On a Three-Day Holiday: BeHar 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-game Chatter: How does a three-day weekend feel different than a regular two-day weekend? Are we more or less prone to use the time productively? Or are we more likely to relax, knowing that we don’t have to resume work so soon?

It feels appropriate that, as we embark on Memorial Day weekend, we examine a Torah portion that speaks of the meaning of rest, including yet another reminder to keep the Sabbath:

The Pitch: “You shall keep My sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, Mine, Adonai’s.” (Leviticus 26:2)

Swing #1: “During the enslavement in Egypt, Moses, seeing the terrible labor of the Jews, asked Pharaoh to let the Jews rest one day a week. He chose the Sabbath as that day of rest. Then, when we were commanded to observe the Sabbath at Mount Sinai, he rejoiced in his portion for he had thought of this before it had been commanded. … Therefore, God now said, ‘you shall observe My Sabbaths’ [to teach that] Israel should rest on the Sabbath, not as a respite from their work but only because God, may He be blessed, has commanded them to rest on the Sabbath”. – Levi Yitzhak

Swing #2:The Torah draws a clear parallel between the Temple and the Sabbath. It tells us that just as the observance of the Sabbath as a holy day is a permanent commandment, the reverence for the Temple is similarly a commandment that has no time limit. This is the meaning of ‘it is a sign forever’ (Exodus 31:17).” – Da’at Z’kenim

Swing #3: “Even during the period when you find yourselves in exile, any rest observed during such periods is a reminder of your erstwhile freedom instead of your slavery in Egypt, and the fact that even God rested on the seventh day.” – Sforno

Late-Inning Questions: To Levi Yitzhak, the Sabbath is all about obedience to God; to Da’at Z’kenim, the centrality of the Sabbath reminds us of the centrality of the Temple in Jewish life; and to Sforno, the Sabbath is a sign of God’s commitment to us regardless of where we live. But all three commentaries reflect the idea that the Sabbath transcends communal and historical constructs. If so, does this mean that the Sabbath should be approached the same way on a three-day weekend as on a two-day weekend? Is it reasonable to expect that we will think of it this weekend the same way we always do? To what extent does this reflect our obedience to the Jewish calendar vis-a-vis the secular calendar?

On Deck at Emanu-El: I look forward to formally welcoming our officers and trustees for the upcoming year at services tomorrow morning. Please join us to thank and encourage our synagogue’s lay leaders.

The Big Inning at the End: For the last few years, Major League Baseball teams playing on Memorial Day have worn uniforms completely or partially re-made to resemble military fatigues or camouflage (see below). The teams claim they are paying tribute to soldiers who gave their lives for their country; others argue that this ploy is basically all about marketing and selling more merchandise. Which argument makes more sense to you?

Shabbat Shalom!