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Every Day a Holy Day

By: Rav Ari Shames

Holidays are complicated.

I think we can all agree with that statement on many different levels, having just had the pleasure of celebrating Pesach with all of its intricacies.

In this week's parsha we find the listing of the yearly cycle of the Jewish Holidays. This is not the only listing of these important times; as a matter of fact they appear in at least four other locations throughout the Torah. It is natural for us to ask and investigate why they appear in all of these places and what the message is.

Each holiday has a sort of ID card that we can build for it:




In many cases there are multiple answers to the above questions. For instance the holiday that we generally call Shavuot is referred to as Chag Hakatzir (in Shemot 23), Chag Shavuot (in Shemot 34), it has no name at all in our parsha, it is Yom Habikurim (in Bamidbar 28) and once again Chag Shavuot (in Devarim 16).

The same type of ambiguity exists by the other holidays and the questions as well.

If we take all the different lists together we begin to see a more comprehensive picture in which we can identify four distinct elements:

  1. Refrain from work.
  2. Bring a special sacrifice.
  3. Make the pilgrimage to the Mikdash
  4. Each holiday has its own unique additional element, such as the sukkah on Sukkot and eating matza on Pesach.

The list in our parsha has some interesting elements that we do not have elsewhere.

Firstly, it is the only list that includes the full requirements of the "unique additional elements" (sukka, shofar, lulav, fasting, etc.). In addition, it is quite obvious that it lacks the requirement of making the pilgrimage to the Mikdash. Finally, it includes a more extensive list of holidays than any other list with the inclusion of Shabbat, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

I think that one possible understanding of our list in Parshat Emor involves understanding the larger context of the concept of Kedusha, holiness, in Vayikra. The basic idea of holiness is most naturally understood as the contra to the daily lives that we lead. This is the formulation that we use in Havdalah where we separate between the "holy and mundane". This plays out in all forms of holiness - time, place and people. In each and every one we have the standard baseline of life and as well we have a higher, more limited level that we define as holy.

With regards to time we find it in both our weekly cycle, in the yearly one and in the larger loops of the seven and fifty year cycles. Each one has us living "normal life" and we then take time out to mark it in special manners.

With place, geographically we also find limitations on where we can go in regards to the Mikdash, as opposed to our homes that are generally open for our daily lives.

On the people level as well there are those of us who are standard "garden variety" folk, and there are Kohanim that come with a series of limitations, detailed in the opening section of this week's parsha.

This is not a Jewish invention. Any religion is built around highlights that are exceptions to the rule which provide moments of inspiration and commitment. As a matter of fact, in the secular world as well, special locations and times are infused with a special level of reverence that does not exist on the everyday level (grand governmental buildings, national holidays and monuments are just an example of this phenomenon).

All of this is summed up by the Rashi at the start of last week's parsha where we read that Kedoshim means to be separated. Holiness must be different than the normal mode.

However, the Torah has a special innovation in the area of holiness. Holiness is not limited to the abovementioned groups, times and places. The command to achieve holiness is one incumbent upon each and every Jew and it is a requirement at all times and in all locations. We are being held to an almost impossible standard - to turn our everyday life into the exceptional. The mitzvoth apply all over the globe. They apply to us all and not to a limited sect, and of course there is no vacation time in our service of God.

This second level of holiness, the eternal and constant level, plays itself out in the second half of our parsha. The pesukim leading up to the list of holidays tell us:

"Observe my commandments and do them, I am God. You shall not profane my name, rather you should sanctify My name amongst the nation, I am the one who sanctifies you"

This is almost as if to say, For all of you non-Kohanim who lost interest in the first part of the parsha that focused solely on the Kohanim, pay attention! This is about you as well.

It is with this in mind that we embark upon the list of the holidays. They are definitely special times; however there are special times more often than one may think. It is not simply the three "regalim"- Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot - that we mention. Those are the three that require us to go to the Mikdash, to leave our homes and seek Kedusha in its concentrated form in a Holy Place. Our list opens with Shabbat, the weekly and all so familiar event. The Torah tells us that this too is a form of Kedusha. In addition we read of those holidays when we are not required to leave our homes at all (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). All of the days have meaning.

It may be for this reason that it is specifically here that we are given the other mitzvoth specific to each holiday in which each and every one of us participates (sukkah, lulav etc).

In order to highlight this point I think we can note the use of a word that is repeated many times in our section - "moshvotaichem"- your dwellings. The Torah repeatedly stresses that the issues and commands that are being discussed are relevant to ANYWHERE that you live.

Of course, we cannot ignore the fact that there are special and unique epicenters of holiness, but we must never allow ourselves to ignore the potential to find God and develop our own connection with holiness in each and every aspect of our "mundane" lives.

Shabbat Shalom


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