Our daughter gives me a special Chanukah gift every year. It is a new calendar and every month has wonderful happy photos taken during the past year, mostly of our grandchildren. As I turn the page each month, I see the highlights of the month noted on the proper days – birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions. These calendars become scrapbooks when the year is over, filled with visual reminders of happy memories. But they begin as a promise of a year of celebration as we look ahead.
This week’s parasha (Torah reading) is like our annual calendars. It is aptly named Emor, which means “speak.” I didn’t count the number of times we read in this chapter “God spoke to Moses, saying…”, but it is repeated very often throughout the reading.
In the middle of the parasha, we read, Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: these are God’s appointed holy days that you shall designate as holy occasions…” (Chapter 23:1) God tells Moses to tell the Israelites about the festivals of the Jewish calendar, beginning with Shabbat, then Passover, Shavuot, a “remembrance of the shofar blowing” (Rosh Hashanah), Sukkot, and finally at the end of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret. A year of celebrations! Missing of course are those holidays that are historically based after the conclusion of the Torah, including Chanukah, Purim, and Tisha B’Av.
After the establishment of State of Israel, four other days were added to the holiday calendar: Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day; Yom Ha-Zikaron, a memorial day for those who died in defense of Israel; Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day; and Yom Yerushalayim, the day celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.
These modern holidays, while not ordained by the Holy One in Torah, resonate with us. Many of us lived during the time the holiday was created. For that reason, they have a special relevance that we relate to differently than Sukkot or Passover. They are the holidays of our generation, or our parents’ generation, demonstrating the relevancy of Judaism to our own time. Chag Sameach as Congregation Emeth celebrates Yom Ha-Atzmaut, the 66th birthday of the State of Israel, this Friday night!
Rabbi Debbie Israel