|Parashat Emor: Incidental or Included?|
by Rabbi Russ Resnik
The book of Leviticus opened with the Lord’s call to Moses out of ohel mo‘ed, the tent of meeting, which had been the focal point of the final chapters of Exodus, and remains the focal point through most of Leviticus. In Leviticus 23, however, the focus shifts to mo‘adim, the plural form of mo‘ed, which refers to the appointed festivals of the Lord. The story turns from the tent of meeting, to the times of meeting. Israel encounters the divine not only in the tent of meeting or tabernacle, but also in the seasons of the year.
As the tabernacle—ohel mo‘ed —is a symbol of restoration, the renewed creation, in the midst of the camp, so the festivals—the mo‘adim—are moments of restoration in the midst of the ordinary days of the year.
The word mo‘adim first appears in Genesis 1:14. “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons [mo‘adim].’” From the beginning of creation, the Lord ordains the holy times to remind us for all generations of the original integrity of the creation and of God’s purpose of renewing all things. Thus, Shabbat opens the list of festivals in Leviticus 23, because it is a memorial of creation (Exod. 31:17), which anticipates “the time to come . . . the day that will be all Shabbat and rest for everlasting life” (b.Tamid 33b),when the goodness of creation will be restored at last.
Every festival partakes of this prophetic quality of Shabbat. The instructions for Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks (May 26–28 this year), include this: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:21–22).
Moses had already told the Israelites to leave the gleanings for the poor a few chapters earlier, in Leviticus 19:9–10. Why does he repeat this here? Because Shavuot is the festival of the grain harvest, and a holy harvest must be conducted with respect for the poor and the stranger in the midst of Israel. The poor have a rightful share in the harvest, even though they have no land of their own, because they too are created in God’s image. The Israelites might be tempted to think that the festival is all about pilgrimage and worship, a day to bring one’s offering to God, when those who have no offering to bring are incidental to the real action. But no, Shavuot anticipates the conditions of the Age to Come, when there will be no more hunger and poverty, and no one will be merely incidental or a stranger. In that day all will have a share in the abundance of the Lord.
On the Shavuot following Yeshua’s resurrection, he poured out the Spirit upon his followers gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:33). This outpouring also anticipated the Age to Come, when the Spirit of God will be abundantly available to all, young and old, male and female, Jew and Gentile, and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).
The preview of the Age to Come that we see in Shabbat and Shavuot is evident in all the biblical festivals. Thus, for example, the instructions for Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) include this: “And you shall rejoice in your festival, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates” (Deut. 16:14). On this day of joy, all are to be included in rejoicing. The conditions of this age—bondage, poverty, bereavement, and alienation—are overcome by the abundant joy of the Age to Come.
This principle applies not only to the festivals, but throughout our lives. We’re to remember the outsider, the one we might consider incidental, especially at the joyous times when we’re most likely to forget about them, but also throughout our everyday lives.
The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai beautifully captures the peril of making another person incidental to one’s own agenda:
Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower. I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker.
“You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head.”
“But he’s moving, he’s moving!” I said to myself: Redemption will come only if their guide tells them, “You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.” (cited in Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide, by R. Lawrence Hoffman)
Perhaps Amichai overstates the case, as poets are entitled to do. The arch from the Roman period does have some importance, but he’s right to say that the living human being resting up from his heavy load before he heads home is far more important. It’s wrong to make him incidental. This is a principle deeply imbedded in Jewish ethical thinking, and especially in the example of Messiah himself, who spent much of his time around the incidental people of his day, like sinners and tax collectors.
On the joyous days especially, but throughout the ordinary days as well, remember those who don’t have such a share in the joy. The biblical festivals reveal that when we practice kindness or show compassion toward the disadvantaged, we are doing a dress rehearsal for the kingdom of God. As we prepare for this Shavuot, we’d do well to ask, “Who are the gleaners—the strangers, fatherless, and widows—who need to be included in my harvest?”
Portions of this d’rash appear in Creation to Completion, by Rabbi Russ Resnik (Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2006), available at www.messianicjewish.net.