I have to admit, in the current situation, my days flow one into the other, with limited awareness of what day of the week it actually is. In my family, we currently refer to each day as Groundhog Day number (insert number of day it is since we began our quarantine). Today as I write, it is Groundhog Day number 49. Truthfully Groundhog Day number 49 looks a lot like Groundhog Day number 42 and 35 and even Groundhog Day number 10. Sadly, each day has the same rhythm and a similar feel. And in the spirit of complete honesty, this overwhelming feeling of Groundhog Day has gnawed at my soul. This sense of one day being no different from the one before or the day to follow, has felt unnatural, or more to the point, un-holy.
As Jews, we thrive because of our rhythm, which is set for us. Over and over again, the Torah reminds us that we have a flow to our days and weeks. This week our parashah, parashat Emor, reminds us of this rhythm. We are reminded that six days a week we work, and one day a week we rest. Further, we celebrate holy occasions, holidays, according to the calendar set out in the Torah portion. Shabbat defines our weeks and the holidays define our year. It is that infusion of regular holiness that sustains our souls and gives us a flow in and out of sacred and profane.
The opening exhortation of the section of our Torah reading that introduces our calendar, tells us “The appointed festivals of God, which you shall designate as holy occasions, these are My appointed holy days.” Yes, God has set the rhythm of our week and year. But ensuring that those days specified as holidays are holy, is up to each and every one of us. We each have tremendous responsibility and power to sanctify those days. We make the days holy.
As Rabbi Soloveitchik explains in his Torah commentary on this verse, “The role of man in the endowment of holiness is a central theme in halachah. For example, if a scribe writes a Torah scroll and does not explicitly note the sanctity of the Tetragrammaton while writing the Name, neither the Name nor the scroll have any sanctity. The loftiness of the text itself makes no difference -— if the scribe does not write the Name having in mind that he is writing for the purpose of vesting holiness in the scroll, even the ultimate expression of faith itself, the Shema, becomes profane. A Torah scroll is invested with holiness by man.” A day is invested with holiness by man, given the right mindset.
In normal times we know how to make our holidays and Shabbat holy and how to add a dose of extra spirituality into those experiences. Will we run the extra errand to add the extra delicacy to our holiday meal or Shabbat table? How many will we invite to our Shabbat table? Will we buy the extra special wine? And will we splurge on that suit or dress that caught our eye for Shabbat? It is that extra intentionality that leads us into our holidays and Shabbat, allowing us to truly sanctify the day, when we stand together making Kiddush.
Yet, we are not living in normal times. There are no invitations to Shabbat meals and no Shabbat guests. Running out for that one last thing to enhance that week’s Shabbat celebration is unrealistic. We are just hopeful to secure a grocery delivery order for the week. That outfit you bought on-line might show up in time for Shabbat in three weeks. Our Shabbat table does not look like our Shabbat tables from three months ago. Sometimes it is hard to feel the beauty of Shabbat when our suits remain in the closet and there are not fresh flowers in the center of our table. How do we put ourselves in the right mindset?
The answer begins with the reminder that we each have the power to sanctify our time and space. God reminds us of this power this week. Even if our surroundings don’t change and each day seems like the day before, we have the power to make our day and our experience holy. It is through our mindset and words that we sanctify time.
So this week, add an extra glass of wine to your Shabbat meal if you are lucky to have wine available. Add a picture of a bouquet of flowers to your table, added bonus if a family member drew it! And as you gather to make Kiddush, remember that you have the power to make that day holy. When we do that, we return back to our rhythm as Jews and leave the endless cycle of Groundhog Day, even if it is just for one day a week.