Mother’s Day is next Sunday. This comes as no surprise, and most of us have already figured out how to mark this special day. Similarly, we know that Memorial Day will fall at the end of May and that Father’s Day will come in June. We have a pretty good sense of when our secular holidays fall during the year. As such, we mark these occasions — as we do birthdays, anniversaries and graduations — with our own family customs and traditions. By doing so, we bring increased joy to our lives.
In this week’s parasha, Emor, G-d’s calendar, so to speak, is discussed. Mention is made of Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. Instruction is given for how we are to mark these sacred occasions. While it’s true that our observation of these appointed times has been altered, to some degree, we still observe these ancient holidays. How wonderful it feels to be part of a tradition whose roots run so deep. By observing these fixed times, we add holiness to our lives. We elevate our existence to a higher plane.
Keeping track of secular holidays is easier, in some ways, than keeping track of Jewish ones. For example, we know that Mother’s Day will always fall on the second Sunday in May, and that Father’s Day will be celebrated on the third Sunday in June. Similarly, we know that a September birthday will always fall in September and that a June anniversary will always come in June.
This is in contrast to our Jewish calendar, where Rosh Hashana might come in September, but then again, it might be observed in October. If we don’t carry a Jewish calendar with us at all times, we might inadvertently schedule a dentist appointment for the morning when a Shavuot Yizkor service will be held; or we might make dinner plans for what turns out to be erev Pesach. As I often heard growing up, “It’s not easy being Jewish.” But having to change appointments and plans, in order to observe Jewish holidays, is a small price to pay in the big scheme of things.
By having a seder and refraining from eating leven during Pesach, by taking vacation or personal days from work in order to be in synagogue on the High Holy Days, by making the weekly celebration of Shabbat a sacred and special time, we add meaning to our lives. We move beyond the ordinary and the mundane when we make it a point to mark time as sacred. Celebrating significant dates on our Jewish calendar allows us to connect not only with our Jewish community, but with G-d, as well. We bring kedusha, holiness, into our lives. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in “The Sabbath: It’s Meaning for Modern Man,” “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time.” Will you make the time?
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)