Emor

You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Emor.

33 thoughts on “Emor

  1. Aryae Post author

    At a conference in Berkeley in 1974 of spiritual leaders from religions around the world, Reb Zalman gave over the following teaching from Reb Shlomo:

    It says in the Torah (in this parsha) that a kohen, priest, cannot have contact with a dead body. Why not? The Talmud explains that the job of the kohen is to be a channel for holiness and blessings to enter the world. But if the kohen has contact with a dead body, he might be angry with God. Why did this person have to die? A person who is angry with God cannot be a channel for holiness and blessings. When World War II came, the world was so filled with death that a whole generation of the Jewish people, and Jewish teachers, became contaminated. No one could be a channel, because there was so much anger. And a whole generation of our children who found nothing in the synagogues, walked away from God. So God with infinite compassion sent us teachers from other traditions around the world. Because they had not been contaminated in the same way, they were able to be channels, so they could reach our children and inspire them to find their way back.

    So many of us got our start in finding our way back from these holy teachers that God sent us.

    As a kohen myself, I would add that in our day, when there is no longer a Holy Temple and no longer sacrifices, it is now up to all of us to be kohens. But how can we do it when there is so much death – unnatural, needless, violent death – in the world? When I turned 65 Reb Zalman recommended to me that I consider volunteering to do hospice work. “As a kohen how can I do that?” I said. “When is the last time we kohens were needed for sacrifices in the Holy Temple?” said Reb Zalman, who is a kohen, laughing. The message I take away: we need to be a channel for blessings as best we can, even in the presence of death. Don’t allow anger to rule us, contaminate us, shut us down. Keep the channel open so the blessings can reach those around us. As Rebbe Nachman teaches, the way to do this is through joy. This is what I believe the world needs from us now.

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  2. Wendy

    From Rav DovBer Pinson

    B”H

    Week’s Energy for Parshas Emor
    Rav DovBer Pinson

    Sacred Space
    In this week’s Torah portion, we are given instructions as to the criteria of the high priesthood and the priesthood. The priest, or Kohen in the temple times, had to stand apart from the rest of the congregation, keeping themselves holy and pure, in a space of sacredness and separateness, allowing them to bless and heal the congregation without interference from the chaos and noise of daily struggle.

    In this portion we are also instructed to observe days of sanctity – Shabbat and the Yomim Tovim, or Holidays, creating a sacred space within our patterns of time. These are days that stand apart and function as a retreat from the general daily business of making life work.

    This week we are gifted with the energy drawn from the sacred space that we hold within ourselves. We are so busy with all of life’s daily struggles, the pain and the dramas that are constantly occupying and distracting us. We need to reveal within ourselves a space that stands apart from our daily life and troubles, and remains untouched by negativity. Death, or the absence of life, growth and possibility is not allowed in this inner sanctuary, this is a place of peace and tranquility. We can access this place within ourselves throughout the day, to draw upon its reserves of purity and holy energy. Revealing this place within ourselves, necessitates setting firm boundaries, and through the separation from all things mundane, allows us a glimpse into our best and purest self.

    THE WEEK’S ENERGY
    In order to access this sacred consciousness within ourselves, we need to dedicate sacred time and space within each day. Find a physical space that you can reserve as a place of prayer or thanksgiving each day, and dedicate a time of the day that is separate from all things mundane and allows you the peace of mind to access your inner sanctity.

    Modeh Ani in the morning, Shma Yisrael at night, or any of the prayers within the day, allow us to separate and go within.

    The energy of this week is the energy of the sacred space. Be it within time, or physical space, this separateness allows us access to our own place of holiness and apartness.

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  3. Wendy

    ~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~

    Emor

    (Say)

    LEVITICUS 21:1 – 24:23

    This portion deals with the regulations for the Priests and goes on to legislate the cycles of Shabbat and the Festivals.

    THE BLESSING

    WE ARE COMMANDED to be a nation of priests, each one of us fulfilling the priestly function of mediating between human and divine. In Emor we are told that the priest must be unblemished. He must radiate perfection. The offerings that she brings must also be perfect.
    As I seek to fulfill my priestly function I look at my life, I look at the physical universe that surrounds me, I look at Nature, I look into the human predicament of every person that I meet. And I cannot find something that is unblemished. The closer I look, the more imperfections I find. Everything and everyone is in process. We are all searching for balance in a world that is in flux. We are all flawed; our physical bodies are slowly or quickly decaying. This is the paradox of Emor: I and everything that I offer is likewise flawed, marked with the limitations of my particular perspective and prejudice. And yet, the truth of perfection permeates the atmosphere of my life, like a tantalizing fragrance.

    EMOR IS A PARADOX. To receive the blessing of paradox means that I must expand my embrace. I must create a wider context in which to live and encompass the contradictions that the paradox offers. To live with paradox means I must always be expanding my conceptions of reality. I live in process, continually opening to the wider view. The process itself touches me with its beauty.

    THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE

    THE PARADOX IS THAT WE ARE BOTH PERFECT AND IMPERFECT at the same time. If the priestly function is to mediate between the human and divine… of course it makes sense that we be made of both!
    There are times when I look into this world or into the blemishes of my own character, and I am shown the perfection of the Whole. Not only do I see it, I experience that perfection as a “rightness” and I am overcome by its heart-shattering beauty. I celebrate the perfection and let it inspire and empower me. Experiencing that perfection gives me the strength to bear the imperfections. Within the perfection of this dance, we learn and suffer, die and are re-born. Those blemishes that might have disqualified me from the priesthood actually become the doorways into my power as a priest. It is only when I deny those blemishes or hide them from God that my offerings are rejected. When I enter through them, I can touch the perfection within all imperfection.

    OUR SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE is to acknowledge with eyes wide open, our flaws and the harm we cause through them, the suffering, injustice and cruelty that pervade our world… AND at the same time to see the absolute perfection of it all.

    For Guideline for Practice please click on link to website.
    http://rabbishefagold.com/Emor.html

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  4. Wendy

    From Chabad.org

    These are the appointed times of G-d, callings of holiness, which you shall call in their appointed time (23:2)

    The festivals are “callings of holiness” (mikra’ei kodesh), in the sense that each is a landmark in time at which we are empowered to call forth the particular holiness or spiritual quality imbedded within it.

    On the first Passover, for example, G-d granted us the gift of freedom. On the first Shavuot, He gave us the Torah; on Rosh Hashanah, G-d became king of the universe; on Yom Kippur, we received the gift of teshuvah; and so on. But freedom, wisdom, awe, joy, peace, and the other divine gifts granted in the course of our history are constant needs of the soul; they are the spiritual nutrients that sustain her in her journey through life. G-d embedded these qualities within the very substance of time, and set “appointed times” at which they can be accessed. Each year, when we arrive at the juncture of time where a particular spiritual quality has been embedded, we are granted the ability to access it once again.

    The special mitzvot of each festival are the tools with which we “call forth” the “holiness” of the day: eating matzah on Passover unearths the gift of freedom, sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah calls forth its quality of awe, and so on with all “the appointed times of G-d.”

    (The Chassidic Masters)

    ——————————————————————————–

    In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of horns, a calling of holiness (23:24)

    On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, all things revert to their primordial state. The Inner Will ascends and is retracted into the divine essence; the worlds are in a state of sleep, and are sustained only by the Outer Will. The service of man on Rosh Hashanah is to rebuild the divine attribute of sovereignty and reawaken the divine desire, “I shall reign,” with the sounding of the shofar.

    (Pri Etz Chaim)

    For it is a day of atonement, to atone for you before G-d (23:28)

    [The sages say:] Yom Kippur atones only for those who repent. Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] says: Yom Kippur atones whether one repents or one does not repent.

    (Talmud, Shevuot 13a)

    On Yom Kippur, the day itself atones… as it is written, “For on this day, it shall atone for you.”

    (Mishneh Torah)

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  5. Wendy

    From Academy for Jewish Religion/CA

    Parshat Emor
    Torah Reading for Week of May 3 – May 9, 2009

    “Does G-d want us to be perfect?”
    by Rabbi Min Kantrowitz, ’04
    Director, The Jewish Community Chaplaincy Program of Jewish Family Service of New Mexico
    Last week we learned how G-d wants us to behave in order to achieve holiness, but does G-d want us to be perfect? This week, two main themes dominate Parashat Emor: the holy class of Israelite leaders (the Cohanim and their peculiar restrictions), and the holy times, days and festivals with their unique observances.

    The first section of the portion focuses on the priesthood, with special emphasis on the importance of priestly purity and on differentiating Cohanim from the rest of the community. Priests who have permanent physical defects, such as blindness or missing limbs, are not permitted to offer sacrifices, although their inherited priestly status remains. Only perfect animals are to be sacrificed to G-d. Perfect people, perfectly pure, offering perfect animals.

    The second section delineates times and seasons for Israelite festivals. After an introduction to the Sabbath as a perpetual day of complete rest (‘shabbat shabbaton’), Moses tells the people about the five major Jewish holidays in a series of five speeches. We are told that Passover is to be celebrated in the first month of the year, followed by an unusual ceremony: the wave offering of the first sheaf of the harvest, to be followed by counting off seven complete weeks (‘shabbatot tmimot’). Note: the Hebrew here for ‘complete’ also means ‘perfect’….perfect priests, perfect sacrifices, perfect weeks!

    After the seven weeks, new grain is brought to the temple on the fiftieth day, in celebration of the next holiday, Shavuot (‘weeks’). The period of time between Passover and Shavuot, known as the counting of the Omer, is the longest defined period of time in the Jewish ritual calendar: observing it requires doing a specific blessing and counting formula every day for forty-nine days.

    Before moving to the next three holidays, the Torah seems to pause and a verse that does not deal with the holiday calendar is inserted: Lev. 23:22: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Lord am your G-d.” The narrative then continues with a description of the next three holy days, very important ones, which all occur in the seventh month: Rosh Hashanah, on the first day of the month, Yom Kippur, ten days later and Sukkot, on the fifteenth. Why does the Torah insert this reminder about leaving gleanings for the poor here, in the midst of describing the order of the festival calendar, when it was stated more fully just last week in Leviticus 19:10?

    Consider all the emphasis on perfection in this week’s portion. We know that no human is perfect (although there are those who claim to be). Moses himself had a speech impediment. Interestingly, the Talmud (Megillah 29a) tells us that Rav Ashi deduced from Leviticus 21:20 that arrogance constitutes a blemish; such an imperfection would prevent a Cohen from performing the offerings. Chagigah 5a teaches: “Over these does G-d weep daily: over the one who is able to study the Torah and does not; over the one who is unable to devote the time to Torah and study it; and over the public leader who is arrogant in his leadership”. The Talmud is looking at ‘perfection’ in leadership very differently. Rather than judging fitness for leadership on the basis of physical conditions over which the person has no control, the Talmud values the humility necessary to realize that we are imperfect, but trying to improve.

    This explains the verse that demands we do not reap all the way to the corners of our fields: an intentionally incomplete harvest is a kind of required imperfection. It reminds us that society is not perfect; there will always be needy people. We are required to care for others rather than arrogantly only caring for ourselves.

    Shavuot later became associated with receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. The period of counting the Omer is an opportunity to pay attention to self-improvement; as potential recipients of Divine wisdom, we humbly aspire toward perfecting ourselves. Rather than pretending to be perfect, wisdom comes with knowing we are not and yet trying to improve each day, making every day count.

    Shabbat shalom!

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  6. Wendy

    James Stone Goodman O holy Shabbes Inspiration Emor

    O holy Kohanin priests of the old Temple
    the special relation
    For he is holy to God [Lev.21:7]
    Father to son
    Father to son
    His holiness derived from a relation to God
    Ki kadosh hu
    Because he is holy to his God.

    The next verse
    You shall make him holy [21:8]
    Who is you?
    He is holy to his God, no?

    He dresses for holiness
    The formal approach
    The scripted activities
    The prescribed holiness
    Still — the priest is also holy because he serves —
    You make him holy —
    He has earned his Godliness credibility
    By serving you.

    We earn holiness, no?
    Two brothers, Moses and Aaron
    Here comes Aaron with his robes
    The billowing sleeves
    Good words
    But those afternoons with Moses —
    Hunched over a cup of coffee at the diner
    This is what I will remember.

    jsg, usa

    Maqam Sigah
    E half-flat F G
    Every portion has a characteristic maqam (plural maqamat), musical figure, from the Arabic, cognate in Hebrew Maqom – Place

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  7. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
    The bodies we are (Radical Torah repost)
    Here’s the d’var Torah I wrote in 2007 for this week’s portion, originally published at Radical Torah.

    The Lord spoke further to Moses: Speak to Aaron and say: No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God.

    No one who has a defect, Torah tells us in parashat Emor, may offer the korbanot, the offerings which draw us near to our Source. No one who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long; no one with a broken limb, neither a hunchback nor a dwarf, no one with a growth occluding his eye, no one with a scar. No one who has suffered from scurvy or had his testes crushed. Such a one may eat the the bread set-apart to God, the holy and the most-holy — but he may not draw near to God.

    These verses make up a kind of list-poem, an incantation of physical maladies, bookended with the refrain reminding us that anyone who has a defect of any kind must not play a role in making offerings to God. This is forbidden, and would profane the holiest place.

    It’s tempting to read these verses allegorically. No one who is blinded to the difficult realities of suffering, one might say — no one who is unwilling to walk a mile in the shoes of another — no one who twists her being into imbalance may be permitted to make offerings to God. No one who understands himself to be irredeemably broken. No one hunched by anxiety and fear, no one shrunken of spirit, no one whose vision is impeded by the unwillingness to see. None of these people may act as priests on our behalf, because they do not allow themselves to be whole.

    That’s certainly one way to read this passage. It’s one I even like. But it doesn’t feel like enough.

    I think of the generations who have read and cherished this text, and I imagine how many of them were halt or lame, how many had spines twisted or lungs sickly, and I wonder what reading this passage meant for them, how it damaged their sense of who they might be. I remember the cruelty of eleven-year-old girls, confronted with a classmate who had a foreshortened limb, and how their barbs sting even now, so many years after their insults were lofted in the chalky classroom air.

    In the days of the sacrificial system, we were obsessed with perfection. In this week’s portion too we read that in order to be acceptable, an animal must be “without blemish; there must be no defect in it. Anything blind, or injured, or maimed, or with a wen, boil-scar, or scurvy — such shall you not offer to Adonai.” Sound familiar? Torah has the same expectations of our offerings as it does of those who offer them. God wants only whole beasts, unblemished, the finest in our flocks and herds.

    Maybe this teaching is meant to remind us not to give God something second-best, something we don’t really prize. Maybe we are meant to remark upon the importance of perfection: a perfect God demands perfect offerings, offered up by perfect hands.

    But reading this now, all I can think about is just how imperfect we are. Each of us has wounds that matter because they connect with our individual stories; in the aggregate what matters is that we are all broken. Whether or not our aches are visible to the naked eye, I doubt any of us would live up to Torah’s regulations here — even those who ostensibly fit the bill, being of the appropriate gender and descended from the appropriate lineage to match what’s described in this week’s text.

    This week’s portion draws strict boundaries around acceptable bodies. Only one kind of body is permitted to play the Temple’s most valuable roles; other bodies are pushed outside the bounds of acceptable service. I think of how women still have that experience today, how folk who are trans and genderqueer have that experience, how bodies too small or too large or shaped “wrong” have that experience. And I wonder how the world might be different if we all understood ourselves as called to offer our talents, our prayers, our longing before God — no matter what kind of bodies we are.

    This text is problematic precisely because it privileges a kind of perfection in which ordinary people can’t partake. A single burn scar, one leg barely longer than the other — these are the kinds of imperfections to which we are all heir. Who among us has a body altogether free from blemish, symmetrical in every regard? And who among us has escaped all emotional or psychological damage on this front — has reached adulthood without ever once disparaging her or his body for the ways in which it fails to live up to our age’s supposed ideal?

    This week’s Torah portion is rife with damaged and damaging understandings of what it means to have a body, and how our bodies can keep us from drawing near to God. I much prefer the Hasidic paradigm of avodah be-gashmiut, serving God through our embodiment — even if our embodiment is imperfect, sometimes painful, sometimes asymmetrical, not able to live up to our prettiest imaginings of who or what we should be.

    May we all find ourselves empowered to draw near to God — to lay down the offerings of our physical fears and insecurities on the altars of our hearts, and to know that those offerings are accepted and acceptable, especially when they are too small or too big, too crooked or unnaturally straight, deviating from the so-called norm in all of the ways that make us who we are.

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  8. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Emor: Eating before Yom Kippur

    The Ninth of Tishrei

    While there are several rabbinically-ordained fasts throughout the year, only one day of fasting is mentioned in the Torah:

    “It is a sabbath of sabbaths to you, when you must fast. You must observe this sabbath on the ninth of the month in the evening, from evening until [the next] evening.” (Lev. 23:32)

    This refers to the fast of Yom Kippur. The verse, however, appears to contain a rather blatant ‘mistake’: Yom Kippur falls out on the tenth of Tishrei, not the ninth!

    The Talmud in Berachot 8b explains that the day before Yom Kippur is also part of the atonement process, even though there is no fasting: “This teaches that one who eats and drinks on the ninth is credited as if he fasted on both the ninth and tenth.”

    Still, we need to understand: Why is there a mitzvah to eat on the day before Yom Kippur? In what way does this eating count as a day of fasting?

    Two Forms of Teshuvah

    The theme of Yom Kippur is, of course, teshuvah – repentance, the soul’s return to its natural purity. There are two major aspects to teshuvah. The first is the need to restore the spiritual sensitivity of the soul, dulled by over-indulgence in physical pleasures. This refinement is achieved by temporarily rejecting physical enjoyment, and substituting life’s hectic pace with prayer and reflection. The Torah gave us one day a year, the fast of Yom Kippur, to concentrate exclusively on refining our spirits and redefining our goals.

    However, the aim of Judaism is not asceticism. As Maimonides wrote (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Dei’ot 3:1):

    “One might say, since jealousy, lust and arrogance are bad traits, driving a person out of the world, I shall go to the opposite extreme. I will not eat meat, drink wine, marry, live in a pleasant house, or wear nice clothing… like the idolatrous monks. This is wrong, and it is forbidden to do so. One who follows this path is called a sinner…. Therefore, the Sages instructed that we should only restrict ourselves from that which the Torah forbids…. It is improper to constantly fast. ”

    The second aspect of teshuvah is more practical and down-to-earth. We need to become accustomed to acting properly and avoid the pitfalls of material desires that violate the Torah’s teachings. This type of teshuvah is not attained by fasts and prayer, but by preserving our spiritual integrity while we are involved in worldly matters.

    The true goal of Yom Kippur is achieved when we can remain faithful to our spiritual essence while remaining active participants in the physical world. When do we accomplish this aspect of teshuvah? When we eat on the ninth of Tishrei. Then we demonstrate that, despite our occupation with mundane activities, we can remain faithful to the Torah’s values and ideals. Thus, our eating on the day before Yom Kippur is connected to our fasting on Yom Kippur itself. Together, these two days correspond to the two corrective aspects of the teshuvah process.

    By preceding the fast with eating and drinking, we ensure that the reflection and spiritual refinement of Yom Kippur are not isolated to that one day, but have an influence on the entire year’s involvement in worldly activities. The inner, meditative teshuvah of the tenth of Tishrei is thus complemented by the practical teshuvah of the ninth.

    (Gold from the Land of Israel pp. 210-212. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 42.)

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  9. Aryae Post author

    Reb Sholom Brodt

    Our Supernal Visitors

    In this week’s parsha we learn about our holy days Shabbos, Pessach, Shovuos, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres. The holy Zohar (Zohar, Emor 94:a) presents a dialogue between Hashem and the supernal angels, from which we learn [that] … HOLY CELEBRATION days are actually ‘visitors’ from Hashem, and the people Yisrael are privileged to welcome ‘His guests’ into this world that we live in.

    Any flaws in the following translation are fully mine. I hope that I understood it correctly…

    Rebbe Shimon says,

    Come and see, when the people of Israel below (here in this world) rejoice on these holidays and they offer praises to the Holy One baruch Hu, and they set their tables and they make themselves beautiful and dress themselves in their honorable clothing.

    Then the supernal angels say, “What is the reason that the children of Israel are rejoicing so?”

    And the Holy One B”H says to them, “[It is because] they are receiving a precious supernal guest on this day.”

    “But is this not Your guest that is coming to You from the place that is called Kadosh?”

    And the Holy One B”H answered them, “And is not Yisrael Kadosh? Are they not called Kadosh? (Therefore) It is fitting for them to invite My guest. One reason (that they have the power to sanctify the holy days is that they receive holiness) from My side, from My manifestation of Zeir Anpin [Z”A], for they are attached to Me. And one reason emanates from ‘KODESH’ for they are called Kadosh as it says ‘Kodesh Yisrael l’Hashem’ – Yisrael is Kadosh [sanctified] to Hashem.” Since Yisrael is called Kodesh, therefore this holy supernal guest – this holiday certainly belongs to them, for this guest is visiting from Kodesh, as it says ‘Mikra-ei kodesh” [convocations of holiness] – they are the ones ‘called’, invited by Kodesh.’

    And the angels opened their mouths in praise and said, “Happy is the people whose lot is thus, happy is the people that Hashem is his G-d.” (Zohar, Emor 94:a)

    … ‘Mikra-ei kodesh’ is … difficult to translate. In one Chumash it translates it as “holy assemblies,” in another it says “holy convocations” and in another it says “holy celebrations.” I humbly offer the following: In the Friday night Shabbos Kiddush we say that Shabbos is – “techila l’mikra-ei kodesh” – the primary beginning of all ‘mikra-ei kodesh’ (holy festivals). “mikra” literally means ‘a calling’. Hence ‘mikra-ei kodesh’ would be ‘callings of [or unto] holiness’– invitations from Kodesh to bnai Yisrael- am Kadosh, to receive Hashem’s Kodesh ‘guests’ and welcome holiness into our lives.

    How do we welcome these supernal guests? And what is the meaning of being called or invited to holiness? What is holiness and how is it that we human creatures can even talk about holiness when as Chassidut teaches, only Hashem is holy?

    Connecting to Hashem’s holiness allows [us] to study and experience holiness, and we can do so only because Hashem provides us with the ability…. This is the gift of Mikra-ei kodesh. From time to time, we do feel soul-stirrings of sorts – a calling to holiness, even in this world, known as ‘Alma d’shikra’ – the ‘world of lies and falsehood’, where it is entirely possible and even easy to be skeptical and lose touch with anything holy.

    Our souls are mostly aroused on Shabbos or Yom Tov, when Hashem’s guests and messengers – our supernal guests, come to invite us to their palace, the place that is known as ‘Kadosh’.

    In readiness to welcome our supernal guests we make ourselves beautiful and dress ourselves in honorable clothing, we set our tables and we sing joyous songs and praises to Hashem. If we do this with humility and joy, we bring about a union with Hashem here below in our world and in all the supernal realms as well.

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  10. Aryae Post author

    Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

    The festivals and the ecology

    The three main festivals of the year – Pesach (“Passover”), Shavuot (“Feast of Weeks”) and Succot (“Festival of Booths”, “Tabernacles”) – are celebrated by Jews wherever in the world they may be. But in Temple times the central focus of the festival observances is in Jerusalem in the main Temple courtyard, where each of the three festivals is to be marked in its own unique way as laid down in our portion.
    The Rabbis taught that there are specified times during the year when the world is judged in the Heavenly Court (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:2). The judgment on Pesach determines the success of our staple grain crops; the judgment on Shavuot determines the success of the fruits, while the judgment on Succot determines the rainfall, which is the key to the entire water ecology.

    It is evident from the section of our portion dealing with the annual cycle of the festivals that the specific observances on each of the three pilgrim festivals relate intimately to the respective subject of the judgment on that festival. In the land of Israel, Pesach coincides with the beginning of the grain harvesting season, which was ceremonially inaugurated in the Temple with the Omer offering of barley – Israel’s earliest-ripening grain species – on the second day of the festival (Lev. 23:9-14).
    Fifty days later, at the height of the wheat-harvesting, Shavuot was celebrated with the presentation at the Temple Altar of two loaves of wheat bread, a ceremonial offering of the “first fruits” of the nation’s agricultural endeavors (Lev. 23:17-21).

    In Israel Succot coincides with the end of the dry summer harvesting season, when people are starting to think of the need for rains for the success of next year’s crops. On each of the days of the Succot festival, the Temple services included solemn processions around the Altar with branches and fruit from four species of trees that particularly exemplify our complete dependency upon God’s merciful gift of water: the palm tree, myrtle bush, willow tree and citron (Lev. 23:39-41).

    Economic health

    Today’s news media give the impression that the health of the economy depends on wise decisions by governments and financial leaders (rare indeed) together with such factors as consumer and investor optimism (severely damaged). At the same time the world reels from one ecological disaster to another, with widespread drought, chronic water shortage, crop failures, animal diseases and more.

    The Torah is teaching us that ecological balance, harmony, blessing and prosperity depend upon God’s [“rachamim” – meaning compassion, which comes from “rechem” womb] … which is all the more forthcoming when humanity humbly acknowledges and respects [God’s] great kindness in providing us with all our needs through the sunshine, rains, winds, vegetation, animals and birds and other creations that feed and sustain us.

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  11. Aryae Post author

    Reb Sholom Brodt

    5 holy festivals to remedy 5 anxieties

    Mikraei Kodesh
    מקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ

    And Hashem spoke unto Moshe, saying:

    Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: The appointed seasons of Hashem, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My appointed seasons. Vayikra 23:1-2

    The Ishbitzer Rebbe zy”a explained that being upset with and having complaints to Hashem is an aspect of being ‘tamei’ as this interferes with being close to Him. In such a state of ‘tumah’ we cannot fully love Hashem and we cannot fulfill our roles as Kohanim- we can’t help others come closer to Him. May Hashem spare us all from circumstances which arouse our complaints; may it always be clear to us that everything from Hashem – and everything is from Him, is only good. We pray that all the good should be ‘revealed’ and that it should no longer be so hard to see the good…

    The Mei Hashiloach [Ishbitzer] teaches that in this week’s parsha there are five ‘parshiot’ [Torah portions] preceding the ‘parsha’ of the five holy festival days at the end of Parshas Emor. These five Torah portions represent five life situations that can arouse one to have complaints against Hashem….

    Now, as Reb Shlomo would say, “open your hearts and listen to this.” The Ishbitzer explains that Hashem gave us the five holy festivals that correspond to and give us the strength to cope with and remove … five states of anxiety and complaint.

    Pesach, the holiday of our liberation, liberates us from the anxiety caused by the loss of life. Pessach is the earliest and beginning of Divine festival illuminations that clearly reveal that it is Hashem who gives us life. Celebrating Pessach helps us focus on the ‘giving’ of life, and allows us to be grateful for the life energy that is constantly emanating from Hashem.

    Shavuot, the holiday of the Giving of the Torah, is the healing for the Kohen born with disqualifying defects. This is the healing for all who are pained because they have a sense of the good that can and needs to be done, and that they truly would like to do but are not qualified to. On Shavuot, all the physically handicapped people were all healed before receiving the Torah. And so too, all our physical defects will be healed- may it be soon.

    Rosh Hashanah is the healing for the tummah of sadness; the sadness of feeling distant and rejected. With the mitzvah of the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah we are filled with the sound of hope, the sound of the Great Day when the Great Shofar will be sounded heralding our liberation and the ingathering of the exiles. This mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is a blessing that we should not hear anything that may cause us sadness, ‘chas v’shalom’; and if we still do hear such things, the ever present sound of the Rosh Hashanah shofar should inspire us with hope and confidence that soon we will be dancing the great Dance of Ge’ulah.

    Yom Kippur, the high holy day when the Children of Israel abstain from worldly pleasures to fulfill Hashem’s will, is the healing for all our possessions that were not usable in serving Hashem. Ultimately they will be rectified and will be willingly accepted by Hashem.

    Sukkot is the remedy for the anxiety of worries. On Sukkot we are literally surrounded by the Sukkah mitzvah! Sukkot reassures us that Hashem is taking care of us and protecting us from all sides. Thanking Hashem for the past and praying for the future; sitting in the Sukkah reassures us that constantly fearing and being in awe of Hashem and of His greatness actually brings us close to Him and makes us very aware that Hashem really is with us. And that is why Sukkot is ‘zman simchateinu’ – the season of our Joy.

    Reply
  12. Wendy

    From American Jewish World Service
    Dvar Tzedek > 5771 > Emor

    Rachel Travis

    We are currently in the third week of the omer—the 49-day period of nightly counting between Pesach and Shavuot. According to rabbinic tradition, the omer serves as a bridge between two spiritual milestones: the redemption from Egypt (Pesach) and the giving of the Torah (Shavuot).

    But biblically, the link between the two festivals was agricultural, and the word omer had another meaning entirely. On the second day of Pesach, a sacrifice called the omer—literally a sheaf or measurement of barley—was offered in the Temple, marking the beginning of the harvest season. Fifty days later, on Shavuot, a new wheat offering was made, concluding the celebration of the grain harvest. As we read in Parshat Emor: “…You shall bring an omer from your first harvest to the kohen…and from the day on which you bring the omer offering… you shall count off seven weeks.”1

    It is clear that counting the omer in the Temple period was a radically different ritual than the one we practice today. Given that few of us spend our spring months harvesting, and none of us stocks our kitchens with omer-sized measuring cups, what does the agricultural history of this ritual have to do with our contemporary omer practice?

    An answer lies in a broader understanding of the word omer in its biblical context. In addition to the command to count the omer in Parshat Emor, the term appears two more times in the Torah. In Shmot, when the Israelites panic about survival in the desert, wondering if God has redeemed them only to let them starve in a foreign wasteland, God rains manna from heaven, and Moshe instructs the people to “Gather from it, for every man according to what he eats, an omer per person.”2 Rashi teaches that even those who collected too much or too little would find that, miraculously, when they returned home, they had exactly one omer per person.3 In other words, God not only provided sustenance, but ensured that it was distributed equitably.

    Later, the book of Dvarim enumerates civil laws to help the people create a fair and caring society—without the need for miracles. Among these is the command that, “When you reap your harvest in your field, and you forget a bundle [omer] in the field, you shall not turn back to take it; it shall be for the stranger, the orphan and the widow.”4 Just as God allocated an omer for each person in the desert, so, too, Jewish farmers are instructed to leave behind any fallen sheaves for the poor.

    All three biblical mentions of the word omer—whether an offering in the Temple, a gift from God or an allocation for the needy—are linked by a common theme of gratitude, justice and generosity. The omer in Parshat Emor is an expression of gratitude for God’s role in our ability to provide for ourselves; the omer in Shmot demonstrates the just way in which God provides for us; and the omer in Dvarim instructs us how to care for one another generously. As God gave us manna in the desert, and gives us grain at our harvests, we must provide for each other with a spirit of equality and kindness.

    The Torah further connects these values by incorporating all of them into its instructions for the observance of Shavuot, the culmination of the omer-counting period. Shavuot served as a reminder to Israelite farmers that the fruits of their labors were a blessing that was to be appreciated and shared. When they brought an offering of first fruits on Shavuot, they were commanded to “rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household; you, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you”5—expressing gratitude while simultaneously reaching out to those less fortunate. Not coincidently, we find that directly after the commandment to observe Shavuot, the Torah instructs farmers to leave the corners of their fields unharvested, so that the needy can come and find sustenance.6

    Our challenge during the weeks between Pesach and Shavuot is to infuse our modern observance of the omer period with lessons from its biblical predecessor, by fulfilling the command to rejoice in all the good we have been granted with those who have less. We can begin to do this by recognizing that the food we have is a gift, and that we have an obligation to share our bounty with others. What form this takes is up to us as individuals: locally, we could volunteer in a soup kitchen or with an organization that supports food justice. Globally, we could learn about food aid and policy or evaluate how our personal consumption can have a global impact. However we act on it, our contemporary counting of the omer represents an opportunity to reflect on where our gifts come from and how we can provide for others. This is our omer—let’s make it count.

    1 Vayikra 23:10, 15.

    2 Shmot 16:16.

    3 Rashi on Shmot 16:17.

    4 Dvarim 24:19.

    5 Dvarim 26:11.

    6 Vayikra 23:22.

    Reply
  13. Wendy

    From AJR/CA

    Parshat Emor
    Torah Reading for Week of May 6-12, 2012

    “Come closer to Me”
    By Belle Michael, AJRCA Fourth Year Rabbinic Student

    We are counting the days now towards the festival of Shavuot. This Jewish holiday celebrates a mythical moment of revelation. We experience a wholesome encounter with G-d. As we are preparing ourselves both physically and spiritually for this sacred meeting, we read in our parasha (Leviticus 23:2):

    “דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם מועדי ה’ אשר תקראו אותם מקרא קודש אלה הם מועדי”

    “Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: “These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions” (JPS translation). The root KARA means “to call”; therefore, “Mikraei Kodesh”– could be understood to mean sacred callings. In Leviticus 23, G-d lists the times He/She would expect the people of Israel to come for a meeting. It is surprising to find out that the All Mighty G-d is the One who is calling us. Isn’t it amazing that G-d wants to meet us?

    Not only does G-d want to meet us, but G-d also provides us with a detailed time frame and structured ritual for these sacred encounters. At these sacred meetings, the priests play a significant role mainly by officiating with “Korbanot” (that is, sacrifices). The word “Korban (sacrifice) in its different conjugations and variations appears repeatedly in this passage. The medieval commentator, Rashi, explained that “Korban” comes from the root KARAV, which means to come closer.

    Reading this week’s parasha, I got the sense that G-d is calling us, “Come closer, Come to meet Me,” and makes sure that we have many opportunities to do so. Like a longing parent or companion, G-d wants us to know when, where, and how we can meet: “Come for Shabbat, “Come for Rosh Hashanah,” “Come to see me on Sukkoth.”

    Apparently, it is not only G-d who is longing for connection and meeting; we all are. We all are waiting for someone to call us and reconnect. Some of us do so in lightning and thunder, and others with a still, quiet voice.

    Coming closer to G-d starts with coming closer to Adonai’s creatures – to human beings. Martin Buber stated that the way to a relationship with G-d is through real contacts with people and nature. ”In each Thou, we address the Eternal Thou.” According to Buber, “All real life is meeting.”

    Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel heard G-d’s call and urged us to act, saying that our deeds and actions are responses to that call. Through deeds and actions, we meet G-d.

    This understanding of G-d’s calling aroused in me a personal memory. I thought of my grandmother, Baba Koka, calling in her gentle voice: “Come to see me on Shabbat –I’ll bake you shtrudel”; “Come for Shavuot”– I’ll make you blintzes…”

    Unfortunately, we have lost Baba Koka to Alzheimer’s disease, and I can no longer connect with her. I miss her so much.

    This painful memory makes me regret missed opportunities for meeting. It also makes me wonder what other opportunities I am missing to come close to others. How can I come closer to G-d without coming closer to Adonai’s human family?

    On this Shabbat, maybe this will be your question too. On this Shabbat, surely each of us can find the time to call and make somebody happy to hear from us.

    Shabbat shalom

    Reply
  14. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan

    Emor
    Wordless Revelation (5772/2012)

    Question: Usually, when Torah reports that God speaks, it uses the verb vayidaber, God spoke words. In Parshat Emor, Torah uses the word vayomer, God spoke. What does the Torah teach by shifting to vayomer, speech without words?

    Philosopher William James: The foundation of religious experience lies in temporary mystical experiences that come upon human beings without human agency, as if a divine power reaches out. Mystical experiences seem to occur out of time, in spaces that open up in the fabric of life. In such spaces, a deeper meaning of life is revealed. When ordinary consciousness returns, a sense of the deeper meaning somehow stays. People say they have been permanently changed, that they carry new knowledge with them – and yet, they are utterly unable to put that knowledge into words.

    Philosopher Baruch Spinoza: Our teacher Moshe often received communications from God in words. Still, words have shortcomings. They require a physical medium. God delivers them through a voice, and people hear them through their ears. Voice and ears are both created things. Thus, any message delivered in words is twice removed from God the creator. Only mind-to-mind communication is undistorted revelation.

    Conclusion: Words and concepts do shape spiritual experience. But no words will speak to everyone, and no practice will endure for all time. Thus we must at times let go of words and concepts, and be open to new dimensions of experience. As we grow spiritually, we alternate between the more directive vayidaber and the more open-ended vayomer.

    Reply
  15. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Today’s Torah
    Shabbat Parashat Emor
    April 27, 2013 / 17 Iyar 5773

    By: Rabbi Gail Labovitz,
    Associate Professor of Rabbinics
    The Expanding Circle

    Torah Reading: Leviticus 21:1-24:23
    Haftarah Reading: Ezekiel 44:15-31

    When we doused our havdalah candle in wine this past Saturday evening, it had been a very long time since I had so deeply felt the meaning of the words traditional to that ritual moment: “Shavuah tov – a good week.” The satirical web-site, The Onion, ran a piece towards the end of last week under the “headline” “Jesus, This Week” – the title meaning to represent the reaction to recent events of the ordinary Americans “interviewed” in the article. Death felt much more present and immediate than usual last week here in the United States (though I recognize that there are places in the world at this moment where it is all too regular and familiar) – from three murdered at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, to fourteen dead in an industrial catastrophe in West Texas, to families of victims of gun violence in the spectators’ balcony of the Senate and by the side of the President. We were, and still are, a country immersed in loss and mourning.

    What a strange coincidence, then, that death and grief and the ways in which we should respond also stand out as a prominent theme in the openings of the two parshiyot of last week and this. Last week, we read “Aharei Mot” (together with Kedoshim), whose very name encodes death and mourning; it takes place “After the death” of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu (a story we read three weeks ago in Parashat Shmini). This week’s parashah, Emor, also begins with priests who have experienced loss:

    The Lord said to Moses: Speak (“emor”) to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin, except for the relatives that are closest to him… (Lev. 21:1-2)

    Underlying this passage is the biblical understanding that death conveys ritual impurity (a concept found throughout Leviticus in regards to animal carcasses, and expressed regarding human corpses here and in Numbers 19:11). This passage thus teaches that (male) priests, who are expected to maintain an additional level of ritual purity due to their status and roles in sacrificial ritual, are especially enjoined to refrain from contact with dead bodies. Even though the impurity that comes from contact with death can be lifted through certain rituals, (male) priests are to avoid contracting it in the first place. Yet in this very passage where we learn the rule, we also discover that there are exceptions. When the deceased is an especially close relative of the priest, then that priest may and indeed should contract ritual impurity in the process of tending to the preparation and burial of his deceased relative’s body.

    In the hands of the rabbis of the mishnaic and Talmudic traditions, this passage would further become a key starting point for the laws of mourning for all Jews. The passage in Leviticus continues with a list of the relatives that a priest must attend to:

    …his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother; also for a virgin sister, close to him because she has not married, for her he may defile himself. (Leviticus 21:2-3)

    From this starting point, the rabbis begin to derive their understanding of who all Jews must observe mourning rituals for:

    Our rabbis taught: All those who are mentioned in “The Torah of the Priests” (a rabbinic name for the opening chapters of this parashah, 21 and 22) that a priest becomes impure for them – a mourner mourns for them. And these are they: his wife (spouse), his father, his mother, his brother and his sister, his son and his daughter. (Bavli Mo’ed Qatan 20b)

    Note first of all that the rabbis assume the priest’s wife, and hence any mourner’s spouse, is part of this list though not explicitly named in the Torah; this they explain elsewhere as the true meaning of the phrase “relatives closest to him” in the original verse. But then the passage goes on. Having derived elsewhere (by means complex and not directly relevant at the moment) that the priest is responsible only to paternal (half-) siblings but not those with whom they share only a mother, and aware that the Torah itself specifies impurity only for an unmarried sister (that is, in the patrilocal system of caste and family belonging of the Torah, one who has not left the original family unit and become a member of a different one), the rabbis expand the mourning obligation:

    And they (the rabbis) added to them (the persons one must mourn, beyond those for whom the priest becomes impure) his (half-) brother and his virgin (half-) sister from his mother, and his married (half-) sister whether from his father or his mother.

    At this point, we have now delineated the familiar list that still holds under Jewish law today, of the relatives for whom one is obligated to sit shivah (the seven days following the funeral) and observe shloshim (for thirty days; in the case of a parent’s death, mourning extends for a year), and in more recent practice, observe the anniversary of the day of death (the yahrzeit).

    But now the text takes yet a further step. While we typically mourn most intensely for those closest to us, do we limit our mourning to these relatives and no others?

    And just as one mourns for them, so too one mourns on those secondary to them; these are the words of Rabbi Akiva…The sages say, anyone whom one mourns for, one mourns with.

    In other words, if one mourns for one’s father, then one should also mourn those whom the father would mourn: for example, the father’s parents (the child’s grandparents) or siblings (aunts and uncles) or children (step-siblings). In short order the text clarifies this to mean that it is particularly when one is in the presence of a mourning relative that one is to observe mourning rituals with him/her so as to honor his or her grieving process, nonetheless an intriguing principle has been laid out here: mourning and grief can, and frequently do, extend beyond the most immediate mourners.

    This principle will then reappear in further discussions in the tractate, expanding the potential circles of grief out even further beyond immediate and extended family. When a teacher dies, those who were his (we would add, her) students are expected to mourn (22b, 25a, 26a). All are rewarded for mourning the passing of a righteous person (26a). If a communal judge dies, all institutions of Torah learning in that locale suspect their activities out of respect (22b). When the nasi, the communal leader of the Jewish community as a whole, dies, the entire community engages in public rites of mourning (22b). Communal disasters too call for signs of mourning (26a).

    Last week and this, through our own unhappily acquired experiential knowledge and guided by these passages in our sacred tradition, we recognize that in many cases, grief extends out, beyond the confines of family, beyond those who were directly acquainted with the one being mourned. Sometimes grief does and should expand to encompass a wide swath of the population. In his poem “The Diameter of the Bomb” (you can google it – do go read it!), the Israeli poet Yehudai Amichai even extends this circle to “the throne of God” and beyond. Let us not distance ourselves from our community but rather acknowledge our share in the grief of the past week. Let us offer each other comfort, seek to make the world a place in which there will be fewer reasons to grieve in this way, and fervently pray that the week to come, and the week after that and the one after that, will be a “shavuah tov,” a better week, a good week.

    Shabbat Shalom

    Reply
  16. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    By: Rabbi Edward Feinstein,
    Lecturer in Rabbinics

    From Death to Life, From Darkness to Light

    Torah Reading: Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23
    Haftarah Reading: Ezekiel 44:15-31

    Each morning and each evening, the people of the shul’s daily minyan gather for prayer. It isn’t exciting. The melodies aren’t particularly uplifting. Sometimes there is a word of learning, but no sermon — none of the flourishes, trappings and trimmings of professional homiletics. The poetry of prayer is often murmured in the rapid-fire rhythm of traditional davening. And at the end of the service, most of the minyan rises to recite Kaddish — in memory of a loved one recently departed or recalled at this Yahrtzeit. It isn’t exciting. But in its own way, it is profoundly moving and deeply spiritual.

    Spirituality today has come to mean emotional experiences of ecstasy and wonder – peak moments revealing the Presence of God in stirring song, powerful words, and the uplift of a responsive community. These are true and significant experiences. But there are other kinds of spirituality. The spirituality of the minyan isn’t ecstatic or exuberant. The spiritual genius of the minyan is located in a deep experience of the steady, regular unchanging rhythms of life. This is a spirituality of constancy and continuity. It is unexciting and unremarkable — a stable, unvarying, supportive context where the mourner, the bereaved and the broken are lovingly mentored back into life.

    Ecstatic spirituality is like romantic love, filling the soul with a burst of light and heat, but soon waning, fading away. It corresponds to the human experience of rebirth and transformation in moments of radical change. The minyan’s spirituality bespeaks quiet fidelity and devotion. Like the trusting, deep and loyal affection of the long-married, this spirituality points to the permanent and unchanging in life — all that continues through the trials and crises of life.

    The most powerful expression of the minyan’s spirituality, and the center of its rite, is the recitation of Kaddish. The Kaddish is not about death. It contains no mention of death. It provides a context in which death can be met and overcome. Kaddish is a reaffirmation of faith in God, the creator and redeemer. For the one shaken by death, the Kaddish provides a way back to faith, hope and life. Its healing power is not in the radical theology of its words or in extraordinary language of its poetry. Its healing power lies in the simple constancy of its repetition, even in the regularity of the cadences of its syllables: “Yitgadal v’yitkadash…yitbarach v’yistabach v’yitpa’ar vyit’nasay…” In his moving book, Living a Year of Kaddish, Ari Goldman describes the power of Kaddish as an expression of continuity: “To me, the hardest thing about dying must be the not knowing the end of the story. My mother and father left this world while their grandchildren were small. Maybe kaddish in itself is a kind of afterlife. The one thing my parents know with reasonable certainty was that we, their sons, would be saying Kaddish for them. They would be gone someday, but their Kaddish would live on. I like to think of it as more than a prayer. I think of Kaddish as a portal for the dead to connect to life.”

    This unique spirituality is born in this week’s Torah portion. “The Lord said to Moses: Speak unto the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘None [of you] shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin, except for the relatives closest to him…’” (Lev 21:1-2) The portion opens with this severe restriction on the service of the priests. It concludes with a detailed description of the priests’ responsibilities at each of the yearly festivals and holiday.

    The Hasidic master, Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Ishbitzer Rebbe read the verse as a warning: Confronting death brings tumultuous emotions — rage and bitterness. The Ishbitzer taught that priests serving God are not permitted to touch death, lest they become consumed in the despair and darkness of grief. The priests of ancient Israel offered the daily Tamid and Mincha sacrifices each day. They led the communal rituals sanctifying Sabbaths, New Moons and festivals. But the priest — the agent and embodiment of the community’s connection with God — did not officiate at communal rites of grief and mourning. The priest embodied all that was permanent in life, all that continued. He sanctified the rhythms of time, the passing of seasons, the steady movement of the year. Just as the Kaddish does not mention death, priests did not attend funerals. For the priest represents the pathway from death back to life — he holds open the door from darkness back to light, from despair back to hope.

    Shabbat shalom.

    Reply
  17. Wendy

    From JTS

    Who Belongs?

    EMOR
    BY RACHEL ROSENTHAL

    Who is the Other? This question, which is asked more and more often in our world, is not often easy to answer. Can one choose to be part of a community? Are people who were once outsiders ever fully welcomed as insiders? In Judaism, these questions are especially important. While Judaism has categories to define and even praise non-Jews, opting into the Jewish community is not simple. However, the Talmud tells us that once someone converts to Judaism, we are supposed to treat them as any other Jew. Unfortunately, this is a mission in which many communities fail. This failure can have significant consequences, as we see in this week’s parashah, Emor.

    At the end of Emor, the Torah tells the story of the blasphemer, the man who curses God. On its surface, this story is not especially complex. A man curses the name of God, so he is held until God can communicate a punishment for him. God tells the people that everyone who heard his blasphemy is to take the man outside of the camp and stone him to death (Lev. 24:10–16). This becomes the paradigm for executing people who commit capital crimes in general, both in the Torah and in the rabbinic tradition.

    However, a closer look at the story shows that it is more complicated than it might originally seem. The Torah points to a number of curious details. In verse 10, the Torah says, “And the son of an Israelite woman, who was the son of an Egyptian, went out among the children and Israel, and the son of the Israelite woman and a Israelite man fought in the camp.” There is nothing in the Torah to tell us why this fight began, nor is it clear how the fight lead to the son of the Israelite woman blaspheming. We do not know why the man’s mother is identified in the following verse, but he himself is never identified. And finally, the question I continue to return to is, why does it matter that this man is half Egyptian?

    The midrashim explore the man’s lineage in detail, explaining how his parents’ history helps us understand his crime. Vayikra Rabbah explains that this man’s father was actually the Egyptian that Moshe killed in Egypt, before he ran away and ultimately encountered the burning bush. Because the blasphemer’s father was not an Israelite, he had no share in the Land, and no set place in the camp. Despite having reasonable cause for feeling alienated from the Israelite community, Ramban (quoting the Sifra), claims that he chose to convert by immersing in the mikveh and having a brit milah. However, he still finds himself outside of the community. Thus, the Sifra locates the origin of the dispute between the blasphemer and the Israelite as being about whether the blasphemer has a place with the tribe of Dan, his mother’s tribe.

    These midrashim are striking because, whether intentionally or not, they turn the blasphemer into a more sympathetic character. Although there is no attempt to condone the choice to blaspheme, the more the blasphemer’s back story is offered, the easier it is to understand what might have caused him to ultimately curse God. His father was killed by the leader of his community. He is rejected by the tribe where he tries to find a place. He is known as the son of the Egyptian father, rather than simply another Israelite. Is it any wonder that he eventually lashes out and curses the deity that rules over the people who shunned him?

    Surely, the blasphemer is most responsible for his actions. However, the community is forced to grapple with its culpability as well. In verse14, God commands that all of the people who heard the man curse God are to lay their hands on his head, mirroring the process that one goes through with an animal that will be sacrificed on their behalf. In part, the laying of the hands signifies their rejection of his actions; the fact that they were present does not mean they codoned their actions. However, it also forces them to admit that they were there, and thus that they have a small part in what caused this man to be executed. Perhaps if they had treated this man differently, the situation would not have escalated, God would not have been cursed, and nobody would need to be put to death.

    Although we no longer execute people for blasphemy, the lessons of this story are strikingly relevant today. When we divide our communities—in whatever forms they take—into insiders and outsiders, we are breeding seeds of pain and rejection that could have unknown consequences. Many of us see ourselves more as the Israelites than as the blasphemer in this story, but that means that we must do better than the Israelites did. We must learn from what they did, and find a way to open our doors, rather than pushing people out. Where around us are people feeling rejected as they try to enter in? Where are we dividing when we could unite? When are we othering people who are really more like us than we might want to admit?

    Reply
  18. Wendy

    From My Jewish Learning

    Gleanings
    Obligations to the poor at harvest time.

    BY RABBI ISMAR SCHORSCH

    Words often conceal the origins of the idea they denote. Etymology and meaning diverge and thus confound. A good example relates to a halachic (Jewish legal) fragment in this week’s Torah . I refer to the verb “to glean.” The word denotes minimal gain through hard work. Basically an agricultural term, it conjures up an image of beggars at harvest time gathering whatever remains in the field after reaping. From there the meaning expands to any activity, physical or mental, that involves collecting painstakingly individual items of the same order from disparate quarters.

    The etymology of the word “glean” may be medieval English or even Celtic, but the idea itself hails directly from the Torah, but one of many scattered throughout the fabric of western civilization. Without the biblical context, the social value that inheres in the word remains unilluminated. The practice of leaving gleanings in the field for the poor is a dramatic example of the extent to which faith is a seedbed for charity in Judaism and later in Christianity.

    In our portion, we read an abbreviated version of a law first enunciated in last week’s portion. “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Lord am your God” (Leviticus 23:22). Omitted is the parallel injunction pertaining to the harvesting of your vineyard: “You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard”(19:10).

    Bearing the Plight
    The spirit of both verses is identical: at the very moment when we are overcome with a sense of entitlement, we should bear the plight of others less fortunate in mind. No matter how hard we labored and worried to bring in this harvest, it does not belong wholly to us. Our personal blessing carries a measure of social responsibility. God forbids us from harvesting our crop down to the last stalk or shoot. There are first some with holding taxes to be paid.

    According to the Mishnah, they take three forms: leqet, shikheha and peah. Leqet consists of gleanings dropped while harvesting. Shikheha comprises that which is inadvertently left behind in the field when the crop is transferred indoors, a sheaf of wheat or a bundle of hay. Both leqet and shikheha then pass into the public domain, irretrievably. As for peah, it is a portion of the field, at least one-sixtieth, not to be harvested at all, but left standing for the indigent. In sum, the Rabbis render concrete the ethical impulse that engendered the biblical injunction.

    Two other features of that injunction are noteworthy. First, it is largely unenforceable. Compliance is a matter of personal choice. There is no provision for a horde of bureaucrats to sweep through the fields to exercise oversight. Much of what is expected is in fact beyond measure because it is utterly subjective. The ordinance projects an ideal of mutual responsibility attainable only if internalized by each landowning member of the community, which is why the text ends with a resounding reference to God: “I the Lord am your God.” Philanthropy springs from faith. God inspires us to reach beyond ourselves.

    Universalism
    Second, the beneficiaries of our idealism include the stranger, who is even more vulnerable than the impoverished native. A touch of universalism informs this vision of society. Charity does not begin strictly athome, a principle on which the book of Ruth turns. Having accompanied her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Judah, Ruth, a Moabite and also bereft of husband and child, takes to the fields at harvest time to feed them both. She chances to glean on the field of Boaz, a blood relative of Naomi. Boaz takes Ruth in and quickly gains the right to a levirate marriage. Their nobility is duly rewarded with a great grandson named David, who is destined to be ancient Israel’s greatest king. In short, the good that may result from a modest act of charity should never be undervalued.

    Ovadyah Sforno, rabbi, humanist, physician and leader of Italian Jewry in the first half of the 16th century, stressed in his Torah commentary the textual context of this charitable ordinance within our Torah portion. He notes that it follows directly upon the passage requiring Israelite farmers to bring to the Temple or tabernacle first fruits, specifically bread made from the new crop of wheat about to be harvested. A token of thanksgiving to God for the bounty of the land, the act releases the produce for human consumption. Precisely at this moment of gratitude, observes Sforno, the pilgrim is reminded to remember the dispossessed when he returns home to harvest the fruits of his labor.

    The setting of the text amplifies its meaning. Sforno quotes a cryptic adage to make the point: “The salt of wealth is charity (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 66a),” that is, to preserve our wealth we need to diminish it through acts of kindness. The Torah warns the farmer in his state of self-satisfaction that God cares as much for the gleaners as for the reapers. The well-off are but divine instruments for alleviating human suffering.

    Yet, we should not romanticize the saving power of faith based charity. The life of a gleaner always hung in the balance. The conscience of most landowners obliged them to do no more than the minimum, if that much.

    In his highly evocative painting of 1857 (oil on canvas) entitled “The Gleaners,” Jean-Francois Millet captured the grim reality of survival by gleaning. In the foreground, three swarthy, stocky peasant women are bent over trying to salvage a few stalks from the sparse stubble left in the ground. The slimness of the pickings is accentuated by the mountains of hay rising in the distance. Precious little has been left to glean. Millet’s empathy for the peasants does imbue them with a stolid dignity that lifts them above their pain and despair.

    Still, Scripture alone could not rectify the inequities of an economic system that put a premium on profit. In a rapidly secularizing age, government would eventually have to step in as the moral arbiter of civil society.

    Provided by the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative rabbinical seminary and university of Jewish studies.

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  19. Wendy

    From Maggid Jhos Singer

    Shabbat Shalom Chaverim—

    This week’s parasha (Emor, Leviticus 211-24:23) includes the following story:

    The son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian father went out among the people of Israel, and he got in a fight with an Israelite man. And he cursed the name of God, and made light of it. And they brought him to Moses, and … Moses asked God what he should do, and God said…he shall surely be put to death.

    (Summary of Leviticus 24:10-17)

    From this rich text we get an anti-hero with an identity crisis. His internal conflict is symbolized by his parent’s duality, his grappling with an Israelite, and his inexplicable rage. He is unnamed, perhaps as a way of indicating that this guy was totally lost from himself—a state that easily leads to seeking salvation or destruction.

    Making peace with our own paradoxes, contradictions, and duality is painstaking work. Accepting our full selves, with all of our brokenness, our family imbroglios, and our inner conflicts is the deepest spiritual work we ever do. It’s hard. And it is the root of Jewish practice.

    Judaism teaches that humans are created b’tzelem Elohim—as a reflection of God. Each of us possesses a pure, eternal soul. Each of us shares in the creativity of our Creator. To be in violent conflict with the self—to stifle or deny one’s messy truth—is to deny, curse, and revile our Source. And that is blasphemy.

    Without spiritual integrity we fake our way through life. We pretend to feelings we don’t have, we strive for dominance, we conform, we hide. We bow down to idols of wealth, power, privilege, and self-righteousness. When we engage in oppression, we blaspheme. When we deny our true nature, we worship idols.

    The rabbis knew that death isn’t even a choice under such circumstances—it’s a fact. We kill our own neshama/soul when we accept falsity, when we disregard others, when we lie. Blasphemy and idol worship go hand in hand—blasphemy creates a void that idol worship fills—and our souls shrivel.

    May this Shabbat bring us some sacred time to shake off our pain, our labels, our status, and our fear. May we learn to show up fully in our lives, freak flags flying to announce our unique beauty. May the one true you be brave and strong, fully and vibrantly present.

    Blessin’s—Jhos

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