You know that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you realize you're home? Well, I got that feeling when I found a Coffee Bean (sans the Tea Leaf), a favorite haunt of mine from Los Angeles, at the foot of the Ben Yehuda Mall in Jerusalem. This is something that they don't even have in New York, yet they have it in Jerusalem. It didn't seem so different either. In fact, I probably see more yarmulkes at the one I frequent in Westwood Village at UCLA (there's two there, I'm talking about the Kosher one) than at this one. It was similar to the feeling when I discover a new Jamba Juice in Manhattan. There are some slight differences, such as they don't have Black Forest, the cherry drink I like, and they don't have the non-fat hot vanilla powder that I have in lieu of breakfast/lunch when I'm in LA, but I did get to walk past the old city while drinking an Ice-Blended, which was way cool.
I also went to the Shuk at Machanei Yehuda and bought figs (which for some reason are dried; the only fruit you can't find fresh... whatever, I love 'em anyway!), avocados (a different kind than the ones I get in america), red cabbage salad, and kiddush pita for Shabbat. I also bought a couple of kippot (not that I need anymore). Then, instead of taking the bus home, I decided that once I had my Ice-Blended from Coffee Bean, I would walk home and give my bus fare to in tzedekah form, which gives me an even more warm and fuzzy feeling.
Now as I eluded to in my Dvar Torah, this week's portion is not only Mishpatim, which by the way happens to be my youngest brother's Bar Mitzvah portion, but is also Shabbat Shekalim, which begins the long Passover Season. There are two major Jewish seasons, in my opinion, the Passover Season and the High Holiday Season. The High Holiday season begins mid-summer with the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz, leads to the 3 weeks of Admonition leading to the destruction of the Temples on the 9th of Av and then the 7 weeks of Comfort leading to Rosh Hashannah, with the month proceeding being the month of mercy and repentance. 10 days of repentence follow to Yom Kippur, following which we have the festival of Sukkot where we pray for good things for all other nations of the world, our fate gets sealed on the 7th day of Pesach, and we get judged for rain the next day and celebrate the Torah.
The Passover festival begins on the Shabbat before the beginning of the month of Adar (in a leap year when there is an additional month, it is the Shabbat before Adar II) when we are commanded to give the annual half-shekel (a very minimal amount of money, I usually give a full shekel to the poor, and Falafel costs at least 8, so you can see how much people can afford a half-shekel) to the poll-tax, following which we enter the month of Adar, about which the Talmud says in Taanit 7a (correction: 29a) (if memory serves me -the Chairman, Iron Chef), "whosoever enters the month of Adar increases in gladness". Special shabbatot abound, one for blotting out the name of Amalek, the progenetor of Haman who seeked to destroy the Jews on Purim. Following the drunken revelry that is Purim, we discuss the purifying Red Heifer and the special instructions for the coming month of Nisan which is the greatest of all months and the first of all months (contrary to popular opinion that Tishrei is both of these, it is in fact neither). Passover comes after massive preparation, and as it is statistically the most observed of all Jewish Holidays, at least by polling of Israeli Jews, I don't need to go into it. On the second day we begin to count 49 days, 7 weeks of 7 days each, a time of semi-mourning for a plague that wiped out Rabbi Akiba's students, peppered with some happy holidays such as Lag Ba'Omer (33rd day of the omer when the plague stopped), Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Reunification Day) all leading to the Revelation at Sinai on the 6th of Sivan when God spoke the Ten Commandments to the people (see last week's Dvar Torah: Yitro as it is the account of the revelation). Moses ascends to Heaven for forty days to get it in writing. The people start counting that day as the first day, Moses counts the next day as the first day. When he doesn't come back on the 16th of Tammuz, fearing he's dead, they build a Golden Calf and he returns on the 17th of Tammuz, his 40th day and shatters the tablets, thus beginning the High Holiday season (which I forgot to mention has moses going up to heaven a total of 3 times and for 40 days each, the third of which spans the 1st of Elul to the 10th of Tishrei, the official season of repentence when on the final day he secures atonement for the sin of the people from God and brings down the second set of Ten Commandments).
Anyway, I had a completely different agenda but didn't end up getting to it. Something about legal fictions and selling the land of Israel.
By the way, the only holiday absent from either of these seasons is Chanukkah, but it gets its own momentum from being the "Holiday Season" for at least four religions, so it works out.
Oh yeah, that and Tu Bishvat. Whoops.
SHABBOS PLANS: Tomorrow night and Saturday I think I am going to daven at the Great Synagogue. Services will be very long because they have a choir, led by Eli Jaffe, the man whose CDs inspired my High Holiday melodies I use when I lead services on the Yamim Noraim. I'm very excited about this. However, I am not excited about services starting at 7:50 AM. Thankfully I have not made plans this shabbos because I would never make it to anything because of the sheer length of these services. At least this is better than one suggestion that I go to the SY Agnon Synagogue that starts at 6:20 AM and is out by 8:00 AM, even though they do EVERYTHING, including the Yotzer (enhanced prayers) for the Shabbat Shekalim, the added piyyutim (similar to that which is added to the High Holiday services) that make the amidah five times longer than usual, and this particular special shabbat has enhanced amidot for Shacharit AND Musaf (which most of the others do not). I myself have never been to a service that has Yotzrot because nobody does them, but I want to go to one once. I do get blessed all the time by priests, which is pretty cool. They do the Priestly Blessing at all morning services in Israel, where everywhere else in the world the leader would just be reciting the words.
Alright, I'm stammering so I'm gonna stop.