Posted by: Subway Conductor | May 8, 2020

Drasha for May 9, 2020

A Derasha for Parshat Emor

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, is one of two places in the Torah where the holiday calendar is presented. It should be noted that the very first holiday listed is Shabbat. We should remember that the most important Jewish holiday comes once a week.

There is an important distinction between the holiness of the Sabbath and the holiness of the festivals. The Sabbath was made holy by G-d. It is built into the structure of the universe. The Book of Genesis states that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. It then states, “G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” By the way, this is the first occurrence of the word “holy” in the Torah.

However, when it comes to the holidays, their sanctity is, in part, dependent on the Jewish People. The Torah states (in this week’s Torah portion) that the 15th day of the 1st month is Passover. But how do we know when the 15th day of the f1st month is? In the time when the Temple existed, the beginning of each month was established by witnesses coming to Jerusalem to testify before the court that they had seen the new moon. Two witnesses were required and they were examined by the court to make sure that they were telling the truth. Then the court would declare the new month. Hence, it was possible to count fifteen days and to know that it was Passover – a holy day. But, it was the court that fixed the beginning of the month.

When we look at the kiddush for Friday evening, we see that the concluding line of the blessing is “Blessed are you Lord, who sanctifies the Sabbath.” However, when we look at the concluding line of the kiddush for the festivals, we find, “Blessed are you Lord, who sanctifies Israel and the times (festivals).” G-d sanctifies Israel, the Jewish people. It is the Jewish People who sanctify the festivals.

When it comes to Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the “giving of the Torah,” we find that it is doubly dependent on the Jewish People for fixing its date. Note, that the Torah does not specify a date for Shavuot. Rather, we are told to “count seven weeks, forty-nine days” and the fiftieth day is Shavuot.  But when do we start counting? This week’s portion states that we should start counting on the “day after the Sabbath.” I do not think that on my own, I would have understood that “sabbath” here refers to Passover. However, the Oral Torah informs us that here Sabbath refers to the holiday of Passover. That is why we start counting the seven weeks on the second day of Passover. So, we know to start counting the days until Shavuot from Passover because of rabbinic interpretation and we know when Passover was by the decree of the court. Hence, we can only observe the holiness of Shavuot by relying on the Oral Torah and the court’s fixing of the date of Passover. This is indeed a very important point to keep in mind. It is the outstanding example of how the written Torah is impossible to observe without the interpretation of the Oral Torah. The date of Shavuot, the holiday of “the giving of the Torah” would be completely obscure to us were it not for the Oral Torah and rabbinic interpretation.

Good Shabbos and Stay Safe!!

And from our congregation president, Ladona, “Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there.”


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