Even in Israel, despite the weak anchoring justifications for the retail surge, fervor for Black Friday sales has taken the country by storm. The momentum to gird our loins and focus on which shoes or refrigerators we must rush out to procure has not only caught on, but it has pervaded the cultural landscape. My phone continues to buzz with the intensity of warnings of a national disaster, to alert me to the news that the celebration of Black Friday has already begun at every store that I have ever bought anything in, in the entire country.
Some advertisements declare the bold English letters of BLACK FRIDAY while some present with the transliterated Hebrew letters promoting “בלאק פרידיי” or my personal favorite, the translated Yiddish “שווארצע פרייטאג” (shvartze freitag), which appeared in newspapers and on billboards in the insular ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem. We are informed. The race is on to acquire and to amass, and we do not want to be left behind.
This year, actual Black Friday happens to coincide with the Jewish new moon of the month of Kislev. The first of each month, Rosh Chodesh, is described in Numbers 28, as chief among the first biblical holidays throughout the year. It is called holy and sacred and yet the nature of its “celebration” is obscure. An idea first developed by Rabbi J. D. HaLevi Soloveitchik, in his eulogy for Rabbi Zev Gold, a Zionist leader and signatory on Israel’s Declaration of Independence, highlighted the unique nature of the holiday of Rosh Chodesh. R. Soloveitchik argues that while Jewish holidays and Shabbat are normally accompanied with a disruption from our regular work days and a myriad of trimmings to reflect their grandeur through dressing up ourselves and tables, Rosh Chodesh is different. Rosh Chodesh is a holiday where we dress in our regular clothes, go out to our regular jobs, and there is no outward evidence to the day’s heightened sanctity. Our senses are not captivated by the tactile sensations of ritual objects or fancy clothing, or an olfactory stimulation of freshly cooked dishes to adorn our elaborate meals. Rather, cloaked in our regular clothing and routines, the sanctity of the day of Rosh Chodesh is expressed by changing the language of our prayers, reading from the Torah in synagogue, and adding lengthy songs of praise, “Hallel.”
This uncanny religious experience becomes an exercise in religious humility. Rosh Chodesh is the monthly opportunity to develop an experience of sanctity and celebration without material expressions. It is the day wherein the essence of the holiday is marked with the humble religious personality left to explore and develop absent any physical trappings. Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that this religious prototype of a vibrant religious persona enshrined in a modest veneer is found in a variety of personalities throughout Jewish history. He identified the profound religious personality of Rabbi Zev Gold, one of the founding fathers of the State of Israel, as one of these great role-models of depth and zeal, draped in simplicity. Rosh Chodesh presents a monthly retreat wherein we can experience a holiday in all of its glory without props.
Chodesh tov, with blessings for a beautiful new month and a fantastic way to spend Black Friday.