This week's parashah/Torah reading concludes with a review of the liturgical calendar as determined by God and conveyed to the Israelites through Moses. Shabbat and the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot are described. God declares: אלה הם מועדי / eileh heim mo'aday / there are My festivals.
Today, we mark the beginning of each of God's festivals with a blessing over wine. This blessing is called "kiddush" / קידוש which is based on the Hebrew root קדש which is the basis of every form of the word holy. As we raise the kiddush cup and recite the kiddush blessing for the festival, what are we saying?
In the course of this blessing, we praise God for sanctifying us through God's mitzvot (v'kidshanu b'mitzvotav / וקדשנו במצותיו). Holiness is added to our lives as we fulfill the mitzvot, the commandments that are part of our brit, our covenant with God. Holiness is great . . . but it's a little obscure. What does it mean to be holy, to seek to integrate holiness into our lives? A great subject for a future blog!
What are these festivals of God for? Why has God invited us to God's festivals? Our kiddush blessing goes on: Lovingly have You given us the gift of Festivals for joy and holy days for happiness... Here, embodied in the most ancient, enduring holidays of our tradition we are, in essence, invited to party with God! There are My festivals, says God . . . and I want you to come! We stand with wine in our hands and acknowledge that these holy days are given to us as days of joy and happiness to share with God.
Remembering the exodus from Egypt at Passover, reliving the revelation of the Torah at Sinai on Shavuot, revisiting the experience of wandering through the wilderness at Sukkot . . . the kiddush blessing shared by all these festivals reminds us that, as theologically significant as these moments are, these moments are meant to be joyous. Like anniversaries and birthdays, the festivals give us the opportunity to gather together in community and relive great moments with God: "remember when?" Remember how relieved and grateful we were when You released us from slavery behind? Remember how awed we were to stand together and commit to Your Torah at Sinai? Remember how You got us through forty years of wandering even when we complained? Those were the days! Those days are our heritage!
It's not a festival, a party, a celebration of great moments for God if we're not there to celebrate, too. Even God can't party alone. Our recitation of the festival kiddush is our acceptance of the invitation to rejoice with God. Amen!
Our next opportunity for celebrate a festival with God is Shavuot, beginning at sundown on Saturday, May 26th. If you'd like to practice singing the festival kiddush with it's special melody, click here for a special online lesson on our TY website!
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.