By Rob Goldberg
Twenty-four years ago, our daughter Noa, now a married mother of two young boys and a principal of a Jewish day school in Los Angeles, became a Bat Mitzvah. Emor, this week’s Torah portion from the Book of Leviticus (21:1 – 24:23), aligned with her being called to the Torah in May of 1997 at Congregation B’nai Amoona in St. Louis. My recollection of that day shimmers with memory, among them the privilege I had of reading Torah alongside the eldest of my three children.
I read the 5th Aliyah which details the High Holy Days commanding us to hear the shofar (ram’s horn) on Rosh Hashanah and to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur, described so beautifully as the Sabbath of all Sabbaths. It is a set of verses that underscore one feature of Emor: how we are to mark time by creating holy moments in our calendar.
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, z”l calls Emor’s catalogue of these holy times a “deceptively simple list,” and in a video made a decade ago, explains that time is the central medium in Judaism. He also reveals the duality in Jewish time citing two examples: that the Jewish day begins at sundown while the worship of the day begins at sunrise, and the while the Torah notes the beginning of the year as the first of Nisan (the month of Passover), we herald the “New Year” with the anniversary of creation on Rosh Hashanah, seven months later on the first of Tishri.
Our festival calendar provide signposts during the year that give our lives a foundational structure: the historic agricultural markings of Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot – our three pilgrimage festivals that provide a moment for gathering and thanksgiving – and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – the days of justice and judgement. But it is in the Aliyah that preceded the one I read that we come to appreciate the weekly marker of Shabbat, which Emor states so succinctly: Six days shall work be done and on the seventh day you must stop performing any work and proclaim it a shabbat shabbaton – a complete rest.
How challenging and yet so necessary that basic understanding that Shabbat is primarily a cessation of work and a time for a full and fulfilling rest: a recipe to both stop and refuel. It’s a takeaway that I first encountered while reading one Shabbat morning in May in St. Louis 24 years ago. A day I will always cherish: a moment in time connected with family, with joy, and with the deceptively simple brilliance of Parashat Emor.
Rob Goldberg has been the CEO of Buffalo Jewish Federation since 2015. He and his wife Shira have three grown children and six grandchildren. You can reach him via email here.