This article was written for the King Solomon High School newsletter.
A short exercise: think of all the Jewish festivals and place them into the four seasons. What you will notice is that most of the key biblical festivals fall during Spring (Pesach and Shavuot) and Autumn (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot). This makes sense practically, agriculturally and philosophically.
On a practical level, Hashem ensured that pilgrims to Jerusalem for the three foot festivals would be able to fulfil this great mitzvah without unnecessary hardship of scorching heat or the rainy season. On an agricultural level, Spring and Autumn are times of harvest and gathering, and are opportune moments to celebrate what has been sown and reaped and thank Hashem for it. On a philosophical level, the fact that the natural world is changing in these times means that we are also more open to internalising new ideas and themes, such as Teshuva and personal development in the Autumn to freedom and national revelation in the Spring.
In contrast, Summer and Winter are times of extremes, hot or cold. For many people in history and even today, the challenge of Winter has been to stay alive. It is hard to have belief that things will get better when every day is dark, cold and wet. We tend to confine ourselves to the home at this time. In harmony with this idea, the only Jewish festival in Winter is Chanukah. The primary message of Chanukah is to maintain faith in ‘dark’ times of persecution and to show this, we put ‘light’ into our lives – and it is no surprise that the Mitzvah of Chanukah candles applies specifically to the home.
The challenge of Summer is more subtle. It is seemingly a more positive time, where we feel energised to be free, explore and take a holiday from our regular lives. The concept of a summer holiday has become enshrined in the western world. Yet in this time we have the period of the Three Weeks, which we are currently in, culminating in Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar commemorating the destruction of the first and second Beit Hamikdash. We learn that the reason for this destruction was senseless hatred between Jews. People were so caught up in their own lives that they forgot to see the bigger picture. In fact, the Jews were so busy in-fighting that they failed to unite together and combat the real threat of Rome.
As we approach the end of the school year, it is time for us to consider what we will do with our summer. Will we use it to seek pleasure for ourselves or will we continue to learn and practise the values we have learnt over the year? Our school motto, from Pirkei Avot, says “If I am only for myself what am I; if not now, when?” In the summer, when we do have time, now is the moment to help others, through volunteering, teaching and pursuing meaningful goals.
At King Solomon we aim to teach Jewish values, laws and ethics to our students so that they will make the choice to practise them throughout their year and throughout their lives. This is an underrated USP of a Jewish school – that the proof of our education does not solely lie in exam results but also in the life choices we make when we leave for the summer. This summer I will be making Aliyah, and I would like to thank staff and students for giving me a wonderful two years at the school, which I will sincerely miss.