Parshat Emor

Parshat Emor continues the theme of holiness of the book of Vayikra with a discussion of the behaviour required from the Cohanim and then moves to the sacred times set aside in our calendar, opening with Shabbat and then moving to the festivals spread throughout the year. Our sages struggle with the inclusion of Shabbat as an appointed time (Moed) as the character of Shabbat is different, being a weekly reminder of the creation and a rest from the day to day hubbub of life, whereas the festivals celebrate our emancipation and the yearly cycle.

Several interesting expressions are used in the text, firstly “moed” which translates as the appointed time, then “mikra kodesh” which is translated cryptically as holy convocation meaning the time we gather together in holiness and lastly “bechol mosvotechem,“ in all your dwelling places. The Ramban explains that the festivals were set times to gather together when we had a temple, but just as Shabbat is everlasting and we celebrate in our homes, so the festivals are perpetual and can be celebrated everywhere even when we do not have a Temple.

However, Shabbat and the festivals are different. Shabbat returns every seventh day in a fixed everlasting relationship set by Hashem to commemorate Hashem’s creation of the world the cosmic event which encompasses the whole of mankind and as such we see the that the concept of the seventh day of rest has become universally accepted. On the other hand, our festivals are a historical reminder of our nation’s redemption and we call their timing and the yearly calendar is set by the nation, through the ruling of the court (Bet Din).

The Slonim Rebbe in the Netivot Olam brings a lovely comparison to the relationship between parents and children. Shabbat can be compared to children visiting the parents home and festivals to the parents being guests at their children. The parental home is a return to stability something enduring, whereas the parents visiting the children is a different experience where the next generation are in charge. Each new generation innovates some change whilst nevertheless trying to keep to the tradition of the last generation. Shabbat signifies the constant weekly cycle while the festivals signify change each with its own particular characteristics but nevertheless the cycle returns. An interesting thought for discussion, which possibly Rabbi Lord Sacks could do a better job of expounding.

Returning to the underlying theme of holiness (kedusha), the book of Vayikra is talking of boundaries and divisions, the separation of the priesthood, the food we eat and do not eat, the way we should and should not behave, and now differentiation with specially appointed times. We live in a world of constant change and we are being told that change and innovation is for the good, but what we are being reminded here is that consistency and tradition should not be abandoned, Hashem has given us this planet to look after and we should be careful not break the cycles of nature.

There is a new series of David Attenborough’s wonderful view of the natural world called “The Planet” where he shows how our constant desire for a better, more industrialized, easier life is changing and slowly harming the cycles of nature and possibly destroying the world we know. In the opening chapter he gives an example of the migration of the small Pacific herring that sustains the ecology of that region and how the decreasing numbers are upsetting the balance of nature and the economy of the Pacific basin. With Shabbat we rest and are reminded that Hashem gave us the world and perhaps with annual cycle of the festivals we should be reminded to look after the world which he has given us.

Comments are closed.