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Parashat Emor

April 25, 2007

Parashat Emor
By Doug Alpert

Chapter 23 of Vayikra commences with God directing Moshe Rabeinu to ‘Speak to the Children of Israel – b’nai Yisrael – and say to them: These are the appointed [fixed] times of HaShem which you shall designate as callings of holiness – these are My appointed festivals.’ The parashah goes on to elucidate the calendar of festivals that were celebrated during biblical times. For these festivals (unlike Shabbat, which is set in terms of the days of the week, and which was put into effect by G-d at creation) the court is imbued with the responsibility for fixing the calendar in accordance with its declaration of a new moon. This is to say that it is the human who sanctifies these appointed times as holy.

While it is the court alone that has this responsibility, God has instructed Moshe to speak to the entirety of b’nai Yisrael. This is to insure that the appointed times be set in a manner that facilitates maximum representation of the nation of Israel at their shrine at the time of the festivals. With the mo`adim – appointed times, God has given us sacred time, in much the same way as the Ohel Mo`ed – tent of meeting – is a setting aside of sacred space.

While I relish the opportunity to set aside the festivals as a time for restoration, renewal, and a time for celebration with family and friends, a time to put aside our everyday existence, my perspective focuses more on the importance of scheduling time in the mundane space of our everyday schedule. I say this not so much with an eye toward creating sacred time out of everyday events (although that is a laudable pursuit), but rather on how we rely on creating schedules, known events in our life, amidst a world where so much of what will occur is beyond our ability to know or anticipate.

My personal experience with the importance of establishing a schedule emanates from the opportunity I had to care for an elderly parent in my home for a period of about five years prior to his passing. He was someone who had spent his entire life in a state of perpetual tardiness. For him, being late was measured in hours rather than minutes, and the world consistently was in waiting for him.

With the debilitating effects of a stroke, as well as the many other vestiges of old age he was a man who no longer was in charge, no longer dictated time and schedule, and worst of all, was now the one who was forced to wait for others. And while he may have been a more extreme example, I have observed that in general, as we grow more weary with age and cede control of more and more of our everyday existence, we place greater reliance on ‘knowing’ the little events that comprise our every day lives.

So in my own experience dinner had to be specifically scheduled (after all, there was ‘Wheel of Fortune’ to be watched), and not only had dinner to be served on time, but ten to fifteen minutes early was much preferred. If we were going to shul, not only was a specific departure time required, but also a specific time to conclude and depart from the synagogue.

While I offer this information somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I do not believe I could overstate the importance of setting a schedule, and staying to the schedule, in bringing to an elderly and ailing parent the comfort and, yes, healing that comes with the peace of mind in knowing what comes next. I am not sure this is significantly less true for those of us who consider ourselves not quite so elderly. For example we may rely on a regularly scheduled family meal as a way of touching base and checking in with our most important relationships.

In his commentary on the parashah R. Gunther Plaut recognizes that the festivals – the appointed times – have their place within an ‘orderly’ reckoning of time periods. R. Samson Raphael Hirsch in his commentary states that ‘[n]othing marks the independence of [someone] so much as [their] unfettered right to the disposition of [their] time.’ And, while we may freely give over control of our time to God in observance of the festivals, ceding our schedule to others is a tacit admission of what we are no longer able to do for ourselves. Both concepts – the need for order and the need to be stewards of our own time – speak to our need to believe that we have some control over our existence in a chaotic world.

May God give us the compassion and wisdom to serve others by honoring and maintaining their own appointed times.