For those who are regulars in the synagogue, Torah readings 4-6 might seem rather commonplace. After all, we read them 4 times a year: twice on Sukkot, once on Passover and this Shabbat. What does reading about the holidays have to teach us, especially when we read them not on a holiday?
I see a key message at the center of these readings: the importance of marking sacred time. Aliyah 4 begins with the observance of Shabbat, the day of the week when we cease from doing our professional work and turn instead to our family, friends and our own mental health. Shabbat was described by Abraham Joshua Heschel as a “palace in time,” a source of majesty in the midst of our daily routines. Having Shabbat, having a time to cease from our work and to focus on ourselves and our families, is essential for everyone, be they secular and religious. Phil, if you don’t mind, let me use you as an example. For you, Saturday is a day to not take the Long Island Rail Road but rather to enjoy the beautiful outdoors on the golf course. That’s how you give meaning to your Shabbat, your day of rest.
The next observance mentioned by our text is Passover. In preparation for Passover (as is true on a smaller scale for Shabbat) we clean our homes, buy groceries and cook so that on the holiday itself we can sit back, relax and revel in our freedom and in the joy of being together with loved ones. After Passover begins we start the counting of the Omer, symbolically remembering a sheaf of barley which was brought to the Kohen (or priest) the day after the beginning of Passover. Though the Omer was only brought on one day, we are commanded to count seven full weeks from that day to the holiday of Shavuot (which literally means weeks). Why? Again the Bible is teaching us about the importance of marking sacred time. We mark the transition from Passover, the holiday of our liberation from Egypt, to Shavuot, the holiday on which we receive the Torah, a process which we are engaged in this time of year (today is the 35th day of the counting of the Omer).
Parshat Emor next details the holidays of Rosh Hashanah (referred to as the day of sounding the Shofar), Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) and Sukkot (The festival commemorating the Israelites dwelling in booths when they were in Egypt). Once again we are commanded to mark these times as moadim, or sacred occasions to God, and we are commanded to bring sacrifices (offerings to bring us close to God) during these holidays.
What does any of this have to do with us? So our ancestors set aside sacred occasions-how do we relate to them? I would argue that everyone needs to set aside sacred time for themselves and for their loved ones. This is especially true in a marriage. Both people in the couple need to set aside “sacred time,” time which is meant just for them. Life can be so hectic, our jobs can be so stressful, that it can become easy to neglect one’s partner and not devote the appropriate level of love and attention to him/her. Yes it’s nice to have Valentine’s Day (or the Jewish equivalent Tu B’Av) as well as one’s anniversary or birthdays but it is crucial to set aside time in addition to this so that one does not neglect his/her partner. Karina and I do month-a-versaries, trying to do something special just for us the first of each month. Some couples have a weekly date night set aside on their calendars just for them; others build time at different points in the week to check up on the other, make sure they are doing well and remind them that they are loved. Whatever approach the couple takes, it is important to build that “sacred time” into the relationship.
My Senior Rabbi told me before I got married not to sweat the small stuff with the wedding because “the weddings for them, the marriage is for you.” While I disagree regarding the wedding, I agree that the marriage to follow your wedding is about you and your ability to build love, companionship and “sacred time” into a relationship when life keeps pulling you in different directions. I know that you will be able to be there for one another and show devotion to each other regardless of the path in which life takes you. I wish you the best on your upcoming wedding as well as on your marriage-your building a home together and a life together as a couple. Mazal Tov!