Weekly Torah Commentary — Emor April 29, 2011

God spoke to Moses telling him to speak to the children of Israel and say to them: There are special times that you must celebrate as sacred holidays to God.  The following are My appointed festivals.  Lev. 23:1-2

This week’s parsha opens with these words and goes on to describe the biblical festivals which we observe every year; God’s festivals, sacred holidays which will exist forever and never be annulled because God has decreed it to be so.  The Feasts of Hashem are uniquely special opportunities to connect with Hashem in a dynamic way.

The festivals of God are not just memorials of past events but properly understood, they are profound celebrations for every generation of the very present reality of God’s involvement in the life of His people, Israel.   For example, sitting at the table for the Pesach Seder just a few days ago, every Jew identified with the dramatic deliverance wrought by the hand of God to free us, not just our forefathers, but us as well from slavery for slavery can take many forms.

The discussion of the festivals begins with the reminder of a previous given instruction: to keep the Shabbat holy.  In the Torah, the commandment to observe and safeguard Shabbat is given eight times.  The number 8 is significant for it carries a sense of abundance and strength; it reminds us of the covenant for every Jewish male child is circumcised on the 8th day and God spoke with Abraham eight times regarding Covenant.  Shabbat is indeed our weekly celebration of relationship with God, and is marked by cessation from all that occupies us during the week so that we can give our full attention to the awesome God Who has chosen us in His abundant love and made us His own.

Both on Shabbat and on the other festivals – Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Succot – it is a mitzvah to celebrate – to rejoice together with family and friends and to eat and drink together around the family table in honor of Hashem’s goodness.  It is also part of the mitzvah to share food with the less fortunate, ensuring that every Jew has what they need to celebrate God’s festivals.  The Torah tells us that the holidays are to be celebrated as sacred days when no work may be done and that this commandment to celebrate is “an eternal law for all generations no matter where you live!” Lev. 23:21

Surely, celebrating the festivals can be considered among the most enjoyable of all the commandments!

But there is also another aspect we must consider.  Though we find these holidays most pleasurable for ourselves and thoroughly enjoy time with our family and our friends, let us never forget that these days are meant to bring pleasure to Hashem as well.  It’s not all about us; it’s all about Him.

Each of the appointed festivals are for His pleasure.

What father does not take great delight in seeing His children grateful and joyful?  Grateful — and joyful — in that order.

Daily living has a way of encroaching on our mental and emotional well being with the unexpected, the frustrating, the annoying, and the exhausting.  We too easily lose an abiding sense of thankfulness and succumb all too quickly to complaining and kvetching.  We forget that every day is a gift, every breath we take a provision not to be taken for granted.  The Festivals of Hashem, rightly observed, bring us back to an attitude of gratitude, one of the healthiest characteristics of the mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy person.  We, of all people, have SO much to be thankful for – every day, in every way.

In Tune with Torah this week = having a “check up from the neck up”.  How is our thought life?  Does our mind entertain thankful, positive thoughts?  Or have we developed a negative, cynical, or depressed outlook?  If so, this Shabbat is the time to repent and resolve to nurture within ourselves and our families an ever increasing thankfulness, the key to abiding joy and peace.

Shabbat Shalom

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