Friday, May 13, 2011

63, 24, 3...HIKE!

I've always been intrigued by the custom of football quarterbacks to call out random numbers before screaming HIKE! to start a play.

Low and behold: those numbers aren't totally random - they are part of an elaborate team code, so that the QB can tell his teammates what the play is going to be, without giving it away to the opposing defense. (Don't trust me on this because I know nothing about football. Read more about it here.)  Enjoy this satirical interview with Peyton Manning about it:

Of course, football players actually take this stuff very seriously. They need this system of codes in order to be able to communicate with one another. It allows their community (if you will) to function.

I've been thinking that Judaism is pretty similar. We also have code numbers that help to define who we are/what we're about. The numbers of our code help to tell the story of who we are as a people...where we've come from, and where we're going.

This season on our calendar, in particular, is filled with code numbers.

This past Tuesday, Jews around the world marked Yom Ha'Atzmaut - Israeli Independence Day...the 63rd birthday of the State of Israel!
  • For more on Yom Ha'Atzmaut in general, click here.
  • For information about attending our San Diego communal Israel celebration this Sunday, click here.
  • For news about Israel's observance of Yom Ha'Atzmaut this year, click here.
  • Here is Prime Minister Netanyahu's official Independence Day Greeting:

The number 63 signifies for us an affirmation: that after 2,000 years of dreaming, a State of our own has become an established reality.  And yet, 63 is also a cautionary warning: that Israel continues to face significant challenges that threaten its long term safety, security, and ultimately its existence.   This week is a chance for us to celebrate 63 amazing years, but also to recommit ourselves to continuing to support Israel so that it will remain strong long into the future.

This season isn't just about counting the years of Israel's existence.  It is also about counting the days - the days in between Passover and Shavuot, in connection with our custom of counting the omer.  Today marks the 24th day, which is three weeks and three days of the omer.  (Check in periodically until Shavuot - the uncounted 50th day - by clicking on the humorous Counting the Homer website, in honor of Jewish fans of "The Simpsons" everywhere.)

Finally, this week's Torah portion (Parshat Behar), teaches us about the ancient custom of counting the years in cycles of seven.  Just as God rested on the Seventh Day of creation (hence the invention of Shabbat), so too does the Torah indicate that our farm land should get to rest every seventh year.  We shouldn't plant seeds during the seventh year.  And we don't get to harvest/pick food from the land during the seventh year (if the foods were grown in Israel, according to a literal interpretation).

This might appear, on the surface, to be the least relevant of the counting customs mentioned in this posting.  None of us, in all probability, are farmers.

Nonetheless in this age when we should all be striving to become more ecologically conscious, surely we can buy into the idea that there are environmental advantages to letting our land lie fallow occasionally?  Click here to see how this practice (called shmita in Hebrew) falls within the wider context of Jewish environmentalism.  For those that want to keep track for the future: we are currently in year 3 of the seven year sabbatical cycle.  (Year Seven is the Year of Rest for the land.)  The next sabbatical year will be in 5775 (2014-2015). 

63, 24, 3 -- code numbers that help to tell the story of our people: a history of the modern state of Israel; an ancient practice of mindfully counting the days between two of our most important holidays; and an annual system of counting that reminds us of our ultimate responsibilities towards our planet.

What about in your own story...what are the numbers that are significant to you or to your family?  Who is responsible for keeping track of birthdays and anniversaries?  Years since a loved one passed away?  Years until a younger relative becomes Bar/Bat Mitzvah or graduates from college?

Numbers are code - they help to tell the stories of our lives.

As always: I'm standing by, eager to hear your's.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Brown

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