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Labels

Friday, 20 May, 2016 - 1:33 pm

As the weather gets nicer and the flowers bloom, the spirit of summer is in the air. Graduations, picnics and barbecues are some of the things on our minds.  Sending children off to overnight summer camp is also on the minds of many parents.

As we prepare to send some of our children to overnight camp, we cringe at the thought of how many pairs of clothing they will likely leave behind.  To mitigate that, we use permanent markers and labels and all types of other indicators to ensure that somehow their belongings stay with them.  Hopefully, if an item is labeled as belonging to them it will be recognized as such.

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One of the topics of this week’s parsha, Emor, is the Jewish festivals, referred to in the Torah as the Moadim of Hashem, plainly translated as, “The appointed times of G-d.”  Why does the Torah use the term, “appointed times,” and not simply say festivals. To be sure, the word Chag does appear in the Torah, as in the instruction to rejoice during the festivals. But, when the Torah informs us of the holidays and charges us with observing the festivals, it uses the term “appointed times.” Why?

By saying appointed times, the Torah is specifying when to observe the festivals. In contrast to modern timekeeping, Jewish time is not calculated artificially. Rather, it relies on the natural phenomena of the solar and lunar systems. Our calendar, as well, initially relied on the sight of the new moon to establish the months. Only due to the decimation of Jewish communities in Israel and the disbanding of the Sanhedrin, was a formal, set calendar adopted.  When Moshiach comes, we will once again revert to a calendar based on the actual sighting of the moon.  Both the old and new system, however, give primacy to the natural phenomena versus human convenience. Why?

Perhaps the answer lies in the second part of the phrase. These festivals are not just the appointed times. Rather they are G-d’s appointed times. Festivals have a certain draw about them. Every culture needs special dates on the calendar. Rituals, foods and community get-togethers are part of the fabric of the human condition. 

A great danger lies in the wonderful and sacred festivals that G-d has given us.  The hazard of humanizing that which is Divine.  (Just go look at the debate raging in other faiths).

To warranty that the festivals remain sacred festivals that are observed as part of our allegiance to G-d, He demands that we observe them at His set times. We are dependent on the system that He established – not the weekend that works out best for us.

Like clothing, the festivals are in danger of losing their identity. By calling them “the anointed times of G-d,” we are reminded to keep a label of holiness attached to them.

If we cherish this attitude, I’m certain that we will also rejoice in the festivals. 

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