Parashat Emor

Sanctifiers Of Time

The commandment to proclaim the festivals includes concepts of communal responsibility and imitating God.

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kara l’ means to assign an additional name: "And God called the light Day" (Bereishit 1:5); 

kara et connotes to proclaim, to establish a name: "And He called the name of that place Kivrot-Hata'avah (graves of lust), because there they buried the people who lusted" (Bamidbar 11:34). 

Thus, when the Sanhedrin establish the beginning of Nisan, and accordingly the festivals of the entire year, they are determining reality. Moreover, Hashem authorizes their determination:

"Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: The festivals of Hashem which you"--that is, the Sanhedrin acting on your behalf--"will proclaim as holy convocations, these"--and only these--"are My festivals."

Hashem ordains the dates of the festivals, but the Jewish people ordains when those dates will be. 

Shabbat, initiated at Creation, is mentioned in this context to demonstrate that the festivals, once proclaimed, are elevated to an equally God-given status, as Rashi says:

"For six days": What is the bearing of Shabbat upon the festivals? To teach you that anyone who desecrates the festivals is considered as if he desecrated the Sabbaths, and anyone who fulfills the festivals is considered as if he fulfilled the Sabbaths.

Equal Partners

Hashem invites the Jewish people to be equal partners with Him in sanctification, extending the moral imperative of imitating Hashem that is the central theme of Vayikra: You shall be holy, for I Hashem am Holy (Vayikra 19:2).

The Jerusalem Talmud (Tractate Rosh Hashana 1:3) explores the ramifications of this partnership:

If the court says, "Today is Rosh Hashana," the Holy One, blessed be He, says to the ministering angels "Set up the platform, set up the defense attorneys, set up the prosecutors, because My children have said that today is Rosh Hashana."

But, if the court decides to postpone it until the next day [because they have not accepted the testimony for the new moon], the Holy One, blessed be He, says to the ministering angels, "Remove the platform, remove the defense attorneys, remove the prosecutors, because My children have decided to postpone it to tomorrow." 

We determine the circumstances of our own judgment. This might explain why our passage, unlike previous discussions of the festivals, is the first time that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are included. 

The Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) then suggests a number of analogies to explain how Hashem entrusted the fixing of the festivals to the people of Israel. Hashem is compared to a king or to a specialist who passed on a treasured and useful item to his son (a precise clock, a watchtower, a signet-ring, a treasury; a carpenter's tools, a physician's bag) when the son came of age. 

The implementation of the commandments of the Torah, too, is a coming of age for the Jewish people. Through the festivals, they are empowered to determine the nature of time, emulating Hashem as sanctifiers, as creators.

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.