I have a sign above the calendar in the kitchen: If you haven’t written it down, you haven’t told me. I live by a calendar. I have to; it was my job (sometimes I think it still is!) to keep track of what everyone was doing, where everyone had to be, and how they were to get there.
The calendar is color-coded on the wall and in my phone, and it’s crucial.
The parasha of Emor is like my calendar. Well, it is a calendar, actually, and it is crucial. It’s the entire year in one parasha of the Torah. If you had to have only a handful of parshiot that defines and forms the Jewish people, I’d say Emor would be one of them, specifically Chapter 23. First comes Shabbat. It is the template for all other holidays. Then, in quick succession, we read about Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and finally Sukkot.
The calendar in my kitchen has kept our family literally on the same page for years, which makes sense because, after all, if you’re going to keep a group of people connected, whether they’re wandering or settled, give them their own calendar. That will keep them communicating, to be sure. This works for a family and an entire people.
And, like the sign in my kitchen, since it’s written down, it has been told to the calendar-keeper, it will happen. Yet there is one big difference between the family schedule and the Jewish people’s calendar as laid out in Emor. In the family, we chose which activities to do, and decided which ones to write down. They don’t happen without our actively making them happen.
Not so with the calendar in Emor. These days – Shabbat, the holidays all around the year – they will happen of their own accord. Each seventh day it is Shabbat. Each 14th day of the first month it will be Passover, and seven weeks after that, it will be Shavuot. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will come around when that seventh month begins. They happen because the Torah is set up that way; it’s calculated to the harvests, it’s calculated to the rhythm of the seasons. Ballet lessons aren’t like that.
Yes, the special days will happen as the year goes by, but it is our choice to take note of them, to be a part of them. Especially now, since most of us don’t live on the land, it is harder to feel the rhythm of those sheaves of grain and offerings of fruit and fire. But each one is an opportunity to connect, to keep feeling the pulse of an entire people through time and across space. We have to make a conscious choice to do so. The river of time that flows around us calls us to take note.
Last month, one of my daughters couldn’t make it home for Passover. For the first time, she was far away, and for the first time, she held her own Seder. I sent her recipes and care packages, of course, but the rhythm of the evening was set deep and unique within her. In her own style, it was a great success. Here was an opportunity she could have passed up, but she intentionally stepped into the river, and touched the moment. She owned the calendar.
When you’re a child, someone else owns the calendar. As an adult, you own it. Shabbat and the other marked-off days will happen whether you engage with them or not. So bring them alive – choose to join in –take note – step into that river of time, and celebrate.