“These are My fixed times; the fixed times of Adonai, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.” Leviticus 23:2
When I was considering Rabbinical School, I was cautioned, “Being a Rabbi is not a job, but rather it’s a way of life.” There is no punch out clock and the hours aren’t 9-5. While this was sage advice, this isn’t exclusive to rabbis. Being Jewish is not just a religion; it is a way of life. Judaism helps us recognize sacred moments and express gratitude for our lives on a regular basis. In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we read about days that are set apart as moadai Adonai- Fixed Times of God. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. Unlike space minded man to whom time is unvaried…Judaism teaches us to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year.” This means in Judaism we value time over physical space. As Jews, we set apart certain moments as Kadosh—separate –sacred. One of the reasons I wanted to be a Rabbi was a desire to live my life according the Jewish calendar. As a person that craves structure, I find having these yearly benchmarks reassuring. Emor mentions six list fixed times in a year:
- Shabbat-For six days you shall work, and on the seventh day you shall rest
- Passover-We are commanded to eat unleavened bread for 7 days
- Shavuot – You shall count off 7 weeks (Shavuot in Hebrew) when you bring offerings of new grain for the harvest
- Rosh Hashanah – a day of rest commemorated by the loud blasts of the shofar
- Yom Kippur – the day of atonement
- Sukkot -Seven day of booth dwelling and shaking the 4 species (lulav, myrtle, willow, etrog)
Notice, Hanukkah doesn’t make the list of the top six. Shabbat, The Three Festival Holidays (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot) and The High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are considered the” big six”—the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar.
This may seem like a strange time of year to be thinking about the calendar (although for us here at Temple, we have already set our calendars for the coming year). In May, we often look at the calendar and we feel like we are approaching the end of the year—graduations, confirmation, and culminating ceremonies, and the end of the school year. Yet in the Bible, the Jewish month of Nisan in which Passover falls mark the beginning of the calendar year. According to the Bible, Nisan is considered the “first month,” while Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot all fall in the “seventh month.” Confusing right? That is why when we read the machzor, the High Holy Day prayer book it tells us that “on the 7th month on the first day of the month you shall observe a sacred occasion commemorated by the sounding of the shofar.” They are many different ways that time is organized.
In Judaism there is no end—just like we restart the Torah each Simchat Torah and begin again, our lives are lived in the Jewish Cycle. As soon as we complete one commandment, another waits to be performed. When we reaffirm our connection to Judaism this Shavuot, what personal commitments can we make to grow spiritually and intellectually this year? As the activities of this school year comes to and end and we move to our summer months, there is an opportunity to use these quieter months and unstructured time to set new goals and priorities that will enrich our lives, deepen our relationships, and help us find meaning in our daily living. Emor reminds us that if we do not fix the time, the time will escape from us. We need to carve out time for what’s important.