Parashat Emor — Dates and times
I grew up in the United States where Memorial Day falls at the end of May and Independence Day falls about six weeks later, on July 4. In the small state of Israel, Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism is adjacent to Independence Day. During these two days, we are inspired by the close link between risk and opportunity, between uncertainty and responsibility in Israel. We are challenged and prompted to action by the juxtaposition of grief and joy.
During these hallowed days, we remember those who fought and continue to fight for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. We remember that they made difficult decisions with limited information, with lots of uncertainty in the short, medium and long-term. In the short-term, war poses immediate risks. The fog of battle can make highly consequential decisions imperative but very challenging. In the medium-term, there is even more unknown and in the long run, almost everything is uncertain. We cannot predict the future. We can imagine that the pioneers and early soldiers of the Jewish state asked themselves: what will the future country look like? How will it run? Will it last?
Remembering the fallen on the eve of Independence Day demands that we exercise our freedom in their honor. It is incumbent upon us to carry their torch forward, ensuring that the fallen soldiers and victims of terror didn’t die in vain. Just as previous generations labored to build the Jewish future, we too are obliged to do so. So too we must maintain the legacy of our parents and grandparents, and endeavor to create a future of prosperity and growth, even with lingering questions of exactly what and how.
In this week’s parasha, Parashat Emor, the Torah details the laws of the holidays and their dual essence of past and future. On the one hand, the holidays focus on memorializing the past: on Passover, we remember the Exodus from Egypt; on Shavuot, the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai; and on Sukkot, the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. On the other hand, the holidays look forward to the future: Pesach begins a new economic cycle in Israel with the harvesting of the grain, Shavuot is when the Israelites first bring their fruits (bikkurim) to the Temple, and Sukkot brings a final celebration of the harvest and preparation for the next winter. Thus we experience the close link between the past and the future, historical lessons and their current applications, taking our heritage and using it as a guide into the unknown.
The Jews and State of Israel have never been afforded the luxury of complacency. After 74 years of independence, Israel continues to face threats both physical and cultural from across the globe. Uncertainty abounds, there are lots of questions about what the future holds, lots of unknowns. I would argue that contending with uncertainty is an integral part of Israeli’s identity. In my new book (Hebrew), “Milk, Honey and Uncertainty,” I explain that uncertainty is not a disadvantage, but rather an essential ingredient for our sustained miraculous existence in Israel. Indeed, Israel is a microcosm for global uncertainty, and citizens who grow up confronting uncertainty develop unique skills, like resilience and optimism. Everyday citizens tackle pressing and long term challenges, bringing more resources, driving economic growth and expanding innovation and prosperity while also ensuring physical security. Uncertainty and limited information must motivate action. Modern Israel is a winning ticket — the latest economic data on growth says so — and we must continue acting to build the country despite creeping uncertainty. Acting in uncertainty is exactly our competitive advantage.
Today, we all face numerous economic challenges: rising inflation, disruptions in global supply chains, talent shortages and more. Perhaps we can look to the past for guidance on how to deal with such phenomena. In particular, I’d like to examine two commandments from this week’s parasha: the obligation to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the three annual festivals, and the injunction from doing work on Shabbat. Writ large, our Jewish calendar — Shabbat, holidays, etc. — set a shared melody, a common rhythm that forges bonds among our people from all groups and denominations. The shared calendar and rituals with required resting time in the community on Shabbat builds a strong civic and communal culture. Even more, the three annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem build brotherhood around both economic activity and shared feasts, ensuring that people stay in touch and see each other irrespective of geography or socioeconomic status.
These pilgrimages also likely served as professional networking events. Indeed, the festivals are held during key times on the agricultural/economic calendar: the initial grain harvest, first fruits, and final fruit harvest. Consider the opportunities such pilgrimages provided: business owners could connect to new talent; farmers could learn from one another how to increase yields or the latest agricultural techniques; employees could find new jobs. It was an ongoing discourse between members of the nation and enabled the expansion of people’s professional and personal networks, and the incubation of new and creative ideas. As an aside, these efforts raised output, thereby increasing supply, which reduces inflation and improves quality of life.
These days, Israelis all celebrate the festivals in their own way. Some Israelis take advantage of the festival weeks to travel abroad. Many have barbecues. Still others ignore the day. The same is true for Jews of the diaspora. We are in sync on the calendar, but not on the celebration. We can get better at this. I keep asking myself: what can we do to reinstate a pilgrimage-type event that brings all parts of society into conversation with one another? How can we create a “networking” environment of sorts, where Jews from across the land and abroad can build non-trivial relationships, develop creative ideas and build economic brotherhood?
By celebrating together, we can merge the past and the future, even uncertainty, action and hope. How can we make this happen?! I am open to any ideas.
Happy Independence Day / Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach.
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