This week’s Torah reading begins with a rather detailed instruction sheet for the children of Aaron, the priests of Israel. The Torah describes for us the limitations that were placed upon them in order to guarantee that their service would be in purity and in holiness. Aspects of this instruction are still enforced today. Those who are of the priestly clan observe them rigidly even if, in other matters, they may not be that strict.
I had an experience with this regarding a certain leading official in the Jewish Agency about 30 years ago. I knew the man very well and he was a person of honor and integrity, but he was an old time socialist and was not observant in any traditional sense of the word. I happened to be in Israel when another leading person in the educational department of the Jewish Agency passed away and the family asked me to say a few words at the funeral.
This man accompanied me to the funeral chapel, but as I was going to mount the steps, he said, “This is as far as I’m going because I am a priest, a Kohen, and I don’t go to funerals.” I looked at him somewhat quizzically because there were so many other violations of tradition that I had observed in him, but even so I was greatly impressed. And he said to me, “Don’t be so surprised; for thousands of years my family are Kohanim and I’m not going to give that up. That is a heritage that I cannot forgo.” So, that is the first part of the Torah reading.
The second part of the Torah reading, which also occupies a great deal of the subject matter of the entire portion, is a recounting of the calendar. It is an enumeration of the holidays, the special days of the Jewish calendar throughout the year. At first glance, one would think that these two sections of the same Torah reading really have no intrinsic connection one with the other. They deal with far different subjects and have a different tone and mood to their words. But again, I feel that that is only a superficial view. Upon deeper examination we will see a common thread that runs thru not only these two subjects but thru all subjects in the Torah as well.
The Torah represents for us constancy. It establishes a regular rhythm in our life. It is why we have so many commandments that we can, and should, fulfill day in and day out under all circumstances and conditions. It is this very constancy, the repetitiveness that the Torah imposes upon us that builds within us the holiness of spirit and is the strength of our tradition. The fact is it is not a one-day-a-week or three-days-a-year holiday for the Jewish people, but that every day counts and has its importance. Daily, one is obligated to do the will of one’s creator. All of this gives a rhythm to our lives, makes life meaningful, with a specific direction for the time that we are here on earth.
The holidays themselves are the rhythm of the Jewish calendar year. We just finished Pesach and we are coming to Shavuot and then after Shavuot there comes the period of mourning, then after that the High Holy days, the holiday of Sukkot, then Hanukkah, et cetera. It is that rhythm of life that invests every holiday and allows the holiday to live within us even when its days have passed. Essentially, every day is Pesach and every day is Shavuot, and every day can be Yom Ha-Kippurim. And this is the constancy regarding the laws for the priests as well, that every day they are reminded who they are. Every day they are bound by the restrictions, discipline and nobility that the Torah ordained for them.
So, that is the thread of consistency that binds all these disparate subjects together. The Torah preaches consistency, regularity, habitual behavior, and the idea that life is one rhythm, like a river flowing, not to be segmented into different emotional waves depending upon one’s mood and upon external conditions.
Rabbi Berel Wein