Canada Day Sermon

Posted July 4th, 2017 by Or Shalom London with No Comments
Parshat Hukkat
Rabbi Catharine Clark @ Congregation Or Shalom
July 1, 2017 ▪ London, Ontario
Shabbat shalom.  Happy Canada Day.
The first mishnah of the tractate on Rosh Hashanah points out that there are four new years: the first of Nisan, the first of Elul, the first of Tishrei, and the fifteenth of Shevat.
When we study this mishnah, our first question is likely to be “Why are there four starts to the year; can’t the year begin only once?”  The answer is included within the mishnah itself. 
The first of Nisan is the start of the year for determining if a Temple offering pledged for a festival during the year has been made in time.  The first of Elul is the beginning of the tax year for newborn animals.  Starting on the first of Tishrei every seventh year, the land must lie fallow for the sabbatical year.  Beginning with the fifteenth of Shevat, any fruit formed on a tree is tithed with that year’s taxes.
 Different real world consequences depend on the many beginnings to a Jewish year.  When you begin the year depends on the purpose for which you are counting the passage of time.  There is no one “first of the year.”
So too, one could argue that there is no one “first year of Canada,” that one would have to know why one is counting the years of Canada to know when it began.
If your purpose is purely political, Confederation of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada into the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867 certainly is one good way of marking the beginning of Canada.  But, Manitoba, British Columbia, P.E.I., and Saskatchewan didn’t become part of the Confederation until 1870, 1871, 1873, and 1905 respectively.  Maybe we should count one of those years as the birthday of Canada.  Newfoundland didn’t join in until 1949, and Nunavut didn’t become a territory in its own right until 1999.  Starting with these dates would make Canada either a spring chicken (comparatively) or not quite old enough to legally celebrate Canada Day with a sip of Canadian whiskey.
If your purpose is broadly historical, we could also say that Canada is much, much older than 150 years.  Humans first entered the New World 15,000 years ago or 10,000 years ago or some other date altogether, depending on which anthropologist you ask.  When LaSalle arrived in Quebec in 1667, Canada was one word already in use to describe where he was.  Maybe Canada started then.
Or, we could base the date on cultural firsts that make us distinctively Canadian.  The first Tim Horton’s opened on May 17, 1964.  The first Stanley Cup was awarded in 1893 to the Montreal Hockey Club.  Canada Dry ginger ale was first produced in 1904.  I’m not about to weigh in on the contentious debate of when the first butter tart was baked.
More seriously, we could count the years from an event that makes Canada truly Canada.  The Battle at Vimy Ridge in April 1917 is often regarded as the flowering of a sense of Canadian nationalism.  Maybe Canada became Canada in the 1960s when each Canadian committed to caring for the well-being of every other Canadian with the establishment of universal healthcare.  Perhaps 1982 is the start of Canada when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted.
 Or, we could go back to 1951 and the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Noble and Wolf versus Alley when it became national policy that you couldn’t be told where to live based on race, religion, or ethnicity.  Another possibility is to start counting the age of Canada from only two years ago, with the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calling on all Canadians to acknowledge and begin to repair the harm of the residential schools for Aboriginal children.  If your purpose in counting the years of Canada is to be grateful for being Canadian, any one of these years would be a good “first year.”
Finally, you could begin to count from right now.  This potential beginning is a good one if your purpose in counting is to ensure that Canada continues to live up to its ideals.  The mostly peaceful and multicultural society Canada enjoys and the mostly unbiased and exceptionally polite bureaucracy that undergirds its mostly functioning government were not easy to create and are not 100% guaranteed to last.  They exist because of a consensus that they are valuable; not very many Canadians actively oppose them and most Canadians support them, most tacitly and some actively.  If we begin to count right now – not for the purpose of tithing animals or starting the sabbatical year – but for the purpose of Canada continuing to be truly Canada, you will be motivated to be involved in building the society Canada is and should be for at least the next 150 years.
In his play Kineret, Kineret, a fictional account of the founding of an early kibbutz in the Galilee, Norman Alterman writes a scene of what appears to be the start of something: “I want to express my thanks for the [people] who have stopped in and visited us at such an early hour… for the hour is indeed early.  We are still at the beginning of the day, and it may be that people who come after us will look at this picture and think for a moment: here is the beginning… and they may not know that for us this was not the beginning but the everything.”
Today is a celebration of 150 years of Canada, but each of those other points in history could have been chosen as the birth of this country.  They are important; they determine what comes next; they are not “the beginning but the everything.”  This moment too, right now, is the beginning and the everything of what comes next. 
 Shabbat shalom, and Happy Canada Day.

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