, Jan. 27, 2020 to Tuesday, March 3, 2020.  “You do you, Jewishly.”  Study, read, Google, pray, participate, volunteer, teach your child, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say “eat.”  Add your interpretation of “study Torah and do mitzvot” to your top five answers on the board. 

Jennifer Saber is a Jewish educator and active volunteer in the Milwaukee Jewish community.  She is a teacher at Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun and of her three children (Sydney, Lexi and Jacob).  Jennifer is the educational development consultant for The Shutaf Inclusion Program in Jerusalem.