After listening to the somber minor chords detailing the laws limiting the involvement of the Priests in the process of preparing and accompanying the dead, and a lengthy detailed list of additional laws designed to maintain their “Holiness”, the portion of Emor almost dramatically moves to major chords, those describing festivities of the Festivals. The capacity to celebrate in the shadow of tragedy and death is particularly poignant and telling this week, as we move from the Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut.
The passage opens with a striking yet baffling pronouncement 23:2-3;
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם מוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם מִקְרָאֵ֣י קֹ֑דֶשׁ אֵ֥לֶּה הֵ֖ם מוֹעֲדָֽי׃
Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are My fixed times, the fixed times of God, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.
שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ כל־מְלָאכָ֖ה לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֑וּ שַׁבָּ֥ת הִוא֙ לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה בְּכֹ֖ל מוֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיכֶֽם׃
On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion. You shall do no work; it shall be a sabbath of God throughout your settlements.
The term Moed is used to describe the festivals as is affirmed by its use to detail them in the following comprehensive verses. What is the relationship between the festivals and shabbat? The more troubling question arising out of this comparison, as elucidated by many of the classical commentaries, the capacity to proclaim these times and festivals, the same Hebrew word, – moed, is an assignment put in our hands, but not that of Shabbat. This was and remains God made, and not ours to determine.
The ability to set and in a sense control time was the first celebrated prerogative, given to a people on the cusp of freedom, Shemot 12:2;
הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה׃
This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.
Freedom from slavery places time in our hands. In the portion of Emor, the ramifications of this principle are played out with the ability to proclaim the occurrence of the festivals, (in addition to the new month) but again not the Shabbat, this is intricately related to the process of the creation of the world where God ceased work on the seventh day, declaring it to be “Shabbat”.
So why detail the description of Shabbat when we are essentially or seemingly talking about the festivals?
Later in the portion of Emor the confusion is further exacerbated, 23:15;
וּסְפַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ ממחֳרַ֣ת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת מִיּוֹם֙ הֲבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־עֹ֖מֶר הַתְּנוּפָ֑ה שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּת֖וֹת תְּמִימֹ֥ת תִּהְיֶֽינָה׃
And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete:
The commentators are quick to explain that the term ‘Shabbat’ rather than meaning Shabbat refers to the Festival and so we begin counting (the omer) after the first day of Pesach. The major disputes that arose from the enigmatic phrase could have been avoided through less precarious instructions.
So what might be the purpose of repeatedly blurring the distinction between Shabbat and Festivals? The intentional confusion perhaps alludes to the obscure predetermined nature of time and all too often its unpredictability. – We plan, God laughs, and sometimes God plans and hopefully we laugh. The symmetry speaks of dependence and independence of vulnerability and resilience. The capacity to evince qualities that appear beyond our power, to celebrate in the shadow of grief, to rise and soar from the valley of bones to the fertile valleys of rebirth.
Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom