Parashat Emor: Shabbat as “Mikra Kodesh”
Parashat Emor includes a large section devoted to the laws of the Yamim Tovim, the holidays that we must observe over the course of the year. This section begins with the Misva of Shabbat, the first and most frequent "holiday" that we observe. The Torah here (23:3) refers to Shabbat as "Mikra Kodesh," a period which is "called" or declared a sacred occasion.
The term "Mikra Kodesh" may also refer to another aspect of Shabbat, namely, that it is a time when all our "Mikra" – reading – should be "Kodesh," sacred and sublime. On Shabbat, we are absolved of many of the responsibilities that we bear throughout the workweek, and thus we have more time available to dedicate to prayer and Torah study. The term "Mikra Kodesh" instructs that we should use this opportunity for reading sacred books, works of Torah literature, and not on wasteful, leisurely material. Thank G-d, we live in a time when there is a wealth of quality Torah literature on a variety of Torah topics, in different languages, and for all levels. In today’s day and age, there is no justification to spend the free time we are given on Shabbat reading materials other than Torah literature. With so many excellent resources available for people of all ages and backgrounds, we can all find worthwhile and valuable Torah material to learn so we make the most of the unique opportunity that Shabbat gives us.
The Torah’s discussion of Shabbat here in Parashat Emor ends by emphasizing, "Shabbat Hi Le’Hashem Be’chol Moshebotechem" – "It is a Sabbath to G-d in all your residences." The question arises, why must we be told that Shabbat is to be observed "in all your residences"? Would we have thought that the Misva of Shabbat applies only in some areas but not others?
The Hid"a (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806) explained that the Torah here reminds us to observe Shabbat as a sacred day, and a time for spiritual engagement, not only in the synagogue, but also in our homes. The special sanctity of Shabbat is to be expressed not just through the prayers and classes held in the synagogue on Shabbat, but also "in all your residences" – in our homes. We must use all of Shabbat, and not only the time spent in the synagogue, as an opportunity to grow in spirituality and holiness, and this requires us to take advantage of our free time on this day for "Mikra Kodesh" – reading and studying sacred and uplifting Torah works, through which we will elevate ourselves each week to ever higher levels of Kedusha.