When I opened up this week’s Torah portion to see what the text had in store for me, my first thought was that I really shouldn’t have written about rules last week. This week is basically all laws and more laws, with a light sprinkling of punishment and consequences to keep things interesting. As I learned from Rabbi Sandra Lawson, the portion includes a hefty 53 new commandments. That’s way more than ten, for anyone who’s keeping score.
I, personally, didn’t count them all but I’m willing to take Rabbi Lawson’s word for it.
I wasn’t really in the mood to write about rules again, though. Especially seeing as so many of the laws in this portion are… not exactly palatable. Many of them have to do with the abhorrent practice of enslaving others and the consequences that result if one inflicts bodily harm upon another person’s human property. As I mentioned last week, I read the Bible with the assumption that nothing is in there by mistake, so I don’t have the luxury of dismissing these very many verses. That said, it’s going to take me a lot of years to figure out how to make peace with the fact that these commandments are a part of a text I hold as sacred.
And then, some two chapters in, I saw a few outlier verses among the laundry list of when people do and do not get stoned.
“Three times a year you shall hold a festival for Me,” says Exodus 23:14, going on to describe those festivals, the best known of which is Passover (Pesach).
“You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread — eating unleavened bread for seven days as I have commanded you — at the set time in the month of Aviv, for in it you went forth from Egypt; and none shall appear before Me empty-handed,” states Exodus 23:5. Subsequent verses describe the Feast of the Harvest (Shavuot) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Each of these three festivals are of major importance in the Jewish faith; Israelites gathered at the Temple Mount in ancient Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to God, often walking for weeks in order to do so. Today, as well, Jews from all over the world gather in the old city of Jerusalem, in the Jewish Quarter, thrice a year.