Memory Moorings 

As told in a Chassidic story by Rabbi Yechezkel Panet ( 1783-1845), a king was traveling through the desert, and his son, the crown prince, thirsted for water. But instead of dispatching a horseman to fetch water from the nearest town, the king ordered a well to be dug at that very spot and to mark it with a signpost.

“At the present time,” explained the king to his son, “we have the means to obtain water far more quickly and easily. But perhaps one day, many years in the future, you will again be traveling this way. Perhaps you will be alone, without the power and privilege you now enjoy. Then the well we dug today will be here to quench your thirst. Even if the sands of time have filled it, you will be able to reopen it if you remember the spot and follow the signpost we have set.”(Mar’eh Yechezkel)

This is brought as an explanation for Emor, this week’s Torah portion, where we read, “ These are the appointed times of God, mikra’ei kodesh– callings of holiness, which you shall call in their appointed time.” (Leviticus 23:2) What does it mean that we have these “appointed times”?

In a sense each of the festivals are landmarks in time at which we are empowered to call forth the particular holiness or spiritual quality embedded within it. Passover is the mooring for freedom; Shavuot is the landmark for our getting the Torah; Rosh Hashanah is for God became king of the universe; Yom Kippur is for the gift of teshuvah; and so on. The human experience is hard to navigate. These “appointed times” are set up to help us find our way. 

The special mitzvot of each festival are the ways with which we “call forth the holiness” of the day: eating matzah on Passover anchors our freedom, sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah connects us to awe, and so on with all “the appointed times of God.”

Similar to being lost in the desert is being lost at sea. Amidst the turbulent sea of our lives, like the Kong’s well these rituals are mooring for memories allowing us to deeply connect and get our bearings even when we are far from shore. 

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