The Texture of Time
This Dvar Torah was written by my colleague Rebecca Minkus- Lieberman, communal Jewish educator and the co-founder of Orot.
Several summers ago, my husband and I took our children to see the movie “Inside Out.”
I remember sitting through the animated film next to our children, and as the movie ended, the credits ran, and the lights began to come up in the theater, David and I both sat there, frozen in our seats, tears streaming down our cheeks.
Our children stared at us in confusion. Why in the world were we crying?
It was a fun, animated movie about a little girl named Riley. ‘We’re fine,’ we reassured them. We dried our faces and went out to get ice cream and only later, once they were in bed, had a chance to talk about why the film had been so emotionally powerful for us both.
In the film, Riley’s emotions become personified characters, her inner life materialized in her external reality. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.
And as the movie progresses, we are introduced to these very important glowing orbs of light that hold different snapshots from her past. They are her core memories, as is explained in the movie:
"But the really important ones are here. I don't want to get too technical, but these are called Core Memories. Each one came from a super important moment in Riley's life, like when she first scored a goal. That was so amazing! And each core memory powers a different aspect of Riley's personality.”
For both my husband and me, watching the power of those core memories and the ways in which they shaped Riley’s sense of self, her capacity for stability and happiness, and the identity that she sought to construct for herself, brought up our own core memories and the stories we tell and have told ourselves about who we are and where we are going in our lives.
It touched a nerve and moved us in deep places.
What does this have to do with [this week’s parsha] Emor?
This week’s parasha contains a section, chapter 23, that we read several times a year: this Shabbat, on Sukkot, and on Pesach.
It is the section that delineates the sacred festivals throughout the Jewish year, listing and explaining each in its turn. There are many fascinating and study-worthy aspects to the explanation of the festivals found here, but one remark by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks highlights a valuable insight:
“We all need an identity, and every identity comes with a story. So we need a time when we remind ourselves of the story of where we came from and why we are who we are.”
As each holiday is explained, it is accompanied by a story, about its origin, its historical context, its inherent meaning. Each festival is offered to us wrapped up in a narrative.
As Rabbi Sacks explains, these stories and the festivals that are born from them become markers for us, signposts along the road that we each travel through time.
As we move through our days, our weeks, our months, our years, we are giving these critical rest stops. Moments in which we can pause, step off the trail for a bit, and retell the foundational stories that help orient our paths and permit us to rediscover who we are and where we are going.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, speaks about the different qualities of time in human experience:
"I’m sure you’ve been told that in the Greek, in the New Testament, there are two words for time. Chronos is chronological time, time as duration, one moment after another, and that’s what most of us think of as time.
But there was another word in Greek, kairos. And kairos was deep time. It was when you have those moments where you say, “Oh my god, this is it. I get it,” or, “This is as perfect as it can be,” or, “It doesn’t get any better than this,” or, “This moment is summing up the last five years of my life,” things like that where time comes to a fullness, and the dots connect, when we can learn how to more easily go back to those kind of moments or to live in that kind of space.
Now, I think that’s what the tradition means by the word “contemplation,” that to be a contemplative is to learn to trust deep time and to learn how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time."
In Parshat Emor, we are gifted with these sacred stopping points within the moving current of time - the festivals, the moadim, that we must actively proclaim and welcome into our lives.
Mikra’ei kodesh they are called: we call to them and activate the holiness that they offer to our daily, weekly, monthly living.
Using Rohr’s language, these festivals provide an opportunity to step outside of chronological time and connect with kairos - deep time - with a form of time that nourishes and shapes and fills us up.
Experiences in time that awaken us and help us understand: Yes, this is what matters. This is why I am here. This is who I am and what I have to offer to the world.
We link ourselves to those essential, foundational moments and experiences that sculpt the edges of our beings and the contours of our footsteps. And we tell the stories that we must, and create new stories with intention, and call out to holiness to enter.
This week, accept the invitation of Parshat Emor to explore your own core memories and stories and those that are contained in the beautiful, sacred festivals of our calendar. Welcome these rest stops along the rush of chronological time to pause, restore, reconnect and rededicate yourself to the continuing exploration of those central questions:
Who are you?
Where are you going?
What can you offer the world?