The Rabbis of old firmly held to the belief that there are no extraneous words, in the Torah. This week's Torah reading in which the focus of our attention is a repetition of the Jewish Holy Day calendar challenges this Rabbinic position. After all, there are only very minor differences between the holy day calendar in this week's Torah reading, (see Leviticus 23), and the parallel passages found in Exodus 23, Numbers 28 & 29 and Deuteronomy 16. Why then is this Holiday calendar repeated so often?
One suggestion as to why we are commanded over and over again to observe these days, as Holy days, is that the Torah sees the celebration and observance of these special days as being critical to Jewish continuity. The Jewish calendar has been the glue which has kept the Jewish People united across time and space. Observance of Shabbat and the other holy days of the Jewish year causes, each of us, to recognize that God is both the Creator of the Universe and the giver of Torah who acts in History. Each and every holiday is connected to both a reference to the natural world and to an event in the history of the Jewish people. Every Sabbath and Holiday is therefore an opportunity for us to make time "Kadosh", (holy), by remembering the past, appreciating the wonder of the world in which we live, and passing on our love of God and our connection to the Jewish people to future generations.
A second purpose of this Jewish calendar is to challenge us to make time in our lives to look beyond the immediate tasks we face and appreciate the beauty of life. The biblical formula for observance of festivals is quite simple and direct. The celebration of each holy day involves making a distinction between the every day and the holy day. The prohibitions against work, the plea to gather together in a communal setting to celebrate and the command to bring the fruit of our labor to the service of God remain as relevant a challenge to you and me today as they were to our Biblical ancestors. The Levitical calendar found in our Torah reading this Shabbat stresses that time becomes holy ONLY when we separate it from the mundane as well as the profane.
Another significance of the Jewish calendar is its definition for us of Freedom. According to all the Biblical calendars the year begins with Passover not Rosh Hashanah, Passover, which is the festival of Liberation marks the beginning of Jewish history. It is our original Yom Haatzmaut, our first Independence Day. Passover, according to Leviticus 23:15 & 16, is connected to the next festival on the Biblical calendar, Shavuot, by a ritual called the counting of the Omer by which we remind ourselves daily for seven weeks that the Liberation theme of Passover is transformed into true freedom only its connection to the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of Torah. The Rabbi's of the Talmud refer to Shavuot as "Atzeret" or a concluding festival. Their reference helps us to clearly see that the Jewish definition of freedom is that Freedom is Liberation + acceptance of the Rule of Law.
Jewish communal unity, Jewish spirituality, respect for Jewish ritual actions as a carriers of Jewish values and the necessity of Torah for the maintenance of Freedom are all values which the Jewish calendar convey to us. The wonder of wonders is that these values are taught to us in the atmosphere of celebration. Our observance of Shabbat and the Holidays connect us to God and to each other. Moreover, through the power of memory the festivals, which in Hebrew are called Moadim, a word linguistically connected to the term Moed, meaning meeting place, help to keep alive for us our bonds to both our loved ones who have died and to the 4000 year chain of Jewish life that links us to Abraham and Sarah. Thus, the festivals become true Moadim, meeting times for us: a time when we meet together with each other; a time when our past and our future meet in the present; and a time when we are challenged to meet God.
“Moaday Adonai Asher Tikrau Otam Mikrai Kodesh Aleh Ham Moadie"
These are the festivals of Adonai, the meeting times of Adonai which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions."