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Parashat Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23)

“You shall count for yourselves—from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the omer of the waving—seven weeks, they shall be complete.” (Leviticus 23:15)

Parashat Emor includes a list of the holidays in the Jewish calendar (one of five such lists in the Torah). A careful reading reveals something interesting. The three pilgrimage festivals are called moadei Adonai, God’s appointed occasions. Emor refers to the pesach offering and to matzah when describing Pesach, or Passover, the first pilgrimage festival. And it mentions the lulav and etrog (palm branch and citron), as well as the sukkah, or hut, when describing Sukkot, the third pilgrimage festival. These rituals and symbols are central to the holidays’ observance.

But Emor treats Shavuot, the second pilgrimage holiday, differently. Shavuot means weeks, and is a reference to the period between Pesach and Shavuot (seven weeks). Shavuot is the fiftieth day. Emor doesn’t mention any symbol of Shavuot itself. To borrow from the language of Pesach: why is this holiday different from the others?

In the Torah, Shavuot is an agricultural holiday. Centuries later the rabbis assign the revelation of the Torah at Sinai to Shavuot, naming it z’man matan torateinu, the time of revealing the Torah. This happens in the wilderness, because the wilderness is ownerless space. Nobody can claim to own the Torah; any person who wants may come and receive it (Mekhilta de Rabbi Yishmael, Yitro:1).

The same concept applies to time. The name Shavuot implies the revelation at Sinai is timeless. If you are open to it, you can receive it any day of any week. That is why the blessings before and after reading the Torah conclude, …notein hatorah, who gives the Torah, in the present tense, not the past tense. Sinai is an event to celebrate every day.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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