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, Shabbat and the festivals. The discussion opens with Shabbat, being the weekly reminder that Hashem rested from the creation, whereas the festivals celebrate our emancipation and the yearly cycle. The Torah opens with the word “moadim” appointed seasons set through the year by the lunar cycle, so it is puzzling as to why Shabbat, is included as the opening gambit.

On Shabbat we are told “the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, and we are told “You are not to do any work (melacha), wherever you live, it is a sabbath to Hashem.” On the festivals we are told “you will bring an offering to Hashem, and do no manner of servile work (melechet avoda). The holy times of the year are where we come closer to Hashem. Shabbat the day we dedicate and sanctify the world, he created for us, whereas the festivals have been sanctified by Hashem to the remind us of his creation of our nation, Pesach freeing from slavery, Shavuot the giving the Torah and Succot the protection through the wilderness.

R Yehoshua Shapira the head of the Ramat Gan Yeshiva notes the striking contrast. Shabbat has a very spiritual orientation, no work allowed and everything prepared in advance. The festivals however are full of action, food may be cooked, there is a full program of sacrifices and of course, the time to go up in joy to Jerusalem. In the words of R Aaron of Karlin, Shabbat is the time for the pleasure of the soul, all prepared in advance, just like the manna in the wilderness. The festivals are a time of practical joy, full of action, and full of reminders of the yearly cycle of agriculture, working on the land that Hashem has given us.

The Ramban notes that the festivals were set times to gather at the Temple, but just as Shabbat is everlasting and we celebrate at home, so the festivals are perpetual and can be celebrated everywhere even when without our Temple. However, Shabbat returns every seventh day, set by Hashem to sanctify the creation of the world, the cosmic event which encompasses the whole of mankind, a universally accepted concept. On the other hand, our festivals are a reminder of our nation’s redemption their timing set by the nation, by ruling of our court.

The Torah then continues by presenting Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the days of awe, which interestingly combine the elements of the both Shabbat and the festivals. Additionally, in our prayers we bring Hashem closer to us by referring to the divine as our King “Hamelech”. Rosh Hashana is actually termed “shabbaton,” but however “melechet avoda” is allowed as with the festivals, Rosh Hashana is a Shabbat within a festival, with elements of festival joy and the opening of the soul with thoughts of starting afresh. Yom Kippur the pinnacle, of our spiritual year, is termed “Shabbat Shabbaton” as is Shabbat in the opening sentences, but nevertheless with real practical and detailed sacrificial work of the High Priest, with the people celebrating the joy of the High Priest’s success at the close of the day, a festival within a Shabbat.

Rav Shapira from Ramat Gan has a very interesting Yeshivat Hesder (the boys go to the army) with an orientation to teaching chasisdut. My father’s family were Amchiunov Chassidim, a small sect which still exists with a very interesting Rebbe in Jerusalem. So why are we not chassidim like my grandfather. Well, my grandfather got a good shidduch and went to live in a different town far from the Amchinov community. My grandfather had to decide where to send my father to Yeshiva, when he was nine. It was during the first world war and when they asked the Rebbe he told them that my Dad should study near to home in the local Livtak Ashkenazi school, where he even learned Hebrew. Over the years my Dad still loved the Chassidic approach to life.

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