How do you look beyond the matzah, the dreidels, and the shofar and make sacred time special time? This too is Torah.
Get ready to despise me. Time management has always been my strong suit. In school I was always two weeks ahead in my reading, and I always turned in assignments on time. I live with routine and schedule, and I try to plan out my weeks based on what I have to do and the time it will take to do each task.
Believe me, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows just because I’m a planner. With this ability to plan also comes a bit of a struggle when it comes to spontaneity, altering the plan, or setting aside time to have fun. My planner side has also been known to clash with my parent side. Having a child has put some strain on my time management, and as much as it may frustrate me, I find that sometimes I’m going to be late no matter how well I plan. As a family we try to balance flexibility with our schedule, sometimes staying up late for special occasions and sometimes sticking strictly to our routine, which we have learned is extremely important for our sanity.
My time management and affinity for schedules has served me well as a Jew. We are a people that lives by a calendar, with set times for celebrating, sleeping, mourning, praying, even for acknowledging learning. This point is driven home in the parshah we read this week, parshat Emor. In this section of text, we are reminded about the laws for purification of the priests, the holidays we are to celebrate throughout the year, and the ways in which we are to treat each other and animals. The majority of these rituals are meant to be done in public, with the entire community a part of them. The time and manner in which each ritual is performed is delineated by the Torah.
In chapter 23, verse 7 the text states, “On the first day you shall celebrate a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.” Specifically, this text is speaking about Passover; however, we receive a similar commandment for all of our Biblically-based holidays. “You shall do no work.” Aside from a rabbi whose occupation requires “work” on holy days (which is a totally different story) the Torah commands us to take a break. Each holiday, Shabbat included of course, requires that we stop. Often this means we are met with a dilemma. Do we end up taking a lot of days off of work for our religion, or do we try to compromise and do the best we can between our religious and secular worlds?
Jewish festivals ask us to challenge our own identity. Do you define yourself primarily by your work? If so, does that mean your career and daily responsibilities trump times of celebration? Or, do you define yourself by your total person, and if so, does that mean celebrations and sanctified time are coming at the expense of a fulfilling career?
I suggest that the time-outs observed in the Torah are meant to reduce stress, not compound it. They’re designed as reflective periods to be spent with family and community, and it’s up to the individual to find the appropriate life balance. This week we’re reminded that even the strictest of planned schedules needs occasional time out. Celebrating together, eating together, sharing in joy together – these are not just commandments, but a necessary part of sustaining who we are as Jews.
I have long struggled between my love of animals and, to be blunt, my love of meat. I cry tears of sadness during the ASPCA commercials and tears of joy when my Uncle Larry ships us a salami from Romanian Kosher Sausage in Chicago. Of course that’s hyperbole; I am in no way suggesting any similarity between humane food processing and the unthinkable animal cruelty that regrettably still exists in the world.
I do have many vegetarian friends who offer strong cases for their lifestyle choices, but I myself have never been compelled to be a vegetarian. However, my regard for my food choices and their sources has its roots in the Torah and its requirements that we show respect to animals both as food and as living creatures.
This week’s parshah, parshat Emor, teaches us the value of intention. We learn specifically about the laws surrounding the role of the priest and the extra steps the priest must take in order to remain eligible for that position. Each of these steps requires heightened sensitivity, first to what is ingested in the body, then to special times of the year such as holidays. These laws require a keen awareness of how our days and weeks are spent, and theparshah ends by enumerating the punishments for those who do not adhere to this way of life.
- What’s an example of something you taught to someone else (family member, sibling, friend)?
- Do you think that some Jewish holidays are easier to observe than others? Why?