“In our lives, we are all ceaseless time-travelers as we move from moment to moment, event to event. But the maps of time are hard to attain and even harder to read. Many of us find ourselves seeming to stand still in our lives and yet time whizzes by until suddenly we approach our end of days.”
“The Jewish people, perhaps because we have done so much traveling in space, have developed a map for traveling in time. Called the ‘festival cycle,” this map has its origin in the Torah and has continued to develop and change even in our era. The special days of the festival cycle are not random moments scattered over the year, but purposeful occurrences that draw their power from multiple sources – the natural world and its seasons, myth, religious traditions, folk customs, and decisive historical events in the life of our people. As such, the festivals operate on several levels at one and the same time, and hence can serve as a guide for travelers moving through the several dimensions of existence. One can also say that the festivals act as lodgings for travelers making their way through the year. These festival inns are special accommodations not solely for rest and retreat from the world, but also places to halt and take our bearings to make sure we are traveling and not just going around in circles. These are inns not for sleeping, but rather for awaking from obliviousness. The cycle comes to remind us of both eternal nature and its order, and the ever-recurring history of an eternal people. Even more fundamentally, the festival cycle causes us to focus on how our human life cycle parallels that of the natural and historical cycles of this world. The festivals bring us into contact with the great human themes of food, shelter, and security; birth, growth, and death; freedom and responsibility; the earthly and the transcendent.
It is part of the richness of the festival cycle that any one holiday can mean different things to different people. Each of us will find that some holidays will speak more clearly than others at different times in our lives; however, each also provides a sustaining continuity to our lives as we celebrate it once again. Similarly, each of us will approach this book and the festivals with his or her mix of viewpoint, sensibility, and experience. This book attempts to provide the reader with the raw material with which to create her or his own celebration, while remaining attached to the tradition that gives the cycle its power to guide us. That is why the commentators w ho appear in the margins are so important: They make clear that there is no one authority – no one interpretation of a holiday’s meaning. This book invites you to join in the discussion that takes place between the margin and the text and thereby develop your own guide to the festival cycle.
MICHAEL STRASSFELD is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a synagogue. He lives in Manhattan with is wife, Rabbit Joy Levitt, and their five children.
Quill – A Harper Resource Book