Friday, October 01, 2010   
Community .. Thought of the Week

Rabbi Jonathan Crane
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Rabbinic Reflections
January 29th, 2009
Canadian Jewish News

Excitement and anxiety accompany the beginning of a new political era.  Just as many of us here in Canada are excited by the inauguration of Barak Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America, so too are many anxious about what he might or might not do.  Will he enact policies our community endorses?  Will he be silent on issues we think require his outspoken leadership?  What does it mean if he does or does not do something in a timely manner?
     For better or for worse, the first one hundred days of a presidency are scrutinized by all and sundry.  Pundits and bandits alike examine a president’s first few months to ascertain and predict the tenor of his tenure.  They compare campaign promises with early presidential action to find inconsistencies and signs of weakness.  And when these are found, they are only too delighted to spark disappointment, ignite resistance, or even enflame unrest.
    I do not envy President Obama his job.  His responsibilities are many and his constituencies are eager for solid not stolid leadership.  While he has spoken about his programs to engender for the United States a better economy and stature in the global arena, he has simultaneously acknowledged that such goals will take time and effort.  Indeed, there may be setbacks along the way.  Just as there are dark times now, he says, there may be dark times ahead even as he leads the country – and perhaps much of the rest of the world – toward a brighter, more secure future.
    That darkness precedes and follows the beginning of a new era is not novel.  In Parashat Bo, we see Moses continuing his fruitless negotiations with Pharoah who, time and again, refuses to see the wisdom of acceding to Moses’ demands for the liberation of his oppressed people.  With Moses’ diplomacy failing, God finally instructs him to convey to Pharoah that the next stage will be a lethal one and that no immunity will be granted even to the aristocracy.  Both literally and figuratively, it promises to be a dark period.
    But before this campaign promise is enacted, the narrative is interrupted – by time itself.  Or rather, by time’s beginning.  God tells Moses and Aaron, “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be the first months of the year for you” (Exodus 12:2).  The import of this beginning of time cannot be overstated.  It is a recalibration of Jewish time.  No longer are Jews to live according to a calendar or schedule set by a master whom they did not choose.  From now on, Jews are to count and celebrate time more attuned to the vicissitudes of the cosmos than to human desires.  Moreover, as Nahmanides notes, this recalibration of the calendar is the first commandment God gives to the people Israel.  
But why now, why in the midst of their bitter struggle for liberation, should the people be obliged to start their calendars afresh?  Why should the Jewish calendar begin precisely at the time when heavy policies were about to happen in the midst of winter and, more precisely, in the dark of night?  Perhaps it is so that Jews will always associate time’s beginning with the arduous process of liberation, as Rashbam comments.  Jewish liberation came about not from a single miraculous event but from a difficult and lengthy process.  For only after time’s beginning did the harsh plan God promised pass over Egypt.  And even more time was needed before Israel came into its own and achieved (many) of its goals.
The beginning of Jewish time may have been painful for everyone – albeit differently, yet it was also the beginning of an exciting and awesome new political (and theological) era.  Just as God needed time to put into place his policies, all the more so should we anticipate Obama requiring time to enact his.  In the meantime, perhaps we can find the strength to withhold judgment and the courage to participate in the processes he envisions.