Emor 5784

At the end of this week’s Torah portion, we find the enumeration of the festival calendar: “eleh moedei” “these are the times, the festivals, the gatherings of our people.” It tells of the moments during the year when we come together to celebrate, commemorate and mourn. One of the periods about which the parasha speaks, is the counting of the Omer; the counting of the days, seven times seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot. This counting of time marks each day on the journey of our people from freedom, to the giving of the Torah. In the ancient days, these two festivals also marked physical journeys to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer the produce of the harvest. The two festivals bookend the harvests of wheat and barley and the first fruits being gathered. This period determined the bounty for the year ahead, the abundance or lack thereof, of grains and food. It was a time of trepidation, worry, anxiety. In those days the people recognised their limited control over their destinies. They did all they could but at some point, they had to surrender to the uncertainty, to live with held breath for the outcome of their year’s work. The 49 days of counting, the 50 days, were each one, a step closer to the exhale, the celebration.

It is incredible the way our modern calendar reflects the emotions of this period for our ancestors. As we walk along the 50 day journey, we too mark moments on the wandering, we are filled with trepidation, moments of loss and sorrow, times of hope and joy. The first is the commemoration of Yom Hashoah, the stopping point where we pause and remember, we honour and we confront the horror of what happened to our people. Our next waystation is Yom Hazikaron, where again, we are plunged into deep mourning remembering all those who have lost their lives defending the land of Israel and in acts of terror. This year, a commemoration which is so heartbreaking and tragic as we feel again the horror of October 7th, a day forever seared in our minds, the largest loss of Jewish life in one day since the Holocaust. And the losses continue to mount with every day, news of hostages murdered, and people killed in war. And then, from the depths of our sorrow, we are called to celebrate, to be lifted to a place of dreams and hopes realised as we reach Yom Ha’atzmaut and give thanks for the modern state of Israel, her existence never taken for granted, her achievements and the blessing of all she is. We are grateful for all those who support and help build our homeland, a haven and a beacon of light in our world. And then, we pause again, Yom Yerushalayim, we celebrate the unification of Jerusalem once more and we pray deeply for peace and a true oneness of all peoples living side by side in the ancient city, in peace.

Just like our ancestors as they walked the path from one festival to another, we walk through a myriad of emotions. We remember and mourn, we grieve and we heal, we celebrate and we give thanks. The stations along the journey, each one as important as the journey itself, each one counted, as we walk towards Shavuot.
It is important that at the beginning and the end of the journey we find the moadim, the festivals, the gatherings of our people. During the Pilgrimage festivals we came together. The tradition recognising the importance of gathering, of feeling the power of community, before we take the emotionally draining and trepidatious journey through the Omer period. The Pesach gathering was more than just a moment to celebrate our freedom, it was also a time to be with each other, to gather strength for the journey ahead, to feel that we are not alone. As the farmers went to their fields, to begin to gather their crops, it could have felt a solitary experience, that their fate was theirs alone. But the gathering at Pesach was an affirmation that what affects one, affects us all, that we are together on the journey. And so too, the Shavuot gathering, after the difficult time, coming together to celebrate or commiserate, to find the joy and to mourn the losses. No matter what the situation, the community stood as one, and felt the power of being a part of something greater than themselves.

This year our gatherings are poignant. We need to feel the power of community, to stand shoulder to shoulder, side by side and gain strength from one another. To know that we are part of something beautiful, arms which will hold and comfort us, lift us from our darkness, be there with us in good times and bad. As we see the rise in antisemitism, the horror of October 7th and its aftermath, we walk the path between Pesach and Shavuot, through the festivals in between, we need each other more than ever. We need to know that we are not alone, that we walk together, hand in hand, with hope in our hearts that we will create a better tomorrow.

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio

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