Holidays and Holiness
What do the words “mikraei kodesh” , a “calling of holiness” mean when describing the Jewish festivals?
by Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski, author of “The Teacher and the Preacher”, is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
In the Torah portion of Emor we return to the topic of the biblical festivals. Those same festivals are discussed in Shemot ( Exodus:23) and in Devarim (Deuteronomy:16) as well.
In this portion, the chagim (festivals) are described with two terms that do not appear in the other two sections.
” Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: The appointed seasons ( Moadei ) of Hashem, which you shall proclaim to be callings of holiness (mikraei kodesh), even these are My appointed seasons (moadai).” ( Leviticus 23:2) .
What can we learn from these terns and what can they teach us regarding the placement of this section in the midst of the book of Leviticus?
The book of Vayikra ( Leviticus) focuses on two major issues. The first is the korbanot( the sacrifices) used in the Temple as a medium of worship and of achieving closeness with G-d. The second issue revolves around “holiness and sanctity”. The Biblical feasts are clearly placed within and are related to the focus of holiness and sanctity.
After the Torah begins with describing the sanctity of each unique individual (Leviticus : 19-22) and then focuses on the sanctity of the Kohanim (ibid : 21), it then discusses the prohibitions aimed at maintaining a higher level of sanctity. Following this, the Torah concentrates on exploring the sanctity of time. These divinely appointed times are called “appointed seasons” and ”callings of holiness”. What do those terms teach us?
“Time” is viewed by the world as a linear line moving from point A to point B. According to such an understanding, time is always moving ahead, leaving the past behind. Time passes us by like a raging river.
Yet in the Jewish and Biblical view of the world, specific dates and appointed times are gates through which time flows in a cyclical and upward spiral fashion, toward a purpose. Time is not a raging river that carries us into the unknown away from our beginnings. It is actually an invitation into an appointed destiny, a Moed. That gateway termed an “Appointed Season ” is set in place for a purpose.
That purpose is holiness.
What then does the term Mikraei Kodesh truly mean.Rashi (Vayikra 23:35) understands “ Mikraei Kodesh ” as a declaration that the individuals need to strive to fill the day with holiness and festivity with special prayers, foods and apparel. The Ramban and the Sforno see in the term a declaration of a need to call together holy assemblies and gatherings in honor of the festivals. In all cases the commentators describe the need to acknowledge the special holiness of this day.
The Baal HaTanya understands the term” Mikraei Kodesh “ differently. He understands the words literally, to mean a ”Calling of Holiness ”. He understands each festival as a gateway in the passage of time at which we are given the power to “call forth” the specific spark of spirituality and holiness ensconced within this appointed time. The special mitzvot of each festival are the tools with which we begin to “call forth” that holy spark that is so unique to that moment
When we sound the shofar on Rosh Hashana we are actually call forth the sparks of Awe and Majesty ensconced within our souls and releases them. When we enter the sukkah we unleash the spark and empowerment to truly depend on G-d’s protection. The gateway of Passover unearths the spiritual power of redemption from the Egypt in our personal lives.
So, in summation, we begin with all the commandments and precepts that are meant to make us ready for sanctification and Holiness. After outlining the framework for individual and corporate sanctity, the Torah then reveals the appointed times and seasons. It is within them wherein the sparks of holiness He has breathed into us all can be ignited and released. Our eternal role is to prepare the vessels and ensure that they are maintained.
It is only then that those vessels are filled with holiness.
“Make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell within them” (Exodus 25:8)
(le-refuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved)