Nearly half of this week’s Torah portion is devoted to the annual cycle of Jewish holidays. After beginning with Shabbos, which is also a holiday, the Torah continues with Passover, Shavuos, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos. In English, the word “holiday” may have started as a contraction of “holy day,” a religious holiday, but it is regularly used as a synonym for vacation time, especially by the British. The word the Torah uses for these special days is “Moed,” meaning “a set time” — such as a time for a meeting with someone. The Tabernacle and Temple are called the “Ohel Moed,” the Tent of Meeting, as they are places devoted to meeting with G-d. The Jewish holidays, then, are times devoted to meeting with G-d.
The difference between a Moed and a vacation is underscored by the the classic commentary of the Seforno in his reading of Leviticus 23:2. G-d tells the Jewish people “These are the set times of G-d that you will proclaim, proclamations of holiness, these are My set times.” The Jewish holidays are Mine, says G-d, but only when you make them holy. If you spend the time observing the holiday’s commandments, and communicating with G-d by studying His words of Torah and speaking to Him in prayer, then it will be My holiday. If you choose to spend the time indulging in your own pleasures, enjoying good food and company, then it’s not My holiday, it’s your holiday. A holiday with G-d is a time to meet and communicate with Him, to enjoy the time together. When the time is absorbed with only personal enjoyment, it is no longer G-d’s holiday.
A couple was once out on a date at a restaurant. When they finished their meal and requested the bill, the waiter informed them that their entire meal was paid for and they owed nothing. They were quite surprised by this, and asked who paid for it. The waiter pointed to an older gentleman a few tables away, someone they did not recognize. They thanked the waiter and walked over to thank their generous benefactor. They said to him, “Thank you very much sir. We really appreciate your kindness, but its not necessary. Do we know you from somewhere? Why did you pay for our meal?” The man explained, “I come here frequently and I see the other people around me. Couples and families come in, and they just don’t speak to each other. No one looks each other in the eyes any more. They’re just so busy looking down at their phones, and maybe sharing with each other things they see on their gadgets. I noticed the two of you were not doing that. You were enjoying your time together, looking at each other, listening to each other. I thought it was beautiful and I hadn’t seen it in a very long time. I just wanted to support the two of you. Enjoy the gift, and may you have many more years of happiness together.”
Jewish holidays are set times to meet with G-d, no different than a date with a loved one. Shavuos is the next Jewish holiday, and we’re counting the days until its arrival — but Shabbos, which comes every week, is also called a Moed, a Jewish holiday. This Shabbos, let’s enjoy the time together with G-d, undistracted by our gadgets and whatever other pastimes keep us busy. Let’s make it His holiday.