Mo'adei Ad"nai asher-tik'r'u otam, mikra'ei kodesh eileh heim mo'adai.
These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the L"rd, which you shall proclaim at sacred occasions. (JPS)
We are told explicitly the practices and observances we must follow. It shouldn't be all that hard. After all, the sacred observances are quite cleverly linked with the natural order of the seasons, of agriculture, etc. Works just fine if you are living in ancient Israel (although I suspect even then we stubbornly resisted the commandments regarding the "fixed times" when we found them inconvenient, or "out of sync" with the other cycles we followed in those days.) Woks great in an agrarian economy. Yet somehow, once we begin to gather in large cities, and live a more urban existence, it seems easier to find ourselves "out of sync" with these "fixed times." Even though we were all, for the most part, living together in community. And that was then.
Since then, most of the rest of the world adopted a somewhat different, solar-based calendar. We stubbornly stuck with our lunar calendar, and our sages devised an elaborate scheme to keep the lunar and solar reckonings "in sync." And we were scattered, and it really became hard to keep ourselves "in sync" with the exact timing of things in the land from which we were evicted. So we added extra days to holidays.
Still, as we were all pretty much living together in our own communities, although we might be slightly out of sync with our non-Jewish neighbors, we managed, within our own communities, to stay "in sync" as best we could. And that was then.
Then humankind grew enlightened (well, perhaps that's an overstatement of the reality) and we were no longer forced to live only with ourselves, in segregated communities. We began to operate and function outside our world, and outside our calendar, our fixed times. And keeping those fixed times began to butt up against our desire to integrate with our neighbors. Some warned (and still warn) against this. And that was then.
This is now. Ordering our lives now requires us to balance our own calendar and fixed times against the calendar and fixed times of the rest of society. Is it gonna be a high school football game or celebrating Erev Shabbat? Will we ask the boss for a day off during the week since this year our holiday falls during the week? Or will be skip observing the chag and remain beholden to the other calendar?
It's fascinating to watch, year after year. When our Jewish holidays fall at times that are convenient vis a vis the secular calendar, observance and participation in chagim rises. And vice versa. Oh, sure, we'll usually make the effort for Yom Kippur, perhaps Rosh Hashanah, and surely Pesach. But Shavuot? Well, if it falls conveniently, maybe. (Of course, what is "convenient?" Even if it falls on a weekend, some might say that since the weather is nice they'd rather enjoy the day than go study all night at shul and attend services.)
Must we really be slaves to the secular calendar, the secular work week? (Did you know that one of the greatest hallmarks in American Jewish history occurred when the 5 day work-week was established-all of a sudden Saturday wasn't a work day. Rather than enjoy this largesse from our government, we've squandered it. Think about it. We have the opportunity to observe Shabbat. Of course, now the realities are changing yet again. We have become a 24/7/not quite 365 society. And suddenly there's more competition with G"d's most important fixed time for Jews-Shabbat. Have you ever noticed that J.C. Penney's runs all their great doorbuster sales on Saturday mornings?)
Now, it's not all bad news. We can take a stand. Recently, a team from a Jewish school petitioned a national association to change the date of a national moot court competition which they had qualified for because it was going to be on a Shabbat. Initially, the national organization resisted, but eventually, they gave in.
So what would happen if we all stopped trying so hard to be in sync with the world and out of sync with Judaism? What would happen if we all said "none of our children will participate in school sports on Friday nights or Saturdays?" Being a minority, there's always the chance that the majority will simply say "do want you want, we don't need you." Somehow, after a time, I think they would discover that our presence is missed. If they want us to join in their reindeer games, they might have to rethink their "fixed times" as well.
While some scholars might argue that Shabbat looks more like it was thrown in at the beginning of the list of fixed times because "oops, we don't want to give people the wrong idea, we'd better stick it into the text here," maybe it is original to the text just as it is-and Shabbat is truly meant, as it probably should, to have this prominence among all the "fixed times."
You can start big (small?) Work to allow yourself to be in sync with our major chagim--give them priority. And then move on to Shabbat. Or you can start small (big?) with Shabbat -making it truly a fixed time, holy to G"d. either way, you can't go wrong.
The more we all work to get in sync with Judaism, the greater the reward we might obtain from immersing ourselves in it. I commend sync-ing up.
©2005 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on the same parasha:
Emor 5764-One Law for All
Emor 5763-Mishpat Ekhad
Emor 5758-Gd's Shabbat
Emor 5759-Lex Talionis
Emor 5760-Mum's the Word
Emor 5761-Eternal Effort
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