Parashat Hashavua – The Weekly Portion – EMOR/YOM HA’ATZMA’UT

JCT student Tzvi Silver on this week’s parasha.


Tzvi Silver, a student in his second year of studies towards a degree in Electronics Engineering at JCT’s Lev Campus, on this week’s parasha

In the midst of a parsha focused on the physical guidelines and standards for kohanim, the fourth aliyah changes topics a little bit, tangentially discussing the holidays of our people, the first time in the entire Torah that they are all listed together (and the first appearance of all of them, except for Pesach). The section opens:

וַיְדַבֵּר ה’, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, מוֹעֲדֵי ה’, אֲשֶׁר-תִּקְרְאוּ אֹתָם מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁ–אֵלֶּה הֵם, מוֹעֲדָי.

And G-d spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them; the holidays of G-d, that you will call them holy, these are My holidays. (ויקרא כג:א-ב)

After a very brief mention of שבת, the section continues to list our holidays, starting with the seemingly contradicting passuk:

אֵלֶּה מוֹעֲדֵי ה’, מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר-תִּקְרְאוּ אֹתָם, בְּמוֹעֲדָם.

These are the holidays of G-d, that are called holy, that you will call them in their set time (שם ד)

These pesukim do not seem particularly copacetic. First, Moshe is told that G-d’s holy days are the ones that the Jewish People will make holy (“אשר תקראו אותם מקראי קודש, אלה הם מועדי”). Then, we are given a laundry list of our chagim, Jewish Holidays for Dummies, if you would.  Which one is it?

Rashi, based on the Midrash Sifra, answers that the first passuk has no actual ramifications in practical Halacha. Rather, it’s more of a philosophical statement into our relationship with G-d. Hashem, as the בורא עולם, has control over the world- He causes the sun and moon to rise and orbit, and through this controls the seasons, the מועדים. But, we have control over how and when we celebrate the מועדים. G-d sends the New Moon, but the Bet Din must declare a new month for this to take effect with the Jewish People. In essence, the chagim symbolize the partnership between us and our Creator- He makes the מועדים, but we set them to be מקראי קודש. By saying “אשר תקראו אותם מקראי קודש,” G-d, through Moshe, is reminding us of the importance of our part in our relationship with G-d, for, despite His lunar signs, the holidays cannot exist without us declaring them.

While this is a very touching thought which should give us a good feeling scarcely two weeks after we just “sealed” this partnership again by celebrating פסח, I never feel great disregarding the literal implications of an entire passuk, so I would instead like to present a more pshat-oriented answer to our question:

It is very common in the Torah’s style for a section to open with an introduction, a header to catch our attention before we begin to delve into the details. What is less common, but still known to happen, is where an introductory passuk is not just an introduction, but much more than that- a lesson, or disclaimer, before teaching a lesson. According to Ramban, this is exactly what the seemingly superfluous opening verse of last week’s parsha, “קדושים תהיו,” does- it serves as a lesson that even if one follows all of the guidelines of Parshat Kedoshim, they will not be “קדושים תהיו” until they go לפנים משורת הדין. Even though it looks like, feels like, and tastes like an introduction to the following sections, ויקרא יט:ב  is much more than that- it is a disclaimer, a reminder that the idea of קדושה is not limited to the following section.

I believe that here too, in the section of “מועדי ה’,” the introductory passuk may well be a disclaimer, especially considering that there is another introduction scarcely two verses later. ויקרא כג seems to be a “Cliffnotes” on the major highlights of the Jewish calendar- “אלה מועדי השם אשר תקראו אתם במועדם,” these are the holidays of the Jewish calendar that you will call holy. But, that’s not all! We as a nation believe in the philosophy of תורת חיים, and that, with time, minor adjustments and additions need to be made to our religious observance. This is what I believe the first passuk “מועדי ה’ אשר תקראו אתם מקראי קדש, אלה הם מעדי” signifies- it gives us the ability to add holidays in the future for exceptional miracles, such as Chanukah and Purim (which were definitely not mentioned in פרשת אמור). It is the “escape clause” from the seeming exclusivity of “אלה מועדי ה’.”

This idea can help explain a difficulty with this week’s haftara, which is read from ספר יחקאל.

The choice of יחזקאל מ”ד as the haftarah for our parsha seems pretty straightforward- in a prophecy to Yechezkel, G-d outlines the physical laws for Kohanim in the Third Bet Hamikdash that very much parallel the ones found in our parsha. However, there are a few key differences between the guidelines, which mainly reflect a stricter standard being set for the future Temple than the Tabernacle. The commentators grapple to explain these inconsistencies, with two distinct approaches emerging:

Rashi, using his oft-prefered drash methodology, teaches that, like many nevuot in ספר יחזקאל, this reading cannot be taken literally. Since the guidelines of Parshat Emor were in effect for the Mishkan and the first two Temples, why should they change for the third one? Rashi then continues to write off almost every inconsistency in יחזקאל, citing midrash-based teachings.

Radak, on the other hand, manages to incorporate both sets of “תורת כוהנים” by using the same principle we showed above in the context of the מועדים; the idea of תורת חיים. When the mitzvot of פרשת אמור were given to the Jewish People, they had a very specific audience in mind- a group of כהנים who had grown up in the desert, and were on a lower level. For them, these standards were more than enough to ensure their holiness in the Tabernacle and in the earlier Temples. But, for the audience יחזקאל’s נבואה was presented to, those Kohanim of ימות המשיח who will have recovered the zechut of doing temple service unpracticed for over two thousand years- their increased holiness will require higher standards of kedusha, such as those exemplified in יחזקאל מ”ד. Thus, there is no contradiction between the two sets of laws of the Kohanim. Plus, we’ve once again exemplified the importance of תורת חיים, and the all-too-relevant concept that sometimes, especially close to ימות המשיח, additions can be made to our religion to compensate for changes in the outside world.

Jumping forward to our times, we will this week be celebrating a day unique to the Jewish calendar in its split observance. To half of the Jewish world, 5 Iyar is a celebration, of victory and independence, and of return to our national homeland. To the other half, 5 Iyar is a day of mourning, for the same reasons. Many of the latter like to question how we can add a holiday to the Jewish calendar for the modern occasion of the Jewish State’s declaration of independence. They question how leading rabbinical figures of that time could dare institute this celebration, especially one which involves saying Hallel with a beracha, when it is clear from Parshat Emor  that our list of מועדים is already complete.  To them I remind that the “introductory passuk” of פרשת המועדים clearly says “אשר תקראו אותם מקראי קדש, אלו הם מועדי”- if we acknowledge the significance of the establishment of the first Jewish government in modern history (as virtually all accepted poskim did at that time, to some degree), and we establish a holiday in commemoration of this momentous date, then not only is it a modern Jewish holiday, but it’s also considered one of מועדי ה’ and is definitely kadosh. Furthermore, the Jewish People are in a different place now than we were in the desert thousands of years ago- just as in Sefer Yechezkel, additions were made to the halachot of the Kohanim in אחרית הימים, in our times, which we believe to be approaching those hallowed days, we too need to make additions to show the significance of special days like 5 Iyar. We have the choice to make days holy, and on Monday evening, it behooves each and every one of us to give יום העצמאות its due glory, because, even if many have not personally decided whether the State of Israel is good for them or not, the gedolei yisrael of 5708 made a clear statement about ה’ אייר- that it is among the מועדי השם, and it is indeed holy. With this is mind, let us all give proper kavod to the celebration of the sixty-sixth year of the אתחלתא דגאולה on Monday evening.