Thursday, May 19, 2022

The second half of Parshat Emor deals with the chagim, the holidays that populate the Jewish year. Although the chagim are mentioned in a number of other places in the Torah as well, it is in this week’s parsha that the major mitzvot associated with each chag are explicated and discussed. For this reason, these passages are often read on the holidays themselves.

It is striking to note the word that the Torah uses when describing these highlights of the yearly calendar. Although we commonly refer to each of these occasions as a “chag, a celebration,” or as a “Yom Tov, a day of goodness,” the term that is most often used in the Torah is “Moed.” While the term “chag” does appear on occasion in association with Pesach and Sukkot, the general name given by the Torah for these dates is “Moed”: “And these are the Moadim of Hashem, that are called holy, that you should call them in their Moed.”

The question is why? The terms “chag” and “Yom Tov” seem to be most appropriate in association with these days. What exactly does “Moed” mean, and why is it the term most frequently used by the Torah to describe these special occasions?

The Artscroll Chumash translates “Moed” as “appointed festivals,” and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan translates the term similarly in his translation of the Chumash.

However, Rav S. R. Hirsch translates the word a bit differently: as “times of appointed meetings.” In his commentary, Rav Hirsch notes that in addition to the festivals, the word “Moed” is also used to describe the Mishkan, referred to at times in the Torah as the “Ohel Moed.” In Shemot 27:21, where the Torah describes the Mishkan as the “Ohel Moed,” Rav Hirsch explains that the term “comes from the word יעד, related to יחד, to fix a meeting,” because the Mishkan served as the place where man could meet God.

In Vayikra 23:2, Rav Hirsch takes this explanation a step further. He suggests that both the Mishkan and the chagim serve as meeting points in our relationship with Hashem. “That which the Temple is in space, is what the Festivals are in time. Both have their union with God as their aim. One sets God’s Torah as the center point of our lives, down in the actual center of the world, and says to us: ‘This is where you find your direction to the way to your God.’ The other calls special attention to certain fixed times in the changing course of the year, which were marked by revelation of God in special acts, and says to us: ‘In these times God was at one time very near to you, at each anniversary God awaits you for renewed and refreshed union with Him.’”

In sum, according to Rav Hirsch, the name “Moed” emphasizes that at their core, the festivals are meant to be times of connection to, and reunion with, the Ribono Shel Olam. Our everyday lives and stresses tend to naturally fray our bond with the Almighty, and the holidays come to counter that reality, to strengthen our bond with Hashem. While they are certainly also days of happiness, fun and celebration, those experiences are really a way toward, and perhaps also a result of, the fundamental connection with Hashem that the holidays are meant to create.

Perhaps we can add another layer of understanding as to why the Jewish festivals are called “Moadim,” “times of appointed meetings.” While there is no question that the holidays are primarily a time to connect with the Almighty, they also serve to create moments of special connection within the immediate family.

Relationships and bonds are developed and deepened through shared experiences. Connections are not made simply through conversation and discussion—but through actions and collective events. Each year, as we celebrate and commemorate the holidays with our families and loved ones, we deepen and strengthen our relationship as a family in incredible ways. This is why the special holiday customs of our families growing up are so dear to us—the special foods, the funny games, the silly songs—because they represent those years of shared experiences and the bonds with those closest to us.

The name “Moed” therefore also highlights that the chagim are a prime opportunity for family bonding. It is incumbent upon us, as parents, to keep this in mind each time we approach one of the holidays. While there are numerous pressures, stresses and chores that tend to accompany each of the chagim—especially for the parents—we must strive to keep our eye on the goal. To remember that, fundamentally, the holidays are about connection: connection with the Ribono Shel Olam and connection with our loved ones. We should take steps each chag—each in its own way—to create and cultivate that feeling of connectedness and bonding, allowing our family to grow closer through the beautiful rituals and shared experiences of the chag. No outside stresses or pressures should cause us to lose sight of that.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!

Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and placement adviser/internship coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected]

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