Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah
February 2, 2023
11 Shevat 5783
Can you hear Sonny & Cher singing the very end of “I Got You, Babe” on the radio? Can you hear it fading out?? And then the DJ breaks in with: “Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties cuz it’s C-O-O-OLD out there…. And you can expect hazardous travel out there later today because of that blizzard…. The big question that’s on everybody’s mind today is ‘Do you think Phil’s going to come out today and see his shadow??’ That’s right woodchuck-chuckers, IT’S GROUNDHOG DAY!” People of a certain age may recognize these words as they are repeated again and again in the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray and Andi McDowell. Even before that film, Groundhog Day was a strange phenomenon on the American scene. It traces its roots back to a pagan holiday marking the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It reminded people that warmer, brighter days were coming. The Catholic Church eventually began marking the same day with a holiday called Candlemas—in which they gave out candles to people to help them through the end of winter. In Denmark and Germany, a tradition arose whereby they tried to rouse a hibernating animal like a hedgehog. If it was sunny enough for the animal to be aroused, they believed that there would be only 6 more weeks of winter. When central and western Pennsylvania was settled by people from those very same countries—think “Dutch Country”—they brought this tradition with them. And in 1886, a group that called themselves the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” began celebrating Groundhog Day with a groundhog named Phil. And the rest, as they say, is history. It’s no surprise that a holiday that was originally based on the idea that warmer, brighter days are on the way would resonate with people. For the most part, we human beings are an optimistic species. This week’s Torah portion celebrates the Hebrew slaves’ crossing of the Red Sea. They had escaped slavery, they had outrun the Egyptian chariots, and now they found themselves in the wilderness—the epitome of the scary unknown. So, what did they do? They danced and sang! First Moses and then Miriam led the others in the festivities. Despite looking at a desert in front of them, they believed better days lay ahead. We’ve certainly been through some challenging times these past few years. And every time we think we’ve made it through, it seems as though we get an abrupt reminder that even after crossing the sea, we’re still in the wilderness. Nonetheless, Moses and Miriam (not to mention Sonny and Cher!) come to remind us that it’s okay to dance and sing our way on the next leg of the journey. Better days are coming—maybe in 6 weeks, maybe more. But, they’re coming. Happy Groundhog Day! Shalom, RAF.
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