Parashas Emor

In this week’s parashah, we read about the cycle of festivals. The Torah states (Vayikra 23:2): “Hashem’s appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations (mikraei kodesh) – these are My appointed festivals.” In his commentary on Shir HaShirim 3:11, part of which was presented in one of last week’s posts, the Maggid elaborates on the holiness of Shabbos and the Yomim Tovim.
On these holy days, the Maggid says, we hope to receive from Hashem a special awakening to holiness. Admittedly, since we are not in Hashem’s inner circle, we are unable to reach the ultimate level of holiness. We have no dealings with hidden wisdom. But the revealed things are given over to us. And when we make a sincere effort to sanctify ourselves before Hashem on the holy days, we bring out an emanation of enlightenment from above, giving us an insight into the lofty levels of holiness. As explained in last week’s post, the degree of revelation we receive from Hashem depends on us. The verse we just quoted reflects this fact. Hashem exhorts us to designate the festival days as holy convocations – to make an effort, from our station on earth below, to strive toward sanctity and purity. If we do so, then these days become Hashem’s appointed festivals as well – special days on which Hashem awakens us to lofty levels of holiness. We thus see that the root of the holiness of the festival days is our own effort to enhance our level of holiness. As the Zohar puts it: “An awakening below generates an awakening above.” [See, for example, the segment in the Zohar on parashas Lech Lecha that deals with the Akeidah.]
[This idea is reflected in the term mikra kodesh. The word mikra derives from the Hebrew verb l’kro – to call. Thus the term mikra kodesh can be read as meaning “a call to holiness.”]
The Gemara, Sanhedrin 65b, reports an interchange regarding the Sabbath between the wicked Roman governor Turnus Rufus and R. Akiva. Turnus Rufus asked: “What makes the Sabbath different from all other days?” R. Akiva responded: “What makes you different from all other men?” Turnus Rufus replied: “My master wished it so [that I be elevated].” R. Akiva said: “It is thus with the Sabbath too—our Master wished it so [that it be elevated].”
The Maggid interprets this Gemara, b’derech drash, aong the lines of the discussion above. What makes the Sabbath and festivals different from all other days? What causes such a surge of holiness from above? It is not due to any change in Hashem’s mode of operation, for Hashem is absolutely unchanging. To Hashem, one day is no different from any other. Rather, R. Akiva teaches us that the reason for the surge of holiness on the festivals is that on these days we undergo a change – we elevate ourselves. We become different people on the festival days. The festivals are invested with a special power to sanctify us – to awaken us to love Hashem and serve Him faithfully, each man according to his spiritual level and inclinations. When we take the initiative to strive for holiness, we merit a special influx of holiness from above. And if we get no spiritual “charge” from the festival days, it is because we have not taken the necessary initiative. As the Midrash quoted last week puts it, if holiness is distanced from us, this distance is due to us.
We can draw an analogy to a person looking at himself in a mirror. When he steps toward the mirror, his reflection appears closer to him. And when he steps away from the mirror, his reflection appears farther from him. It looks as if the person and his reflection have each stepped toward or away from the other. But in reality it is not so. Rather, the person alone determines the “distance” between himself and his reflection. As he steps toward or away from the mirror, his reflection automatically appears closer to or farther from him. It is the same with us and Hashem. As we step toward or away from Hashem, we automatically find Him stepping – so to speak – toward or away from us.
Nefesh HaChaim, gate 1, ch. 7, brings out a similar idea in connection with Tehillim 121:5: “Hashem … is your shadow alongside your right hand.” The way a person acts toward Hashem determines the way Hashem acts toward him, just as the way a person moves determines how his shadow moves. Let us strive to draw close to Hashem, so that He will draw closer to us.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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