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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - May 2012
From the Rabbi - May 2012 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

I’d like to share a few thoughts about MAY with you.  As a month, May got its name from one of two sources.  The Roman poet, Ovid, suggested that May comes from the Latin word “maiores,” which means “elders.”  We derive our English concept of “major” from the same root.  This literary lion was drawn to this etymology because May is followed by June, which he said originated from “iuniores” or “juniors.”  Maybe….maybe not.  But who am I to argue with Ovid?

On the other hand, others in the ancient world believed that the source of May was the Roman goddess of fertility, Maia.  Her festival was observed in the Spring, as the earth was experiencing rebirth, in the same way that Passover is a rebirth festival of both nature and the Israelite people; from arid to fruitful, from slavery to freedom and independence.  So it is altogether possible and logical to derive May from the name of this good deity.

Suppose, however, we think of the word not as a noun, but as a verb.  Contrast the word “may” with “must” or its opposite, “must not.”  When you think of “may” in this way, it becomes pregnant with possibilities.  (Are we back to the goddess of fertility, Maia?)

As such, May may be the best month of the year for liberal Jews.  Liberal Judaism generally avoids what is mandatory, preferring instead to place before its adherents a range of optional choices of ritual and religious behaviors.    In doing so, it affirms the potential of individuals to make good choices; it trusts you and me to confront all possibilities and to pick judiciously and carefully from among the options before us.  It tells us that we are not required to keep kosher, but neither are we bidden to eat tref.  Rather, liberal Judaism poses the question to us: How can you arrange your diet so that it may enhance not only your physical health but also your spiritual welfare?  Liberal Judaism affirms that no one will stand over you with a gun to demand you make a charitable contribution, but it does propose that you can be sufficiently forthcoming with your funds that your generosity may make the lives of others and the character of the community better.

Most of all, liberal Judaism proposes that there is a mutual covenant between God and each individual Jew, and that this God is not a God who commands or demands or mandates, but who trusts us as partners to strive as best we humans can to choose the right thing.  Saying this, liberal Judaism affirms the considerable value of each human being as one worthy of being in partnership with the Eternal.

So what should we say at the beginning of May?  Perhaps we ought to think of the first mitzvah of the Torah (Genesis 1:28) “Be fruitful and multiply.”  May all your decisions be fruitful and may all your choices multiply in satisfaction and fulfillment.

Kenneth D. Roseman



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