Parashat Emor

Sanctifiers Of Time

The commandment to proclaim the festivals includes concepts of communal responsibility and imitating God.

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Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.

In the midst of a book devoted to kedusha (sanctity), the apex of the Torah's value system, we revisit the subject of the festivals:

And Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: The festivals of Hashem which you will proclaim (tikr’u otam) as holy convocations, these are My festivals.

For six days shall work be done, and on the seventh day is the Shabbat of complete rest, a holy convocation, all work shall you not do, it is Shabbat to Hashem in all your dwellings. 

These are the festivals of Hashem, the holy convocations which you will proclaim (tirkr’u otam) at their occasion. (Vayikra 23:1-4)

The festivals were discussed earlier (Shemot 23:14-17; 34:17-23), where it was established that Pesach must be during aviv (spring in Israel), and consequently the other pilgrimage festivals would coincide with their proper seasons: Shavuot with the first offering of the wheat-harvest and Sukkot with the in-gathering of the harvest. Based on the inspection of the grain, the flowering of fruit trees and the vernal equinox, the Sanhedrin (high court) would decide whether to intercalate the year by adding a month before the month of Nisan.

Furthermore, the rabbis teach (Tractate Sanhedrin 11a; Rambam, Laws of Sanctifying the Moon, 4:5) that the Sanhedrin can intercalate for other reasons, which can only be described as communal needs: when late winter rains cause the obstruction of roads, the destruction of bridges or the ruining of earthenware ovens for roasting the Pesach sacrifices; or, if Jews in the Diaspora have begun their pilgrimage to Jerusalem but will not arrive in time.

Rashi, based on Torat Kohanim (also called Sifra, the Jewish legal midrash on Vayikra) Emor 9:1, refers to this last consideration:

"Speak to the Children of Israel…The festivals of Hashem:" Make the festivals so that Israel will be accustomed to them, when intercalating the year for the Diaspora Jews who have left their places to make the pilgrimage and they have not yet reached Jerusalem.

More than just permitting the Sanhedrin to take this into account, the Torah is insisting that the Sages look ahead, for if the exiles are frustrated one year, they may not make the effort the next year. Consequently, Pesach is postponed by a month. 

Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush, 19th century commentator) notes that the responsibility to proclaim the festivals does not fall on all of Israel, but only on the Sanhedrin. The fact that this section is introduced by "Speak to the Children of Israel" suggests that it addresses an aspect of the festivals that involves the entire people, namely, to consider their needs when fixing the calendar, as Rashi says. As such, the Sanhedrin acts as the representative of the entire people.

In addition, Malbim argues that k-r-a, in the sense of "naming," has different connotations depending on the preposition that follows it: 

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.