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05/14/2019 09:24:54 AM


Sam Shnider

This week we read Parshat Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23). This section continues some of the themes from the previous portion, Kedoshim (18:1-24:22) which begins with the verse “you shall be holy,” giving the people of Israel the potential for sanctity and holiness in their own lives and their relations to others, including the ethical commandment “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and the commandments of honoring elders, and remaining in awe of your parents. The key to an understanding of the previous portion is an understanding of the word Kadosh (“sacred” or “sanctified” ) and how our relationship to our own soul and that of others creates the sacred in our lives.
In this portion, the Torah teaches another relationship to the sacred: the designation of time. We are told in relation to the festivals, (23 (23:2) :2)
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם מוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם מִקְרָאֵ֣י קֹ֑דֶשׁ אֵ֥לֶּה הֵ֖ם מוֹעֲדָֽי׃
Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are My festivals the festivals of the LORD, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.
Here the people of Israel are given the power to create the sacred in time: to designate days, and call them holy both on a national level and a personal level. (23:4)
אֵ֚לֶּה מוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה מִקְרָאֵ֖י קֹ֑דֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם בְּמוֹעֲדָֽם׃
These are the set times of the LORD, the sacred occasions, which you shall celebrate each at its appointed time:
On a national level, the people of Israel are give the power to create their own calendar and to determine the dates of the festivals, as Ibn Ezra (renowned Jewish commentator of Spain 11-12c) explains:
The Sabbaths were called “ My chosen times” [:2]; the festivals are called their chosen time , because God does not determine the day of the week on which they fall. .... In the days when the Temple still stood, the Sanhedrin determined when the festivals would be held.
Thus, the Jewish calendar at its core is the power of the Jewish people to create holiness by designation, as the “holiness is entrusted to Beit Din(the high court).”
But on an individual level the designation of time happens through choice clothing and food and gathering in community (Nehemiah 8:10)
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Each and every person in the people of Israel is given the power to designate sacred times by setting them aside as days of community and rejoicing. And a vital part of this is gratitude for all the abundance we have been given, and a sharing of all that abundance, in particular with the poor and needy. Which is why the Torah emphasizes in the middle of the festival cycle how important it is not to forget the poorest members of society:
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God” Leviticus 23:22.
The festivals are associated with reaping and abundance, but no abundance is complete unless it is shared, because all possessions come from above, and we are merely entrusted with them to share them. And this is what gives us the power to proclaim these days, and all of the associated celebrations, sacred.
Fri, August 14 2020 24 Av 5780