Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel
“The Lord spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are my fixed times, the fixed times of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.” With these words this week’s Torah portion describes the special days of holiness that the Jewish people are to gather to celebrate their relationship with God and refrain from daily work. The three festivals (hagim) of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, the High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and Shabbat are discussed here. All of these festivals reflect the idea that these days are different than our regular work days, they are ‘sacred occasions’ and that just as worshipping in sacred spaces is at the core of Jewish practice, so too is sacred time.
As our Etz Hayim Torah commentary asks: “The Jewish festivals challenge us: Do we define ourselves primarily by our work? Or do we define ourselves primarily by our total humanity, our ability to celebrate, to sanctify time, to share special moments with our family and friends?”
Our Festivals sometimes challenge us; there are so many laws and so many requirements. Some of us may grumble but know that all of the hard work and effort is worth it when we create meaningful Jewish experiences for our family and friends. Some of us find taking off of work to celebrate the holidays particularly difficult; many are required to take ‘vacation days’ to celebrate these holy days. But I do think that God is sharing a message with us. Holiness only exists if there are people who believe in God and are willing to receive the ‘trickle-down effect’ of God sharing holiness with us. God needs us to complement the holiness that is inherent in each holy day with our own human holiness. Holiness doesn’t just happen. We experience moments of holiness when we merge the holiness of God with our own human holiness. When we celebrate with others as a community, we are bringing holiness into our midst.
Being a Jew isn’t always easy. But once you reflect on the meaning of your Seder, once you marvel at the Torah you learn on Sukkot and once we experience the arrival of Fall as we celebrate Sukkot, we can see, hear, feel, taste and touch, the presence and the holiness of God. Sacred time is as important as sacred space.
Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel