This is the time of New Year’s resolutions in the secular world, but did you know that for the Kabbalists and many Jews who follow their teachings it is also a special time for resolutions?
This last week we have been engaged in the reading of the Parasha of Shemot and entered a period of time called “Shovavim” which is an acrostic for the parshiyot of “Shemot”, “Va’era”, “Bo”, “Beshalach”, “Yitro” and “Mishpatim”. The period in which these portions are read typically falls around January-February. Shovavim is a season in the Jewish calendar when the Kabbalists teach that it is auspicious to refine our character and behaviors. In Shemot the Hebrews become slaves. The Exodus story unfolds through the parshiyot of “Va’era” and “Bo”. We have the actual Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea in “Beshalach” and the Hebrews become the Jewish People with the giving of the Torah and its mitzvoth through “Yitro” and “Mishpatim”.
Just as the Hebrews made the transition from the depths of depravity and slavery in Shemot to becoming worthy of redemption and release in Bo and ultimately deserving of revelation and receiving the Torah in Yitro, so it is a tradition among many to use this time in meaningful way regarding our “middot” (character traits).
Many in the secular world follow a New Year’s Day of drinking and celebration with resolutions related to the body—eat less and exercise more. The focus of Shovavim is supposed to be on refinement of character. I think that each is equally challenging to maintain and sustain.
It may be an interesting coincidence that just as many resolve to “diet” in the New Year, some Jews use the Shovavim Period to fast on certain days as part of their focus. Some fast from eating and drinking and some also engage in a fast called “Ta’anit Dibbur” –refraining from speaking for one day a week. How would you like to give that a try? Considering most of the things we spend our time talking about, maybe there is some wisdom in giving a day to focused reading of texts related to ethics and morality and to quiet contemplation.
Just as yoga and meditation have become increasingly popular forms of spiritual expression in the world and even among many Jews who might be more likely to attend a yoga class than a Sabbath service, Shovavim has always been a special time for meditation among Kabbalists and their followers. At our synagogue we offer a Torah or Soulful Yoga to tap into the powers of both.
Perhaps the most important concept is the ability to stick with the program. They say that the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are ancient history before the end of the month of January. I am not sure that people who practice Shovavim traditions have a better track record, but either way, making the resolution and attempting to change and improve is really what it is all about.
That is why our faith offers so many opportunities to change and be better. We have discussed Shovavim, but let us also remember the period of refinement during the Counting of the Omer in the weeks between Passover (yes, it is coming) and Shavuot and the special accessibility of HKBH during the month of Elul leading us into the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah (R”H and Y”K) giving us 40 more days for introspection and refinement.
Whatever you do. Do something to help yourself and the world be better. They say that if each person busied themselves with self-improvement (which would include character refinement in giving tzedaka and performing acts of chesed), there would not be the time or inclination for selfishness and hatred and the other afflictions of our world.
Shabbat Torah Study at Adat Shalom Synagogue resumes this Shabbat with Rabbi Jason Miller at 9:45 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like. In recognition of Shovavim, you might also consider giving our Soulful Yoga with Rabbi Rachel Shere a try. That begins at 10:00 a.m. Of course we also have our regular and uplifting Shabbat Services too. There is something meaningful for everyone at Adat Shalom. I hope to see you there.