Sunday, December 11, 2005

238. Countdown

Recent blogsurfing has led me to some interesting posts about the season of Advent, observance of which I was never really aware, except for noticing some really creative calendars. Counting down the days in anticipation of a spiritually significant event seems to be a shared concept for many different religions. I found mention online of parallels between the marking of daily fasts during the month of Ramadan and the Sefirat haOmer, the counting of days between Passover and Shavuot. And there seems to be more than a slight relationship (to me, at least; I've not yet discovered websites to corroborate this) between Advent and Elul, the month preceding the High Holy Days. This from the very first hit in my Google search:

"Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing... Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isa 9)!"

The specific subjects of Advent and Elul are certainly different for Christians and Jews. And I understand that Advent is a joyous time, unlike the somber weeks of preparation for Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. But every day in Elul we read selichot, special prayers for deliverance and mercy. And at the end of that month, Jews encounter their own "great light"--within ourselves, in the form of the hope and joy that a clean slate, and the year's new Torah, will bring.

This connection has been on my mind because I've started practicing my Torah portion for the week of Hanukkah. When I learned it last year, I immediately dubbed it (with apologies offered in advance to any and all for my irreverence) "The Twelve Day of Christmas, Jewish Version":

The one to bring his offering on the first day was Nachshon son of Aminadav of the tribe of Judah.
His offering was as follows:
One silver bowl weighing 130 shekels, and one silver sacrificial basin weighing 70 shekels by the sanctuary standard, both filled with the best grade wheat meal kneaded with olive oil for a meal offering.
One gold incense bowl weighing 10 [shekels] filled with incense.
One young bull, one ram and one yearling sheep for a burnt offering;
one goat for a sin offering;
and for the peace sacrifice, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling sheep.
This was the offering of Nachshon son of Aminadav.


And so forth. There are twelve days of these bulls of pleasant odor, etc. (Only eight days to Hanukkah, so we don't read them all. I don't mind.) Like the Christmas song, it has lots of words, although they're decidedly less upbeat. And there the similarity ends.

10 comments:

HCaldwell said...

I remember reading somewhere that the reason that many different religions observe "a cycle of days" for their holdays is because the very earliest religions were based on seasonal changes and the slow movement of celestial objects. These were gradual processes, not sudden events, that required a number of days leading up to a final moment.
(Is there any significance to the fact that 2 oxen are equal to 5 of most other animals?
Surely, it wouldn't be by weight. Even one ox would weigh more than any 5 goats.)

Ayekah said...

That is too good.....May I copy and paste that to read to my class this week?

alto artist said...

Of course, and thank you!

HC (if I may be so informal), very interesting. Makes a lot of sense, especially since I've been learning about mythological/pagan origins of Bible stories in my Me'ah course.

I'm sure there's some significance to 2 = 5. I can imagine some ancient rabbi stroking his long beard and going on at great and repetitive length about the gematria (mystic numerical value, since letters = numbers in Hebrew) of all the letters in the words "goat" and "oxen," when you add them up and divide them by some other mystical number, and then perhaps add them to a third number, and therefore you get the reason why we must dip the green vegetable in salt on Passover, or something along those lines.
--aa.

alto artist said...

p.s. Ayekah, I assumed, maybe incorrectly, that you asked about pasting my words...if you meant HC's, I don't presume to answer for him!
--aa.

Michael Stein said...

I've always suspected that Ramadan and Ellul were the same observance... a sacred month... ending on Yom Kippur, the only we day we pray the Amidah five times just like the muslims do.

alto artist said...

Very interesting... (and thanks for visiting my blog!)
--aa.

Rachel said...

I definitely see some resonance between the four weeks of Elul (well, okay, technically the four weeks of Elul plus the first nine days of Tishri, but whatever) and the four weeks of Advent. In both cases there's a sense that we're preparing ourselves spiritually for a moment of profound connection with the Most High, and that shapes our season.

I see some resonance also between sefirat ha-omer and the weeks of "eastertide" between Easter and the Christian festival of Pentecost, when the holy spirit is understood to have descended and fired-up Jesus' followers. It's so clearly a rewriting of the revelation we perceive ourselves to have gotten at Sinai...

(This kind of thing gets me excited. :-)

George said...

I have only just found your blog, and I find it fascinating. I am slowly working my way through it.
I just wanted to offer a correction to where you say that we only read the first eight days of sacrifices on Hanukah, and not the full twelve. Actually, on the last day, days eight thru twelve are read.

alto artist said...

George, thank you for visiting, and setting me straight... we rarely do the entire reading at my synagogue, and I made an incorrect assumption. (I should put a big disclaimer at the top of this blog: "*All facts presented here are probably wrong!"

Rachel, so interesting (these things get me unduly excited, as well...) Maybe one day someone will discover the big piece of fabric from which the threads of all our religions have been drawn.
--aa.

Ayekah said...

aa, thanks, no I meant your words...I read hc and would have asked him direct. I'd like to comment on the intrinsic history of festivals....but let me not, but let me just say that the festivals of the OT rule precendant. End of comment.