Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 11 May 2019 / 6 Iyyar 5779

Parshat Emor

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Bound by Time

The Torah sets forth the laws of the festivals in three separate places, and the Midrash explains the significance of each: In Vayikra (here), they are set forth to teach of their order, in Bamidbar to teach about their offerings, and in Devarim to teach about the duty to teach Torah to the community on the festivals.

Rav Hirsch notes the anomaly of the mussaf offerings being taught in Bamidbar, when we would assume that Vayikra would be their proper place, among the teachings regarding all other offerings. He suggests that to appreciate the full significance of the festival offerings, the nation must first learn about itself and its own mission. This self-knowledge will be attained only through its experiences while wandering through the wilderness.

The cycle, or order, of the festivals — called mo’adim — is taught here. In fact, the order of the festivals is intrinsically related to the main teaching of Vayikra — the Temple service. They share a common concept of mo’ed, meeting place. The inner portion of the Tabernacle was known as the ohel mo’ed, or tent of meeting. The entire Temple was a place for the Jew to meet his Creator.

What the Sanctuary represents in space, the festivals represent in time. They are called mo’ed because they are meeting times with G-d. The purpose of both is Israel’s union with G-d. The Sanctuary is the eternal center of our spatial world, and the festivals are the designated connections with G-d in our temporal world. Their message is: these were the days on which G-d was near to you in the past. Each year, when they recur, G-d awaits you, to renew that union.

This understanding gives meaning to the juxtaposition of the mention of these festivals and the laws immediately preceding them. We read of three laws: 1) an animal may not be offered as a korban within the first seven days of its life; instead it must be permitted to rest under its mother, 2) it is forbidden to offer an animal on the same day that its young or its mother was slaughtered — on that day the animal is said to be ‘lacking a time requirement.’ 3) the permissible parts of an thanksgiving animal offering may be eaten only on that same day; none of it may be left for the next morning.

All of these laws instruct us to give consideration to temporal relationships within the Sanctuary. The time frames considered by these laws are one or seven days: a mother’s love for her young must be afforded for a period of seven days. The young or the mother of an offering must wait one more day until it may be offered. The permissible time to eat a (thanksgiving) korban is limited to one day. The festivals too, contemplate a period of one or seven days.

A person’s freedom is marked by his right to use his time as he chooses. By observing laws that invoke time, and by observing the festivals at the times G-d set for them, we express His sovereignty over us. That we place our time at His disposal is the sign of our becoming servants of G-d.

§ Sources: Commentary, Vayikra 23:1

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