This week’s D’rash is written in honor of Claire Schultz on the occasion of her upcoming Bat Avraham
This week, our Torah portion contains a list of "appointed times" when God desires to meet with the children of Israel. We find it in Leviticus 23. We learn that there was an integration of spiritual observance and the agriculture of the land. All the holidays take place at a time of gathering the harvest. In a way, all these holidays are harvest festivals. We learn from this that the land is not simply the place where Israel dwells, but that the land itself is part of the relationship of Israel with God. Therefore we call the land a "holy" land. It is a place of holiness.
Sadly, for many, many years the land was captured by foreign entities and did not represent a "holy land". Then, in recent history the land has come back into Jewish hands. In doing so, the land is in the process of healing, of returning to its purpose, and of being the place that brings Israel back to its relationship with God. Today, we do not see the full restoration. It is a difficult process, but one that in the end will bring restoration to Israel and the world.
Another lesson that we learn from chapter 23 of Leviticus is the desire of God to meet with his people. God is telling the priests that on certain specific days throughout the year, he desires to meet with all the people. These times are referred to by two names in the passage (see Lev 23:2). One is a “designated time” or an “appointed time of the Lord”. This simply means exactly what it says: specific meeting times for the Israelites to meet with God. The second term is “holy assembly” for a specific purpose. The usual term in an English Bible is "holy convocation". These were not simply meeting times, but rather holy moments where all of Israel would come together to give thanks to God and ask for his forgiveness as a people. This evidently was a great desire of God. He desires to meet with his people.
Every Shabbat we enter a "holy convocation" with God. Notice that in the text of Leviticus 23, the weekly Shabbat is the first of the "holy convocations". Let us come (in person or online) to the weekly service recognizing that it is a holy time of communal gathering with God. The purpose of these holy convocations was restoration as well as a renewal of vision and purpose.
Finally, as Messiah followers, we cannot help but to view the text through the lens of the New Covenant Scriptures. It is interesting that significant events in the life of Yeshua and the community of Messiah followers took place on these "holy convocations". Yeshua died and rose from the dead on Passover/Unleavened Bread and First Fruits. The Ruach or Spirit of God was poured out 50 days later on Shavuot (called Pentecost in Greek, which means Fiftieth). This takes the meaning of "holy convocation" to a new level! In one way, every moment of our lives is a holy convocation because when we embrace Yeshua, we live in his Shabbat. What a way to frame very day! May Shabbat be a manifestation of what we experience with God every day! Lastly, this understanding of the calendar helps us to see the importance of the 50 day journey of counting the omer. Remember that these "holy convocations" are communal events—so also is the 50 day journey. May we be walking together from Passover to Shavuot!