For most of us, our calendars play an essential role in our daily lives. Our calendars remind us of the time we devote to our relationships with one another, since so many of our entries tell of scheduled meetings with other people. Unfortunately though, our collective personal calendars do not come pre-programmed with the birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events that we must remember. Furthermore, most of our organizers fall short in that they do not contain a complete and accurate list of the Jewish holidays nor do they separate out our weekly celebration of Shabbat.
As I consider this week’s portion, Emor, I am drawn to the notion of calendars and how we utilize them, specifically because we get a list of the dates for all the major Biblical holidays in Chapter 23 of our portion. The first of these sacred occasions is Shabbat. “Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a Holy convocation.” After the command that Shabbat is to be celebrated every seventh day as a time of complete rest–a day of no work–we learn of the entire series of chagim and their seasons of observance, beginning with Passover. On the evening of the 14th day of the first month and for the next seven days, Pesach is to be celebrated (eight days outside of Israel). Seven weeks are to be counted from the first day of Pesach until the festival of Shavuot (the period of Counting the Omer in which we are currently engaged). Special offerings of grain, two bread loaves, choice flour, one bull, two rams, and seven unblemished lambs are to be brought to the priests for offerings on the 50th day. It too is to be observed as a sacred occasion, a day of no work (this time, for two days outside of Israel).
The first day of the seventh month is to be celebrated with loud blasts of a horn and is to be a sacred day of no work (Rosh Hashanah). Ten days later we are to observe Yom Kippur, a sacred day of no work, of self-denial and fasting. It is to be a day of complete rest from evening to evening.
The last holiday to be mentioned is the Feast of Booths. We learn that for seven days (eight days outside of Israel) beginning on the 15th day of the seventh month, the festival of Sukkot is to be celebrated. The people are to build booths, and during the festival, reside in them as a reminder that the Israelites lived in booths when they were freed from Egyptian slavery. On the first days of the festival the people are to bring the fruit of the hadar tree, the etrog; branches of palm trees; boughs of leafy trees; and branches of willow to the sanctuary. Additionally, burnt offerings, meal offerings, sacrifices and libations are to be brought to the sanctuary.
Through these holidays, our parasha reminds us that life is made holy by setting regular encounters with God in response to the Almighty’s request for a time to gather. In other words, the holidays are God’s way of asking for an appointment time in our sacred calendars. Indeed, God wants time on our schedules. What an amazing concept–amid our hectic days and nights–God actually wants us to set aside time to be with Him.
At least once each week, and sometimes more, we have the chance to celebrate, to rejoice, and to experience the special relationship between ourselves and God. And time with God is precious, as is the time we have to spend together as a community of Jews who deeply care about our tradition and one another. As such, let us commit ourselves this Shabbat to making the most of this special opportunity. And let us pray that the continued observance of God’s holy convocations in their appointed times will provide all of us with the sanctifying energies that always encourage perspective, balance and hope in a world where fulfillment of God’s mitzvot will enable us to know peace and fulfillment.
– Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff