It is in this week's parsha, Emor, that we find the earliest instructions around sacred time and the cycle of the Jewish year. Verses so important they have been incorporated into the blessings we say at festival meals:
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" (Lev. 23:4).
Leviticus 23 includes a relatively complete list of times which we would now call Jewish Holidays. The Torah begins with instructions about Shabbat and then journeys through the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, and concludes with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (Note: Despite contemporary popularity, Hanukkah and Purim come much later.)
This week's parsha always reminds me that these sacred times are literally ancient. Once primarily known by different names, like "Feast of Unleavened Bread" and "The Day of the Shofar Call," it is amazing to imagine how too our observance of them has evolved. I am sure the Torah's authors never could have imagined matzah made in factories. More so, the idea that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, once last on the list, have become the major gathering days in modern times. And they certainly never conceived of Shavuot, the 50th day of the period of the Omer, as a time connected to the revelation of Torah.
And yet, I think they always meant for us to find our own way of marking these appointed times. Which is why the rabbi's emphasized the word אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם - literally meaning, "that you shall call them..." We have agency in our observances. We are called to give texture to time; to prioritize community and connection; to share festive meals; to cultivate an inner life and a connection to the natural world.
As shabbat nestles in to the evening, I invite you to remember that we are the ones that declare time holy. Whatever joy and sorrow has filled your week, I invite you to connect to one thing that was very good, and to savor it.
Looking forward to singing and studying with many of you tomorrow:
Rabbi Ari Lev