The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Eternal, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions."
We'd like to start this week by looking at a few Hebrew terms. In the verses quoted above, the Hebrew word for "fixed times" is mo-adim. According to Plaut, the editor of The Torah: A Modern Commentary, it can refer either to the time or place set for a meeting. Three of the major Jewish holidays that mo-adim refers to are the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, which in Hebrew are called Shalosh R'galim-the second Hebrew phrase we'd like to explore this week. Shalosh is Hebrew for the number "three," and R'galim is Hebrew for "feet." In this phrase, the word R'galim expresses the idea of a journey on foot or a pilgrimage. Historically, this was an important element in the celebration of these three holidays because one went to Jerusalem on foot to observe these festivals
Now that we've explored some Hebrew terms, how can we apply our quoted verses as well as these Hebrew words to the raising of young children? Ah yes, that's where the fun begins! Building routine (or fixed times) into children's days help them feel safe and secure. When they can predict what happens in their lives, they are better equipped to handle what the days may bring. Routine also helps parents plan efficiently when they have a set time for naps or bringing their children to school. Yes, fixed times are important for parents AND for children.
On the other side of the same coin, while fixed times can offer safety, stability and predictability, there is also a time and a place for spontaneity. For example, how often have you buckled your child into his car seat only to find that before you even pull out of the driveway you need to unbuckle him and return to the house to change a diaper? Yes, sometimes you have to forgo fixed and predictable events and say, "Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be!"
Although our verses from Parashat Emor focus on fixed times for specific occasions, we suggest that contemporary Judaism allows for both predictability and spontaneity. Throughout Parashat Emor, there is mention of gatherings, assemblies, festivals, celebrations and occasions. To us this suggests people coming together, being together, as well as learning, helping, growing, nurturing, bonding, grieving and struggling together. Operating concurrent to and within the bigger world's secular time frame, our Jewish calendar cycles annually through our Jewish holidays, building predictability right into the 12 months of our year. Not only does this offer us opportunities to nurture Judaism for us and our families, but it also gives us the chance to gather, celebrate and grow as a community. Whether we eat in a sukkah, participate in a Passover seder, or join family and friends to break the fast after Yom Kippur, these annually occurring holidays provide us with multiple opportunities for celebrating time and practice.
Now that we have covered predictability and routine, what about spontaneity? The beauty of the Jewish holidays is that while there are certain features inherent to each celebration, we each have a wide berth that allows us to add our own personal stamp. You might have a noodle kugel recipe passed on from your great-great-great Aunt Sadie, a recipe that you are certain could win the highest Jewish culinary award, and that it is the kugel you serve at all of your family holiday celebrations. Your family could develop a new ritual pertaining to the hiding (and finding) of the afikoman during your Passover seder, a ritual that is looked forward to year after year by the children in your family. Maybe your family makes baskets of mishlo-ach manot to give to the residents of the local Jewish nursing home-one of the ways your family celebrates Purim each year. These festivals come around at predictable times and with predictable practices, but you also can create your own particular ways of observing the holidays. This is where spontaneity comes in.
And then there is Shabbat, a weekly, regular oasis in time that invites us to stop working, to rest, to renew and to refresh. It is also a time for gathering with others and celebrating. In Parashat Emor, before the festivals are named, Shabbat is mentioned as a weekly event, "a sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion." We are instructed to work six days and sanctify and rest on the seventh day. With Shabbat, we don't have to wait for the holidays and festivals to come around. We have a weekly opportunity to participate in the flow of the Jewish calendar, joining with our families, friends and sometimes with our greater Jewish communities. Shabbat, along with the cyclical reading of Torah and the holidays as outlined in this parashah, gives us so many places throughout the year to enter into the flow, to get our feet wet and to celebrate. Year after year, around and around it goes…predictability and spontaneity every week!
Questions and Ideas for Parents:
- Do you have specific routines that help you negotiate the day or the week, or do you prefer spontaneity?
- Do you have favorite family gatherings for either religious holidays or secular events?
- Is there an annual event that your synagogue or greater community sponsors that you participate in each year?
Questions for Children:
- What do you do each day before you come to school? How about before you go to bed?
- What is your favorite time of day? Why is it your favorite?
- What do you like about Jewish holidays? What do you like about Shabbat?
Pages 819-830 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.