Parashat Emor: Celebrating Life
Teach me my God to bless, to pray
On the mystery of the withered leaf, on the splendor of ripe fruit,
On the freedom to see, to feel, to breathe,
To know, to wish, to fail.
Teach my lips blessing and song of praise,
Renewing your time each morning, each night,
Lest my day today be as yesterday
Lest my day be for me simply habit.
Parashat Emor is one of those Torah portions that are full of symbols. I’d like to share with you today two of them.
The first one : The cycle of the Jewish Year or in other words our Calendar. And the Second one is the Counting of the Omer.
So let’s start by the Calendar:
In Leviticus 23-2 We read: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: The Lord’s appointed [holy days] that you shall designate as holy occasions. These are My appointed [holy days]:
[For] six days, work may be performed, but on the seventh day, it is a complete rest day, a holy occasion.
In the first month, on the fourteenth of the month, in the afternoon, [you shall sacrifice] the Passover offering to the Lord.
You shall count until the day after the seventh week, [namely,] the fiftieth day, [on which] you shall bring a new meal offering to the Lord.
Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first of the month, it shall be a Sabbath for you, a remembrance of [Israel through] the shofar blast a holy occasion.
But on the tenth of this seventh month, it is a day of atonement, it shall be a holy occasion for you; you shall afflict yourselves, and you shall offer up a fire offering to the Lord.
Speak to the children of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, is the Festival of Succoth, a seven day period to the Lord.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel explains that Judaism is the religion of time, the G-d of Israel is the G-d of time.
“Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn”(Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath (FSG Classics) . Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
Meaning for us is not so much in objects but in moments. The secret of Jewish mindfulness is that capability to understand time, to be present in time.
We start to get ready for Shabbat on Sundays, we prepare our houses, food, minds and souls so that when the seventh day arrives we are able to celebrate. Celebration requires preparation. Our calendar transcends the specific holy days. It is a way to contemplate our lives.
And here is the second symbol! Parashat Emor provides us with a wonderful example. The counting of the Omer. “And you shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day from the day you bring the omer as a wave offering seven weeks; they shall be complete.'(23-15)
The Omer (barley sheaves) refers to the days between Passover and Shavuot, 7 weeks, 49 days.
What is the idea behind these days? Passover is Chag Hacherut חרות in Hebrew means freedom and Shavuot is Chag ha Achariut אחריות in Hebrew means responsibility. The freedom that we received in going out from Egypt and the responsibility that we take when we adopt our ethical code, the Torah.
This transition between freedom and responsibility can’t just happen; our souls require preparation. So what do we do?
We count days! We try to prepare ourselves by being aware of the passing of time. We try to be mindful.
For Judaism, being aware of time is one of the most essential ingredients of our existence.
Life should be celebrated and it is possible when we succeed to be fully present. The year has 365 days for everybody and We have the choice of how many of those are really going to count!