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

33 thoughts on “Emor

  1. Herb Levy


    We’re called to be a Nation of Priests,
    mediating between the human and the divine,
    but we often feel that job description is enormous and we’re not qualified for the job.

    In the part of this Universe where we live,
    we’ve learned that Energy and Matter are the same thing,
    each constantly changing and becoming the other.

    We’ve been selected for the job
    because we meet the qualifications.
    A part of us is temporal
    and another part is immortal.

    We’re a tiny piece of the One that’s always been, is, and always will be.

    We’re the fulcrum between being human and being divine,
    perfect because we always change and shift.

    We’re called to be a Nation of Priests
    unblemished and perfect,
    and yet we know we’re bruised,
    marked by hurts learned before we learned words
    and passed as our legacy through the generations,
    wounds crafted to perfection
    even as we seek to heal them.

    We mediate between the human and the divine
    at least once per week
    as we take a dip into the Pool of Olam Ha’Bah1 by receiving the gift of Shabbat.

    We mediate between the human and the divine
    tempered by the rhythm of planting and harvesting.
    On Pesakh2 we feel the seed of Freedom that’s been planted in us as we leave Egypt.
    On Shavuot3, we feel that seed fertilized by the revelation of Torah.
    On Sukkot4, we get to harvest what we’ve planted.

    On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,
    we receive the gift of the time to see ourselves as we actually are,
    charting how the crop this year has blossomed and healed,
    charting where we’d still like to go and grow and heal
    reflecting on our wounds, our blemishes,
    discovering, once again, that our wounds are our perfection
    that shaped us and shape us into the wise and caring and loving beings we are.

    1 the world to come, what happens after we’re no longer in physical form, a positive vision of Eternity
    2 Passover
    3 the original Pentecost that celebrates the giving of Torah
    4 the Feast of Tabernacles

  2. Wendy Berk

    From My Jewish Learning

    Parashat Emor: Sacred Time, Sacred Connections
    An unusual juxtaposition in this Torah portion highlights an oft-overlooked piece of observing the major festivals.


    The Jewish calendar is a sacred tether to God. The agricultural rites associated with the major Jewish festivals — Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot — are delineated three times in the Torah — in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Each occasion is a call to stand before God with an appreciative heart and hands full of bounty.

    The description of the festivals in Parashat Emor contain a unique reminder that the Jewish calendar is also a sacred tether to community. The description of the holidays in this Torah portion is interrupted by the injunction to take care of the poor. In Leviticus 23:22 we read:

    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.

    The placement of this commandment is noteworthy not only because a carbon copy of this verse can be found just a few chapters before, in Leviticus 19:9. But also because the injunction to help the poor is flanked on one side by mention of the spring festivals, Passover and Shavuot, and on the other by the autumn festivals, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

    The Torah commentators infer from the unusual placement that giving charity is not just part of the observance of the festivals, but paramount to it. In the Midrash, we read about an astounding comparison between caring for the poor and building the Holy Temple:

    … he who leaves the gleanings, the forgotten sheaf and the corner of the field to the poor as it ought to be, is regarded as though he had built the Temple and offered his sacrifices therein.

    Why such a grand reward for proper observance of this mitzvah? Because the Torah recognizes human nature. Surely after investing time and resources in growing crops, the farmer would be inclined to reap and hoard. The Torah then reiterates the commandment so that the farmer sees that caring for the needy is actually a more sound investment

    Sforno, the 16th-century Italian commentator, makes this point explicitly:

    …the only way to ensure that one does not lose one’s own money is by engaging liberally in handing out charity to the deserving. The legislation in our verse then is this insurance for the farmer not to lose his crop even after he has already brought it into the barn.

    Today, Jewish festival observances are no longer expressed through agricultural rites. But the obligation to share our bounty with the needy still applies. As Maimonides taught:

    When a person eats and drinks in celebration of a festival, he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is not indulging in rejoicing associated with a mitzvah, but rather the rejoicing of his gut …This rejoicing is a disgrace.

    Even while enjoying bagged babkas and jarred gefilte fish, we should remember that the holidays are intended to reinforce two sacred connections: to the source of our blessings as well as to those who depend upon us to share.

  3. Wendy Berk

    from reformjudaism.org

    Accepting Ourselves
    Emor, Leviticus 21:1−24:23


    As my community’s students are preparing for exams, I find myself reminiscing about when I was in school. My sister or I would come home and exclaim, “Mom, Dad, I got a B!” My parents’ motto was that, as long as my sister and I tried our best, we should take pride in our efforts. Admittedly, I tend to strive for perfection; I set my sights high, but that can also be problematic. There are more important things than getting a perfect grade. This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Emor, seems to suggest that God demands perfection, but on further examination calls us to accept ourselves – blemishes, imperfections, and all.

    The Torah describes who may serve as priests, and who is disqualified from the priesthood. We read: “No one at all who has a defect shall be qualified: no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long; no man who has a broken leg or a broken arm…” (Leviticus 21:17-19). I cringe each year as I read this passage. The Torah seems to be modeling discrimination, excluding those with disabilities from serving as priests.

    However, we also read in the book of Genesis that everyone is created b’tzelem elohim – in the image of God. If we are all made in the Divine Image, shouldn’t we all be permitted to serve? I was taught to celebrate who I am and take pride in myself. God’s very specific demands seem to contradict my confidence – or do they?

    Our people have struggled with this text for generations. Medieval commentators emphasized that the priests and the sacrificial offerings needed to be free of blemish, but anyone was welcome to bring a sacrifice to the Temple. In other words, the priest and the sacrifice did not function as representatives of human values or ideals, but rather as ritual instruments. Just as we would not use a broken hammer to fix our homes, we would not use a blemished animal to repair our relationship with God. For some, this commentary makes the passage easier to swallow, but I find the implication continues to offend. All of us are differently abled, we should celebrate our unique forms.

    The rabbis of the Talmud were troubled by this passage as well. A famous tale is found in the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 55b-56a: After being publicly embarrassed at a banquet, Bar Kamsa inferred that since none of the rabbis present objected to the treatment he received, they agreed with it. So, Bar Kamsa spoke with the king of Rome, telling him that the Jews were planning a rebellion. The king did not believe Bar Kamsa, so Bar Kamsa told him to send a sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem and see if it would be placed on the altar. The king agreed. On the way, Bar Kamsa inflicted a minor wound on the lip of the animal. It was so small that, by almost all standards, it would not be considered a blemish.

    When the animal arrived at the Temple, the rabbis examined it and saw the blemish. They didn’t know what to do. Although Jewish law forbade offering such an animal, they reasoned that not offering it could endanger them and cause a breach with the king.

    However, Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus disagreed, fearing that if they accepted this animal, people would then assume animals with blemishes could be brought to the altar. Rabbi Zacharia’s opinion was followed, but later rabbis would teach that this extreme piety led to the destruction of the Temple and exile from our homeland. The rabbis appear to suggest that halachah, Jewish law, ought to be put aside when it leads to destructive, mean, and alienating behavior.

    What does perfection mean and how do we aspire for it? Or should we perhaps be re-focusing our attention elsewhere. Often, we must work on ourselves before we can accept others. We’re called to recognize that no one person or thing is perfect, that rather than aiming for a superficial 100%, we should instead direct our whole heart to accepting ourselves. After all, are we not all “perfect” in God’s eyes? Is it not more important for our behavior to be closer to “perfection?” Such inclusive behavior can have a grand impact on shaping a healthy and inclusive society.

    Throughout our lives, many of us will face our own tests. We will be called to respond to intolerance and apathy of various levels by standing up to create kind, caring communities. For this test, anything less than 100% is unacceptable. May we do our best to appreciate each person for their gifts and take pride in who we are as individuals.

  4. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi David Kasher

    THE CURSE – Parshat Emor
    This is the saddest story I know.

    It is a story that gets told in fragments, mostly through the commentary of Rashi. But it begins, abruptly – and ends savagely – in the text of the Torah, here in this week’s parsha.

    Parshat Emor is, like much of Leviticus, mostly full of laws, one after the other. Notably, it contains the first major treatment of the Jewish calendar, laying out all the festivals in order. In fact, that’s just where we are, when, out of nowhere, appears this strange little piece of narrative:

    The son of of an Israelite woman – and he was the son of an Egyptian man – went out among the Children of Israel. And this son of the Israelite woman and an Israelite man fought in the camp. The son of the Israelite women pronounced The Name, and cursed it. And they brought him to Moses. The name of his mother was Shlomit bat Dibri of the Tribe of Dan. They placed him under guard to clarify the matter.

    God spoke to Moses, and said, “Take the blasphemer out of the camp, and everyone who heard him should place their hands upon his head, and the entire congregation shall stone him.” (Leviticus 24:10-15)


    Now, any mention of stoning in the Torah is hard to read. It’s a punishment whose violence is so stark and primitive, so totally out of step with the sensibilities of modern civilization.

    But this stoning in particular seems so personal, and so vindictive. What’s going on here? Why are we introduced to this nameless man before we see his crime? What is he so angry about? And why does God make such a point of having him killed in this public ceremony? The whole thing is hauntingly mysterious.

    Ok, let’s turn to Rashi, who will give us some of the backstory, bit by bit. And I warn you ahead of time – each step we take with him will take us deeper and deeper into dark places…

    Step 1, then: Why were these men fighting to begin with? Rashi gives us an answer:

    He went out – From where did he ‘go out’? He came out of Moses’ court, with a losing verdict. He had tried to plant his tent in the camp of the Tribe of Dan. They said to him, “What is your claim to this place?” He said to them, “I come from the daughters of Dan.” They said to him, “It is written, ‘Each man dwells under his banner, assigned by the house of his father.’” So he went into the Court of Moses [to protest], but he lost his case. So he got up and cursed!


    This man was just looking for a place to pitch his tent, a place to rest in the desert encampment. So he came, naturally, to his closest relatives, the tribe of his mother. But they turned him away. Because although membership in the nation could be had through maternal lineage, belonging one of the twelve tribes came from one’s father.

    But this man’s father was Egyptian. In other words, he had no tribal connection. And so he had nowhere to be. He had left Egypt with his people in the dark night of the tenth plague, crossed through the walls of the Red Sea in their midst, and stood at their side at Sinai to receive God’s revelation. And now, suddenly, no one would have him; having come this far to be with his people, he was all alone.

    Imagine him, wandering around, from camp to camp, seeking entry, and being turned away from every group. And for what reason? For a consequence of his birth. A situation he had no control over. He was an outcast by virtue of nothing he had done, but simply because of who he was.

    And he tried to protest, tried to seek justice. Only to find rejection from the highest authority in this new nation. One certainly begins to understand where his curse came from.

    Oh, but it gets worse.

    Step 2: Who was this Egyptian father of his, Rashi?

    The son of an Egyptian man – This was the Egyptian that Moses killed.


    Back in Exodus (Ch. 2), we saw Moses go out to see the conditions of slavery in Egypt and:

    …he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsman. He looked this way and that and, seeing there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. (2:11-12)

    So now, Rashi, picking up on the specific reference to “The Egyptian” here and there, makes a connection and tells us that the Egyptian who was beating the slave in Exodus must be the same nameless Egyptian who fathered our poor tribeless fellow in Leviticus.

    But what does that mean? It means that when this man went into court, seeking his place amongst the Children of Israel – seeking, essentially, a family – the man who ruled that that he could have none of that… was the same man who had killed his father.

    This is beyond trauma. This borders on psychological torture. He must have been out of his mind, trembling with bitterness and rage. So yes, I see how the curse could form in his heart. I can see how it erupts from his lips. Rejected by all, finally condemned by your father’s killer – how could anyone endure this fate? Could the story be any more tragic?

    Oh, but it can.

    Step 3: So how did this Egyptian come to father an Israelite boy, anyway?

    One more Rashi, this one from back in the Exodus story where Moses saw:

    An Egyptian man beating a Hebrew – This Hebrew was the husband of Shlomit bat Dabri. The Egyptian took a liking to her, and one night, he came and woke up the Hebrew and took him out of his house. Then the Egyptian came back to the house and had sex with [Shlomit], while [in the darkness] she thought it was her husband. The Hebrew returned and understood what had happened. And when the Egyptian realized that the Hebrew knew, he began to beat him and torture him all day long.

    Oh dear God.

    So, it turns out, our homeless, fatherless, tribeless wanderer was actually the product of a rape. His own ambiguous status was not only a fact of his existence, beyond his control; it was also the consequence of a terrible, terrible crime.

    Here stands before you a man, whose mother was raped, whose adoptive father was humiliated, whose biological father was killed, who had no tribe, no place to lay his head, no recourse in court and, seemingly, no mercy from his God – the God he had left everything for and followed into the desert.

    So yes, yes, I understand how he could come to curse God! I get it. I daresay I might have done it myself.

    But my sympathy is no help. My understanding cannot save him. His fate is sealed. He is to die. For God will tolerate no desecration of His holy name. Take him out of the camp – the very place he sought to dwell in – and stone him.

    I am at a loss. I cannot bear this. It is too much.

    I searched in vain for some commentary that would redeem this story, some great insight that would make sense of it all. I found no consolation. There is, it seems, only sadness in this tale.

    However, one glimmer of meaning that, perhaps, points towards a way out of this darkness, is a curious detail back in the text of the Torah itself. Remember that when God has the blasphemer taken out to be stoned, He specifically requires that:

    …everyone who heard him should place their hands upon his head…

    This is unusual. Certainly it is not required of every capital punishment. And standing where we are in the Torah, in the midst of Leviticus, the laying of hands cannot help but make us think of a scene from two parshas ago, in the Yom Kippur ceremony. Remember:

    Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the sins and crimes of the Children of Israel, whatever their transgressions…Thus shall the goat carry on it all of their sins to an inaccessible region, and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22)

    Over there, at least, the symbolism of the priests laying his hands upon the goat is a transference of the sins of the community onto this “scapegoat”

    Could it be, then, that when God asks “everyone who heard him” to lay their hands upon the sinner before he is put to death, he is forcing them to acknowledge their own sins, their own part in his damnation?

    Because sure, by the strict letter of the law, he is guilty of a crime that merits the death penalty. Just as by the strict letter of the law, no tribe had to allow him to camp with them.

    But why didn’t they?

    How could they have turned him away? The law was on their side, but where was their compassion?

    And where were we when his mother was raped? Did we do everything we could to support him and his family in the aftermath of that tragedy?

    And where were we that day when he wandered from camp to camp, weary, seeking refuge? Did we open our tents and offer him some shade and a meal?

    And where were we when he received the ruling from Moses’ court? Did we rush to console him and offer him alternatives?


    Everyone heard him, but no one listened.

    If he had no home, it is because we gave him none. If he cursed, it is because we allowed him to feel cursed. If he is guilty, then we are guilty.

    Perhaps, then, despite the bleak final judgment that ends this tale, somewhere in it lies an injunction for us. When we see someone go this far astray, so that he is ready to curse everything we believe in, and to destroy himself in the process, our responsibility is not simply to condemn him, but also to turn and painfully ask of ourselves:

    How did we fail him? How did we fail him?

  5. Wendy Berk

    From Academy for Jewish Religion

    Parashat Emor

    By Rabbi Bob Freedman

    It’s surprising that there is no blessing to be said before giving tzedakah. Certainly it’s an important mitzvah, but unlike other mitzvot that require us to say a formula to engage mind and spirit before we do them, there’s no such requirement for giving. A passage in our parashah offers a clue as to why this is so.

    Appended to the instructions for offering the omer and first fruits, and not eating the new grains before making an offering is a reminder about leaving the gleanings and the corners of the field for the poor (Lev. 23:22-23). But being the second time it’s mentioned (see Lev 19:9-10), here it may teach something new. The first time it’s mentioned, the instruction follows those for a thanks offering, as if to say (see Ibn Ezra there) that just as God has given to us, we, by giving to the needy, give back to God. As commentary to our verses Rashi quotes Rav Avdimi who goes Ibn Ezra one better and says that not only is leaving the gleaning and the corners like giving back to God, it is like rebuilding the temple and bringing the first fruits offering to its altar.

    Rav Avdimi probably derived his comment from the fact that the instructions here for leaving gleanings and corners are embedded in a calendar that describes ritual observance in the Temple for the entire year. Leaving part of the harvest for the poor is not an isolated event, but a ritual as important and as regular as those for the festivals, even as integral a part of the year and our life as the harvest itself.

    By this reasoning, gathering produce and giving it away are two sides of living. So if there are blessings for the harvest, like the liturgy for bringing first fruits in Deuteronomy 26, shouldn’t there also be a blessing liturgy for leaving part of that harvest?

    A further comment by Rashi answers the question. On the word ta-azov, “you will abandon,” he says that we are to leave gleanings and corners before the poor, and it is not for us to help them gather it. When we do the mitzvah of tzedakah, we try to remove as much of ourselves from the act as we can. We’d like to tell the poor how to harvest, what to take, when to do it, how to cook it, etc. But then we might be condescending while polishing our own self-image as knowledgeable, prosperous, and capable. Better to avoid that by just leaving the gleanings. Then our giving has a good chance of being truly generous on a spiritual as well as a material level.

    In the same way, if we paused to make a blessing before giving tzedakah, we might think about how superior we are to the recipient, how righteous we are to do this good deed, and how clever to remember the proper blessing. Better that we just do it. Then, as Rav Avdimi suggests, our selflessness might rebuild the Temple, and our offering on its altar would be simply for God.

  6. Wendy Berk

    From Reconstructing Judaism

    An Eye For An Eye?

    By Rabbi Jonathan Kligler

    וְאִ֕ישׁ כִּֽי־יִתֵּ֥ן מ֖וּם בַּעֲמִית֑וֹ כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה כֵּ֖ן יֵעָ֥שֶׂה לּֽוֹ׃ שֶׁ֚בֶר תַּ֣חַת שֶׁ֔בֶר עַ֚יִן תַּ֣חַת עַ֔יִן שֵׁ֖ן תַּ֣חַת שֵׁ֑ן כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר יִתֵּ֥ן מוּם֙ בָּֽאָדָ֔ם כֵּ֖ן יִנָּ֥תֶן בּֽוֹ׃

    V’ish ki yiten mum ba’amito, ka’asher asah ken ya’aseh lo: shever tachat shever, ayin tachat ayin, shen tachat shen. Ka’asher yiten mum ba’adam, ken yinaten bo.

    A person who inflicts injury on his fellow, as he did so shall be done to him: a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. However he injured his fellow, so shall be done to him. (Leviticus 24:19-20)

    “Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.” (Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof)

    Ah, I get to mention Fiddler on the Roof and Torah in the same sentence – it’s already a good day!

    But more than that pleasure, Tevye (as usual) speaks for Jewish tradition.

    One of my recurring themes in my writings is the effort to demonstrate the evolving nature of Jewish tradition. Even though the Torah is our fixed and sacred literature, it serves not as the last word but as the foundation of a legal and ethical tradition that emerged as early as 500 B.C.E. and continues to this day. I think it is necessary to continue to remind us of this fact because of the durable stereotype that much Christian thought foists upon the Jews: Judaism is the religion of law, while Christianity is the religion of love. In that telling, when Christianity emerged, Judaism somehow became frozen in time, rejecting the New Testament, forever stranded in the obsolete ancient paradigm of harsh justice that Christianity was here to transcend.

    Now, in my transformative explorations with wonderful Christian colleagues of the 1st century origins of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, we have put the lie to that ancient Christian self-justification. The interpretation of Torah and reinvention of Judaism undertaken by the 1st centuries Rabbis (and their predecessors and descendants) line up closely with the teachings of Jesus, himself obviously a 1st-century Jewish teacher. Jews and Christians are originally “cut from the same cloth.” I am encouraged by the rapid spread of this emerging understanding, which undermines the premises of anti-Semitism and provides a fertile common ground for a new kind of relationship between our sibling traditions.

    Nonetheless, the stereotype persists, and often when a newcomer to Torah study encounters some of the Torah’s harsher pronouncements, they assume that Judaism still stands for these ancient codes, and their prejudices are confirmed. And no text has been used against Judaism more than “an eye for an eye.” It is known in Latin as lex talionis, “the law of retaliation.” Lex talionis is repeated elsewhere in the Torah in even more extreme tones, and includes not only parts of the body, but life itself: “a life for a life.” (Ex. 21:23, Deut. 19:20) These laws are assumed to exemplify a Jewish obsession with strict and retaliatory justice, rather than with forgiveness and compassion.

    In fact, Rabbinic Judaism openly and emphatically rejects the plain meaning of lex talionis in the Torah, and insists that henceforth it stands for compensatory damages, that is, the value of an eye for an eye, or the value of a tooth for a tooth. The Talmud develops a comprehensive set of standards for compensation, taking into account damages, pain, medical expenses, incapacitation, and mental anguish, contributing to the foundation of many modern legal codes.

    But the rabbis go further in creating the legal and moral foundation for their audacious recasting of the plain meaning of the Torah. They expand another principle of the Torah in order to make the wanton disfiguring or extinguishing of a human being a moral wrong. Genesis 1:27 states, “And God created the human being in the Divine Image; male and female God created them.” The rabbis reason that if we are created in the image of God, then disfiguring a person somehow is a “disfigurement” of God as well. Further, if we are made in the image of God, and God is infinite, then the value of a human life must also be infinite. There can be no possible compensatory payment for the loss of a human life. Therefore, capital punishment, which is mandated for a variety of transgressions in the Torah, must not be practiced, and with great audacity the rabbis create legislation that makes it virtually impossible for a court to assess the death penalty on a defendant.

    The rabbis emphasize the inestimable value of each human life with the indelible phrase, “One who saves a life saves an entire world; one who destroys a life destroys an entire world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5) This becomes the foundation and the crowning glory of Judaism, leaving the law of retaliation in the ancient past.

    As an inheritor of the rabbinic way, Tevye can declare, “As the Good Book says…”, and then disagree with it at the same time. On the one hand, on the other hand, our rabbis kept our Torah alive by adapting it, even overruling it with a great deal of chutzpah, to an expanding and evolving understanding of the value of life. Tradition!

  7. Wendy

    From Rabbi Mordecai Finley

    Processes of the Soul (adapted from 2017)

    One of the most influential changes in my thinking about religion has to do with the holidays, the greatest focus of this week’s Torah portion, Emor. My Jewish education up until the time I discovered Kabbalah and Chasidism saw holidays as a commemoration of what happened in the past, and as an opportunity for the study of the values we derive from that event. Passover celebrates a past event, the Exodus, and we study the value of freedom, for example.

    The Kabbalah, on the other hand, sees the world down here as an echo of the inner life of God. This world is an expression of a higher world. The Chasidic innovation of the Kabbalah is to focus on our inner world, not the inner world of God, but of those created in God’s image – we human beings.

    Let’s look at Passover again. In the Kabbalah, there is a belief that in the higher, unseen realms, the “Dibbur” of God, the “speaking” of God, is in exile, trapped by forces of darkness. The slavery of the Israelites in Egypt was this-worldly symptom of a truth in the realm of the divine, the truth that God’s word is held in exile.

    The Exodus from Egypt down here in our world represents the redemption of “Dibbur,” the release of speech from slavery into freedom. Unlike the Exodus, which happened once in the past, the exile and redemption of Dibbur is an ongoing event in the inner life of the Divine. The Chasidic addition to this idea teaches that not only does the exile and redemption of Dibbur occur within the Divine, it also occurs as a constant process in our souls, because we are created in the image of God.

    This Chasidic idea, that we each have an inner “dibbur” that is in exile from the truth, is a core concept in Chasidic spiritual psychology. In that system, there is a focus on hidden motivations, what really drives us and what our goals really are. For example, when I counsel couples whose relationships are in trouble, one of my objectives is to help people become conscious of their hidden motivations when they speak to others.

    Even when we speak to ourselves, we are often rehearing a story, a view of things, that holds us in exile. We are often trapped in a false consciousness and driven by hidden motivations.

    According to the Chasidic tradition, every Jewish holiday has an inner dimension that guides us in our struggle to know the truth within and to line our words up with the deeper truths within us, to free our language from exile. As we cycle through the year, we pass from one great structure to another, each built to articulate a process of the soul.

    The time between Passover and Shavu’ot is one of the most focused times in our spiritual calendar. Passover, in the inner life tradition, focuses on breaking the grip of the Yetzer HaRa in the Ego Self – unconscious patterns of thinking and feeling that define our worlds. Linking Passover, the holidays of redemption, to Shavu’ot, the holidays of the Giving of the Teaching, tells us that freedom has a telos, a purpose.

    One inner meaning of Shavu’ot is the idea of “Torat Emet” a teaching of truth, and therefore one purpose of freedom is to find truth. For most of us, so many things are happening around us all the time that we are just trying to manage, solve problems. We can often lose track of an organizing principle of our lives, a framework that provides meaning and guides us not only in how to live but what we are living for.

    If we can become free of the distractions of the Ego Self, we can become more present to a stellar, crystalline framework that can bring a holy order to our lives. Think of Shavu’ot as a distant beacon toward which we are journeying, a beacon that demands that each step closer is a step of greater clarity toward that which we shall become.

    Shabbat Shalom,

    Rabbi Mordecai Finley

  8. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Shabbat Emor

    Rabbi Gail Labovitz

    Does Law Equal Justice?

    Our parashah this week ends in an odd way, a way that it is odd both for the book of Leviticus, and for Torah more generally. Leviticus is largely a book of laws – laws related to the Tabernacle and the priesthood (hence the English name of the book that invokes the tribe of Levi), laws of incest and sexual prohibitions, laws of ritual impurity, and so on. It contains very few narratives, yet it presents one here. Moreover, this may be the only occasion in which the Torah presents a male character who has no name, but whose mother’s name is known (whereas we are far more used to unnamed female characters identified by relationship to a named father and/or husband):
    And the son of an Israelite woman, he being the son of an Egyptian man, went out among the Israelites, and the son of Israelite woman and an Israelite man brawled in the camp (ba-mahaneh). And the son of the Israelite woman invoked the Name, vilifying it. And they brought him to Moses. And his mother’s name was Shelomith daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan. And they left him under guard until it should be made clear to them by the word of the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take out him who vilified beyond the camp, and all who heard shall lay their hands on his head, and all the community shall stone him…” … And Moses spoke to the Israelites, and they took out him who had vilified beyond the camp and pelted him with stones. (Lev. 24:10-14, 23; translation by Robert Alter
    Like many biblical narratives, this story is terse and matter-of-fact. It tells us what happened, but little else, such as what led up to these events or what motivated the participants. The rabbis of antiquity were as aware of the difficulties in understanding the story as we are today, and commented on it in multiple ways. As they often did, one of the ways in which they sought to explicate the text was to elaborate on the biblical story with an additional midrashic tale of their own. The earliest version appears in the tannaitic (i.e., from about the same time as the Mishnah) midrashic work Sifra, which comments on the book of Leviticus
    “And the son of an Israelite woman…went out” From where did he go out? From Moses’ court. For he had sought to pitch his tent with the camp of (the tribe of) Dan. They said to him: What right do you have to pitch your tent within the camp of Dan? He said to them: I am (a descendant) from the daughters of Dan. They said to him: the Scripture says “Every man by his banner with standards for his father’s house, shall the Israelites camp…” (Num. 2:2). He entered into Moses’ court and emerged liable (i.e., he lost his case, his claim was denied), and rose and blasphemed.
    The rabbinic story is framed as an answer (and there are others also offered in rabbinic tradition) to the question “From where did the man who blasphemed go out?” If these are the first words of the biblical account, what do they signify, what do they add to the story? But the rabbinic elaboration also provides explanation for at least two other potential odd linguistic and narrative details in the verses: First, why do we need to be told that the fight occurred “in the camp”? As the great modern Torah commentator Nehama Leibowitz writes, “we know, in any case, that all the Israelites were in camp, whilst in the wilderness” – so where else would a fight take place (as Liebowitz continues: “there is little point in understanding ba-mahaneh, in a locative sense.”)? What the rabbinic midrash recognizes is that the Hebrew preposition “b…” can have nuanced meanings that include not just “in,” but “regarding” – the two men fought about a matter “regarding the camp,” i.e., whether the half-Israelite man had a place therein. The story also tells us why it is important to know about the lineage of the man who comes to blaspheme – because he does not have an Israelite father (and why this is so is a story for another day/drashah), he apparently has no legal place to pitch his tent within the Israelite camp that is arranged by paternal tribes.

    I suspect that the rabbinic account means to suggest that Shelomit’s son is something of a sore loser, who goes way too far in protest over a justified legal verdict. Of course the verdict is to his disadvantage, but as Leibowitz states, “Sometimes the law causes individual hardship and the victim feels unjustly treated. But it is the individual’s duty to accept the hardship in the interest of the public good.” There’s some truth to this. And yet… While the rabbinic narrative is meant to explain and flesh out the biblical account, I have always found that it creates more new questions than it answers. Most particularly, it seems to me (and I suspect also to many of you reading this) that a great injustice has been done here to Shelomit’s son. The verdict Moses renders according to this account does more than make hardship for this man – rather, it effectively disenfranchises him altogether, gives him no place at all to go among the Israelites. Is it any wonder that he reacts in anger and despair?

    The legal system in the United States is overseen by the Justice Department, and we often refer to it as the “justice system.” Law can be and often is a means by which human societies strive to make a more just world. But as this story demonstrates, and what history (both in the United States and in many other countries) has shown us is that law and justice are not synonymous. Some things can be fully legal, and yet result in great injustices.

    What’s more, we know from the Torah of at least two other instances when Moses was able to find (with Divine help) some sort of modification of the law, a compromise as it were, that created a more just outcome for the petitioners before him: at the celebration of Passover in the wilderness when certain members of the community were unable to participate due to ritual impurity from contact with a corpse (Num. 9) and when the daughters of Tzelofhad came desiring to inherit a place in the Land of Israel on behalf of their deceased father who had left behind no sons (Num. 27). Why was Moses unable to find a workable solution for Shlomit’s son when he first came with his case? Why did Moses wait until after the blasphemy to seek instruction from God?

    One possibility – if we read the Torah as being on the whole a chronological narrative (though for various reasons the rabbis do not always do so, something I’ve discussed in other drashot in the past), then these two incidents would have occurred subsequent to the blasphemy case, and might even demonstrate that Moses has learned something from that earlier case, has learned something about the consequences of a verdict that meets the technical requirements of the law, but at the same time creates a deep injustice. Moses has learned to bring law and justice closer together in his court, and in the verdicts he renders for the Israelites.

    It also strikes me that although the story of Shelomit’s son and Moses’ verdict was repeated many times in many other later rabbinic works, it may be only the Sifra that also links it to the legal process by which the rabbis imagined that a blasphemy case should be tried. A bit further down in the same chapter, we read:
    Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha said: Every day, they judge (i.e., examine) the witnesses using a euphemism (rather than the name of God used by the alleged blasphemer)… (But) at the conclusion of the case, they could not put (the accused) to death based on a euphemism. Rather, they send everyone (other than the judges and witnesses) outside and question the senior of them (the witnesses), and say to him: Say to us explicitly what you heard. And he says it. And the judges rise to their feet and tear (their garments) and do not (ever) sew up (those tears). And the second witness says: And too I heard like he did. (see also Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:5)
    The fundamental legal principle here is that while the alleged blasphemy should not be repeated wantonly, it is also not just to put someone to death without at least once having taken testimony as to exactly what the defendant actually said. The rabbis also rule that when one hears blasphemy, one should tear one’s clothes, similar to when a death occurs. In this instance, though, the witness himself intends no blasphemy. In fact, the intent is to do justice. And yet the judges must tear their clothes when they hear the second hand report of what the accused said. Perhaps this is because it is still shocking enough to such a response. But I also find myself wondering: perhaps the judges are in some way taking a measure of responsibility on themselves for the blasphemy? If someone has committed so heinous a crime, what lead that person to place of such hostility towards God? Has the community and/or its legal arbiters inadvertently or deliberately harmed this person, disenfranchised them, under the guise of what is legal? Perhaps the judges tear because the judges stand in for the entire community, and even for God – the community and/or (as it were) God that has in some way done an injustice to this defendant, even according to the strict measures of the law?

    May we strive to create a community and system in which law bends towards justice and the just inclusion of all, and may God’s name be elevated thereby.
    Shabbat shalom.

  9. Wendy

    From AJR/CA

    Parshat Emor
    Torah Reading for Week of May 12-18, 2019

    “A Harvest of Faith”
    By Rabbi Diane Elliot,

    What would it be like to begin each day with nothing in your refrigerator, nothing in your cabinets, no bank account, no mortgage, no stocks or bonds-knowing only that a great and invisible Power has promised to provide you with exactly what you need for this day – ha-yom – no more and no less? Would it be a source of anxiety…or a kind of blessed relief?

    Among the mitzvot, the spiritual imperatives, conveyed in this week’s Torah portion is the interesting and somewhat mysterious injunction that we know today as the “counting of the

    The Divine spoke through Moses, saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I give you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring an omer from your first harvest to the Priest. He shall wave the omer beforeYHVH to gain favor for you; on the day after the rest day the Priest shall wave it….. And you shall count for yourselves-from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the omer of waving-seven weeks; they shall be seven complete (t’mimot) weeks. Until the day after the seventh week, you shall count, fifty days; then you shall offer a new meal offering to YHVH. (Leviticus 23:9-11, 15-16)

    Most commentators agree that “the day after the rest day” refers to the second day of Passover. And so, on the second night of Passover, in Jewish homes across the world, a count is begun that will carry us from the season of liberation, Pesach, which came at the time of the early spring barley harvest in ancient Israel, to the late spring festival of Shavu’ot (Weeks), when the major crop, the wheat, would be harvested.

    In ancient times, the counting of the omer served as a kind of theurgic mindfulness practice to ensure a bounteous wheat crop. Then, when the Temple no longer stood, our Sages creatively repurposed this period of practice. Noticing that the seven week-period between Pesach and Shavu’ot paralleled the time it took for the newly-freed Israelites to journey from Egyptian enslavement to Mt. Sinai and their decisive encounter with God, they linked the festival of Shavu’ot with matan Torah, the giving of Torah. Eventually, the counting of the Omer came to be seen as a period of personal and communal cleansing (t’mimot, complete, may also be translated “pure”) and repair, in preparation for that awesome, transformational moment, reenacted yearly.[1]

    What might be the deeper implications of the omer count in its ancient context, and what truth might that hold for us today? A hint comes from the first appearance in Torah of the word “omer,” back in Exodus 16, in a section of Torah known as “parshat ha-man,” the verses about manna. When the people, newly released into the wilderness, begin to grumble to Moses and Aaron in their fear, “If only we had died in Egypt, where we had meat and ate our fill of bread,” God promises to “rain down food from heaven” for them, first quail, and then a substance that appears like a layer of encrusted dew on the ground-manna. They are to gather this mysterious substance daily, an omer a day per person, and to not keep any overnight, except on Shabbat, when one day’s portion would last for two.

    An omer, we learn, is a dry measure equaling a tenth of an ephah, about 2.3 liters. Each day, as the people gather their one omer of manna per person, and each night, as they relinquish whatever they haven’t eaten, they are being schooled in radical trust. Traumatized by generations of oppression, they try to hoard the leftovers, just as my friend’s Holocaust survivor mother, though a well-off French matron, would stuff her purse with the extra bread rolls at the three-star restaurant where her family was dining. But when the recently-freed Israelite slaves try to eat the previous day’s manna that they’ve stashed away, they find only a stinking, maggot-filled mess. Gradually they must acquire faith that the Divine Power that has rescued them from slavery will indeed care for them in their new, freed lives.

    There is a famous passage in the Mekhilta, an ancient midrash on the book of Exodus, that explains why the Israelites had to wander for forty years in the wilderness before God brought them into the Land of Canaan: “…God said: ‘If I bring them into the land now, every one of them will immediately take hold of his field or his vineyard and neglect the Torah. But I will make them go round about through the desert forty years, so that, having the manna to eat and the water of the well to drink, they will absorb the Torah.’ On the basis of this, Rabbi Shimon (bar Yokhai) said: ‘Only to those who eat manna is it given really to study the Torah.’ ” (Mekhilta d’ Rabbi Ishma’el, Beshallach 1) In other words, only those who have been completely dependent upon God’s khesed, who have had to rely upon the lovingkindness and generosity of the great invisible saving Force, will be able to deeply receive and comprehend the true teachings.

    In Parshat Emor, the people are approaching the end of their more than two-year sojourn at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where they have been receiving a steady stream of Torah. They’re preparing for what they and God believe will be their imminent entry into the Land of Canaan. Settled and secure there, they will cultivate their fields and vineyards and risk forgetting their intimate and tumultuous, awesome and precious relationship with YHVH in the wilderness. The command to offer the first grain of their harvest and to count the omer calls the people to remember that original omer, the daily sustenance that fell directly from heaven, from the Divine hand, and to know that all they will build, cultivate, and harvest in their new homeland, like the manna, comes directly through the mercy and providence of a Holy Power beyond their ken. Only when their faith in that Power to sustain and nourish is strong will they gather in their true harvest; only then will the Torah reveal herself to them as an ever-evolving source of joy and learning upon which to base lives of flow, balance, and wholeness.

    Like the ancient Israelites, we who learn and teach Torah are enjoined to remember and stay tuned to the Source of our sustenance. Our harvest of faith may not manifest in food or other material gifts falling from the sky, but rather as a deeply cultivated, moment-by-moment awareness of the Mystery that upholds and infuses the universe, making this very moment of existence possible. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “The words of the Bible are sources of spirit. They carry fire to the soul and evoke our lost dignity out of our hidden origins.” (God in Search of Man, p. 253) May we merit to touch that spirit, to dip into the wellsprings of Torah, and to taste of that harvest on a daily basis.

    [1] For a detailed description of the evolution of the Omer count and the kabbalistic practice of associating each day of the Omer period with a combination of two sefirot, qualities of Divine emanation, see Rabbi Min Kantrowitz’s excellent Counting the Omer, a Kabbalistic Meditation Guide.

  10. 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.


  11. Wendy

    From My Jewish Learning

    Obligations to the poor at harvest time.


    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.

    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.

  12. Wendy

    From JTS

    Who Belongs?


    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?

  13. Wendy

    From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    11th May 2017
    The Duality of Jewish Time (Emor 5777)

    Alongside the holiness of place and person is the holiness of time, something parshat Emor charts in its deceptively simple list of festivals and holy days (Lev. 23:1-44).

    Time plays an enormous part in Judaism. The first thing God declared holy was a day: Shabbat, at the conclusion of creation.

    The first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a whole, prior to the Exodus, was the command to sanctify time, by determining and applying the Jewish calendar (Ex. 12:1-2).

    The prophets were the first people in history to see God in history, seeing time itself as the arena of the Divine-human encounter. Virtually every other religion and civilisation before and since has identified God, reality and truth with timelessness.

    Isaiah Berlin used to quote Alexander Herzen who said about the Slavs that they had no history, only geography. The Jews, he said, had the reverse: a great deal of history but all too little geography. Much time, but little space.

    So time in Judaism is an essential medium of the spiritual life. But there is one feature of the Jewish approach to time that has received less attention than it should: the duality that runs through its entire temporal structure.

    Take, for instance, the calendar as a whole. Christianity uses a solar calendar, Islam a lunar one. Judaism uses both. We count time both by the monthly cycle of the moon and the seasonal cycle of the sun.

    Then consider the day. Days normally have one identifiable beginning, whether this is at nightfall or daybreak or – as in the West – somewhere between. For calendar purposes, the Jewish day begins at nightfall (“And it was evening and it was morning, one day”). But if we look at the structure of the prayers – the morning prayer instituted by Abraham, afternoon by Isaac, evening by Jacob – there is a sense in which the worship of the day starts in the morning, not the night before.

    Years, too, usually have one fixed beginning – the “new year”. In Judaism, according to the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 1:1), there are no less than four new years. The first of Elul is the new year for the tithing of animals. The fifteenth of Shevat (the first according to Bet Shammai) is the new year for trees. These are specific and subsidiary dates, but the other two are more fundamental.

    According to the Torah, the first month of the year is Nissan. This was the day the earth became dry after the Flood (Gen. 8:13)[1]. It was the day the Israelites received their first command as a people (Ex. 12: 2). One year later it was the day the Tabernacle was dedicated and the service of the priests inaugurated (Ex. 40: 2). But the festival we call the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, falls six months later.

    Holy time itself comes in two forms, as Emor makes clear. There is Shabbat and there are the festivals, and the two are announced separately. Shabbat was sanctified by God at the beginning of time for all time. The festivals are sanctified by the Jewish people to whom was given the authority and responsibility for fixing the calendar.

    Hence the difference in the blessings we say. On Shabbat we praise God who “sanctifies Shabbat”. On the festivals we praise God who sanctifies “Israel and the holy times” – meaning, it is God who sanctifies Israel but Israel who sanctify the holy times, determining on which days the festivals fall.

    Even within the festivals there is a dual cycle. One is formed by the three pilgrimage festivals: Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. These are days that represent the key historic moments at the dawn of Jewish time – the Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the forty years of desert wandering. They are festivals of history.

    The other is formed by the number seven and the concept of holiness: the seventh day, Shabbat; the seventh month, Tishri, with its three festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot; the seventh year, Shemitah; and the Jubilee marking the completion of seven seven-year cycles.

    These times (with the exception of Sukkot that belongs to both cycles) have less to do with history than with what, for want of a better word, we might call metaphysics and jurisprudence, ultimate truths about the universe, the human condition, and the laws, both natural and moral, under which we live.

    Each is about creation (Shabbat, a reminder of it, Rosh Hashanah the anniversary of it), divine sovereignty, justice and judgment, together with the human condition of life, death, mortality. So on Yom Kippur we face justice and judgment. On Sukkot/Shmini Atseret we pray for rain, celebrate nature (the arba minim, lulav, etrog, hadassim and aravot, are the only mitzvah we do with unprocessed natural objects), and read the book of Kohelet, Tanakh’s most profound meditation on mortality.

    In the seventh and Jubilee years we acknowledge God’s ultimate ownership of the land of Israel and the children of Israel. Hence we let slaves go free, release debts, let the land rest, and restore most property to its original owners. All of these have to do not with God’s interventions into history but with his role as Creator and owner of the universe.

    One way of seeing the difference between the first cycle and the second is to compare the prayers on Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot with those of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Amidah of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot begins with the phrase “You chose us from all the peoples.” The emphasis is on Jewish particularity.

    By contrast, the Amidah for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur begins by speaking of “all You have made, all You have created”. The emphasis is on universality: about the judgment that affects all of creation, everything that lives.

    Even Sukkot has a marked universalist thrust with its seventy sacrificial bulls representing the “seventy nations”. According to Zechariah 14, it is the festival that will one day be celebrated by all the nations.

    Why the duality? Because God is both the God of nature and of culture. He is the God of everyone in general, and of the people of the covenant in particular. He is the Author of both scientific law (cause) and religious-ethical law (command).

    We encounter God in both cyclical time, which represents the movement of the planets, and linear-historical time, which represents the events and evolution of the nation of which we are a part. This very duality gives rise to two kinds of religious leader: the prophet and the priest, and the different consciousness of time each represents.

    Since the ancient Greeks, people have searched for a single principle that would explain everything, or the single point Archimedes sought at which to move the world, or the unique perspective (what philosophers call “the view from nowhere”) from which to see truth in all its objectivity.

    Judaism tells us there is no such point. Reality is more complicated than that. There is not even a single concept of time. At the very least we need two perspectives to be able to see reality in three dimensions, and that applies to time as well as space. Jewish time has two rhythms at once.

    Judaism is to the spirit what Niels Bohr’s complementarity theory is to quantum physics. In physics light is both a wave and a particle. In Judaism time is both historical and natural. Unexpected, counter-intuitive, certainly. But glorious in its refusal to simplify the rich complexity of time: the ticking clock, the growing plant, the ageing body and the ever-deepening mind.

    [1] Although this is the subject of an argument in Gemara Rosh HaShana 11b (quoted by Rashi Bereishit Chapter 8:13) between Rabbi Yehoshua who says this occurred in Nissan and Rabbi Eliezer who says it happened in Tishrei.

  14. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Kasher

    THE VIRTUE OF WORRY – Parshat Emor
    What do we do with our days off?

    Jewish tradition has a standard answer to that question, in the form of its most famous institution: Shabbat. We rest. We cease from all of our labors, and take time to reflect upon the wonder of Creation. Just as “God rested and was refreshed,” (שבת ינפש) on that first seventh day, so do we rest and seek the same rejuvenation.

    But if that is the message of Judaism’s foremost holy day, a very different model of “time off” is presented by one of the least-known events in the Jewish Calendar: Shemini Atzeret. Most Jews probably have never even heard of Shemini Atzeret. The truth is, it barely makes itself known in Parshat Emor’s list of holidays. It appears almost as an afterthought, peeking out behind the announcement of the week-long Festival of Sukkot. Special offerings are to be brought all seven days of that festival, we are told – and then seemingly, the holiday is over. But surprisingly, the verse continues:

    On the eighth day, you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering of fire to the Lord. It is a stopping – you shall not work at your occupations. (Leviticus 23:36)

    ביום השמיני מקרא-קדש יהיה לכם והקרבתם אשה לה׳, עצרת הוא–כל-מלאכת עבדה, לא תעשו

    What is this day for? How do we celebrate it? And is it a part of Sukkot, or not? It’s all very mysterious. It’s not even clear that the day has a name. But it has come to be called ‘Shemini Atzeret,’ from two words in the verse – literally, the “Eighth Day Stopping.”

    A day of stopping? Stopping what? The festival of Sukkot, perhaps. But Sukkot has already stopped, just as all holidays inevitably do. Why take an extra day just to declare it? And what is this unusual word for stopping anyway: atzeret (עצרת)? Is it just a reference to “stopping work”? But if so, work stops on all the holidays; so what is distinct about this cessation that it needs to be called out?

    The root of the word, ATZaR (ע–צ–ר) literally means “to hold back,” or “to keep in,” and those connotations inform Rashi’s very lovely description of Shemini Atzeret:

    I [, the Lord,] have kept you back with me, like a King who invited his children to a meal for several days. But when the time came for them to depart, he said, “Please, my children, stay with me one more day, for it is so hard for me to separate from you!”

    עצרתי אתכם אצלי כמלך שזימן את בניו לסעודה לכך וכך ימים, כיון שהגיע זמנן להפטר אמר בני בבקשה מכם, עכבו עמי עוד יום אחד, קשה עלי פרידתכם

    So after all the closeness to God that has been achieved by Sukkot (and by Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur before it) God cannot bear to see us end our pilgrimage festival and head home. It is a touching image of Divine pathos. However, as Nachmanides says – almost rudely, but correctly – these words of Rashi’s are just “stories from the Midrash” (דברי אגדה הם בויקרא רבה) They don’t really explain the true meaning of the word atzeret, stopping, as the central action of a holiday.

    For that, we turn to Ovadia Seforno, a rabbi of the Italian renaissance, and a favorite among the classical Torah commentators, included in most standard collections. He was both a philologist and a philosopher, and so his commentary demonstrates a keen sensitivity to both the literal and the conceptual meanings of words. Here then, in an absolute masterpiece of parshanut, is his treatment of the word azteret:

    It is a stopping… – The idea of “stopping” here is not merely the Shabbat “resting” from various forms of labor. Rather, this is also a warning, to stand for some time in the holy places, to serve the Blessed God in these places, with Torah, or Prayer, or Sacrifice.

    עצרת הוא ענין העצירה הוא לא בלבד לשבות ממלאכת הדיוט אבל היא עם זה אזהרת עמידה איזה זמן במקומות הקדש לעבוד במקומות ההם את האל יתברך בתורה או בתפלה או בעבודה

    Seforno says explicitly what we suspected earlier. This is not the pleasant resting of Shabbat. This is a different kind of pause. This stopping calls for some kind of heightened awareness, some extra reflection, and some focused spiritual work.

    But why? What is happening here on Shemini Atzeret that requires this unusual level of attentiveness? And why does Seforno put it in the language of “warning”? He gives three examples to illustrate his point:

    This is like (in I Samuel 21:8): “One of Saul’s servants was there that day, who had stopped before God.”
    And also what they said (in Joel 1:14): “Designate a fast day, call for a stopping!”
    And in the same fashion, what Jehu said (in II Kings 10:20): “Designate a day of stopping for Ba’al!”
    כענין ושם איש מעבדי שאול ביום ההוא נעצר לפני ה’ והוא אמרו קדשו צום קראו עצרה ועל זה הדרך אמר יהוא קדשו עצרה לבעל.

    These might seem at first to be random citations, meant to show the repeated usage of the word atzeret in the Hebrew Bible – a technical point by a man with a database-like mind. But a closer look at context reveals these to be three rather startling examples.

    In the first scene, we find David fleeing from King Saul – who once loved him, but is now trying to kill him. The air is thick with danger as David tries to escape. But there in the background is one of Saul’s officials, who sees David, and will later report him back to the King. It is a moment of incredible anxiety for everyone involved. As if to highlight the tension, the servant’s name is ‘Doeg’ – literally, “Worry.”

    The second verse comes from the the Book of Joel, which begins with the prophet calling for mourning and repentance, after a plague of locusts and a drought have ravished the land. “Joy has dried up from the people,” cries Joel. They are devastated. There is nothing left to do but stop and fast, in hopes that God will take pity.

    The third example is particularly unsettling. For though this instance of stopping appears most similar to the one in the Torah, a holiday of worship, in this case it is a fake holiday dedicated to a fake god. Jehu is actually summoning the worshippers of Ba’al into a ruse, so that he can slaughter them en masse (and then turn their temples into latrines, by the way). It is ultimately presented as an act of religious heroism, but it is one that comes about through the clashing of forces of idolatry, violence, and hatred.

    So these are the examples of stopping Seforno gives us. An enemy stops to spy on an innocent man on the run. A starving people stops to cry before the Lord. A king stops to pretend to worship a foreign god, only to kill everyone who joins him. Worry, despair, rage. These are the moments Seforno chooses. These are the sentiments he evokes. Now how will he read this back into the Torah’s holiday?

    This tells us that since this day comes just after the Festival of Sukkot, in which the joys of all the festivals are finally completed, it must be set aside to be a day of stopping, so people will stop at the holy places to make sure their joy will be a joy of Torah and good deeds – as they say (in Psalm 149:2), “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker.”

    אמר אם כן שזה היום אחר חג הסכות אשר בו שלמו כל שמחות הרגלים הוא קודש להיות יום עצרת שיעצרו במקומות הקודש ותהיה שמחתו שמחה של תורה ומעשים טובים כאמרו ישמח ישראל בעושיו

    Like David on the run, Seforno is worried. He fears that just at the moment of greatest happiness, something will go wrong. The joy itself will be misused, or misleading. It will not be channeled into the right things. It will fade, or become corrupted – unless we stop, in these holy places, and proceed with caution. Seforno seems to want to infuse Shemini Atzeret with atmosphere of anxiety.

    And then, in his next proof-text, he goes for the jugular – The Book of Job:

    This is like (in Job 1:5): “And when a round of feast days were over, Job would send word to [his children] to sanctify themselves, and, rising up early in the morning, he would make burnt offerings, one for each of them, for Job said to himself, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned…’” And he did all this because of the preceding happiness.

    וזה כענין ויהי כי הקיפו ימי המשתה וישלח איוב ויקדשם והשכים בבקר והעלה עולות מספר כלם כי אמר איוב אולי חטאו בני וכו’ וזה מפני השמחה הקודמת

    Look at the anxiety Job felt in the midst of great celebration. Look at the worry that consumed him, just when he should have been happiest! What kind of masochistic personality disorder, we might wonder, drives a man to such obsessive pessimism?

    But the thing is… Job was right. This was the very moment before he became the epitome of suffering. He was right, his children were in danger, and in no time they would all be dead. He spent all his time fearing the worst, and then it happened – only much worse than he could have imagined.

    So is this the feeling that Seforno wants us to take away from our holidays? Are we really supposed to stand, in the days just after our joyous festivals, terrified at the prospect of imminent doom? Or is the stopping meant, somehow, to save us from such a fate?

    His final two examples of stopping suggest there is reason to hope for the latter. He begins with the Seventh Day of Passover, remembered as the day the Israelites crossed the Red sea – also the end of a festival, and also a day referred to as “a stopping.” Seforno writes:

    Now, being that on the Seventh Day of Passover, Israel stood together with Moses to sing to the Blessed God, as it says (in Exodus 15:1), “Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang…”, therefore that day was set aside as a “stopping for God” (even though the salvation did not happen until the end of the day). And this is further clarified in Deuteronomy, where it says, “And on the seventh day will be a stopping for the Lord your God, you shall do no work on it.” (16:8)

    ובהיות שביום שביעי של פסח נעצרו ישראל עם משה יחדו לשורר לאל יתברך כאמרו אז ישיר משה ובני ישראל קדש אותו היום להיות עצרת לה’ אף על פי שלא היתה התשועה בתחלת היום וזה באר במשנה תורה באמרו וביום השכיעי עצרת לה’ אלהיך לא תעשה מלאכה

    The Children of Israel had just been freed from the Land of Bondage, just crossed the parted waters of the Red Sea and narrowly escaped Pharaoh’s armies in pursuit. The thing to do was to keep moving, to put some distance behind them. But they stopped. They stopped and sang to God. This was not a restful stopping. It was a chance to pause and acknowledge all the danger they had passed through, the fear they had felt, and their relief at just being alive. They did not want to lose this moment, did not want to forget this feeling, located somewhere between joy and terror.

    From Sukkot to Passover… we know where Seforno is headed next – to the third and final pilgrimage festival: Shavuot. Though it appears in the Torah to be merely an agricultural event, by the time we read about Shavuot in the Talmud, it is commemorated as the day that the Children of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot also, there in the Talmud, takes on a new name: Atzeret. As the Seforno explains:

    And being that the fiftieth day after the Exodus from Egypt was the day of the giving of the Torah, on which Israel stopped, together, to serve the Blessed God, our Sages of blessed memory called it Azteret, ‘The Stopping.’ However, in the Torah itself, this name is never mentioned. And that is because Israel later ruined the achievement of that stopping, “and they were stripped of the ornaments from Mount Horeb.” (Exod. 33:6)

    ובהיות שהיה יום החמשים ליציאת מצרים יום מתן תורה אשר בו נעצרו ישראל יחדו לעבודת האל יתברך קראוהו רכותינו ז’‘ל (מועד קטן פרק ואלו מגלחין) עצרת. אמנם בתורה לא הוזכר אותו היום בזה השם כלל וזה מפני שקלקלו ישראל את המושג כעצירתם ויתנצלו את עדים מהר חורב

    If the stopping of Passover was well-executed, this one is more complicated. The Children of Israel stopped long enough to receive the Torah, to witness the glory of Divine Revelation. But they did not take another day, after that moment of exaltation, to stop and reflect on exactly what had transpired. Instead, they became so taken with the joy of their newfound spiritual awareness that they never figured out how to contain it, and carry it forward. They raced ahead, ecstatic, and soon enough, they were dancing around the Golden Calf, and ruining everything they had achieved in the transcendent moment of revelation.

    In short, they did not worry enough. They did not recognize that in every great revelation, there is the capacity for great danger. Every moment of happiness, if not carefully cultivated, can collapse into the sorrow of loss.

    We began by grappling with the meaning of Shemini Atzeret, but in fact, Parshat Emor is always read in the weeks before Shavuot. Rabbi Seforno, then, surely intended this description of the first Shavuot to affect our own experience of the upcoming holiday. It is now that we need a bit of extra reflection.

    Once upon a time, we had a divine encounter. We experienced something inexplicably wonderful. But we did not know how to hold on to it. We did not stop to appreciate the rare gift we had been given. And all too soon, we had lost it.

    This year, in these days just after our release from bondage and just before the next great revelation, let us pause to make sure our ardor does not fade or flag. Let us take time to sing a song of praise to the God that brought us all this way, through narrow straits and across raging seas. And let us stop to worry, a little, that we might yet fumble this good thing we’ve found.

  15. Wendy

    From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    Holy Times (Emor 5776)

    The parsha of Emor contains a chapter dedicated to the festivals of the Jewish year. There are five such passages in the Torah. Two, both in the book of Exodus (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:18, 22-23), are very brief. They refer only to the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. They do not specify their dates, merely their rough position in the agricultural year. Nor do they mention the specific commands related to the festivals.

    This leaves three other festival accounts, the one in our parsha, a second one in Numbers 28-29, and the third in Deuteronomy 16. What is striking is how different they are. This is not, as critics maintain, because the Torah is a composite document but rather because it comes at its subject-matter from multiple perspectives – a characteristic of the Torah mindset as a whole.

    The long section on the festivals in Numbers is wholly dedicated to the special additional sacrifices [the mussaf] broughton holy days including Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. A memory of this is preserved in the Mussaf prayers for these days. These are holy times from the perspective of the Tabernacle, the Temple, and later the synagogue.

    The account in Deuteronomy is about society. Moses at the end of his life told the next generation where they had come from, where they were going to, and the kind of society they were to construct. It was to be the opposite of Egypt. It would strive for justice, freedom and human dignity.

    One of Deuteronomy’s most important themes is its insistence that worship be centralised “in the place that God will choose,” which turned out to be Jerusalem. The unity of God was to be mirrored in the unity of the nation, something that could not be achieved if every tribe had its own temple, sanctuary or shrine. That is why, when it comes to the festivals, Deuteronomy speaks only of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, and not Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, because only on those three was there a duty of Aliyah le-regel, pilgrimage to the Temple.

    Equally significant is Deuteronomy’s focus – not found elsewhere – on social inclusion: “you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites within your gates, and the stranger, the orphan and the widow living among you.” Deuteronomy is less about individual spirituality than about the kind of society that honours the presence of God by honouring our fellow humans, especially those at the margins of society. The idea that we can serve God while being indifferent to, or dismissive of, our fellow human beings is utterly alien to the vision of Deuteronomy.

    Which leaves Emor, the account in this week’s parsha. It too is distinctive. Unlike the Exodus and Deuteronomy passages it includes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It also tells us about the specific mitzvoth of the festivals, most notably Sukkot: it is the only place where the Torah mentions the arba minim, the “four kinds”, and the command to live in a sukkah.

    It has, though, various structural oddities. The most striking one is the fact that it includes Shabbat in the list of the festivals. This would not be strange in itself. After all, Shabbat is one of the holy days. What is strange is the way it speaks about Shabbat:

    The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: The appointed times [moadei] of the Lord, which you are to proclaim [tikre’u] as sacred assemblies [mikra’ei kodesh]. These are my appointed festivals [mo’adai]. Six days shall you work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of sabbaths, a day of sacred assembly [mikra kodesh]. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.”

    There is then a paragraph break, after which the whole passage seems to begin again:

    These are the Lord’s appointed times [mo’adei] festivals, the sacred assemblies [mikra’ei kodesh] you are to proclaim [tikre’u] at their appointed times [be-mo’adam].

    This structure, with its two beginnings, puzzled the commentators. Even more was the fact that the Torah here seems to be calling Shabbat a mo’ed, an appointed time, and a mikra kodesh, a sacred assembly, which it does nowhere else. As Rashi puts it: “What has Shabbat to do with the festivals?” The festivals are annual occurrences, Shabbat is a weekly one. The festivals depend on the calendar fixed by the Bet Din. That is the meaning of the phrase, “the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times.” Shabbat, however, does not depend on any act by the Bet Din and is independent of both the solar and lunar calendar. Its holiness comes directly from God and from the dawn of creation. Bringing the two together under a single heading seems to make no sense. Shabbat is one thing, moadim and mikra’ei kodesh are something else. So what connects the two?

    Rashi tells us it is to emphasise the holiness of the festivals. “Whoever desecrates the festivals, it is as if he had desecrated the Sabbath, and whoever observes the festivals it is as if he had observed the Sabbath.” The point Rashi is making is that we can imagine someone saying that he respects the Sabbath because it is God-given, but the festivals are of an altogether lesser sanctity, first because we are permitted certain kinds of work, such as cooking and carrying, and second because they depend on a human act of fixing the calendar. The inclusion of Shabbat among the festivals is to negate this kind of reasoning.

    Ramban offers a very different explanation. Shabbat is stated before the festivals just as it is stated before Moses’ instructions to the people to begin work on the construction of the Sanctuary, to tell us that just as the command to build the Sanctuary does not override Shabbat, so the command to celebrate the festivals does not override Shabbat. So, although we may cook and carry on festivals we may not do so if a festival falls on Shabbat.

    By far the most radical explanation was given by the Vilna Gaon. According to him, the words “‘Six days shall you work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of sabbaths,” do not apply to the days of the week but to the days of the year. There are seven holy days specified in our parsha: the first and seventh day of Pesach, one day of Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first day of Sukkot and Shmini Atseret. On six of them we are allowed to do some work, such as cooking and carrying, but on the seventh, Yom Kippur, we are not, because it is a “Sabbath of Sabbaths” (see verse 32). The Torah uses two different expressions for the prohibition of work on festivals in general and on the “seventh day.” On the festivals what is forbidden is melekhet avodah (“burdensome or servile work”), whereas on the seventh day what is forbidden is melakhah, “any work” even if not burdensome. So Yom Kippur is to the year what Shabbat is to the week.

    The Vilna Gaon’s reading allows us to see something else: that holy time is patterned on what I have called (in the Introduction to the Siddur) fractals: the same pattern at different levels of magnitude. So the structure of the week – six days of work followed by a seventh that is holy – is mirrored in the structure of the year – six days of lesser holiness plus a seventh, Yom Kippur, of supreme holiness. As we will see in two chapters’ time (Lev. 25), the same pattern appears on an even larger scale: six ordinary years followed by the year of Shemittah, “release.”

    Wherever the Torah wishes to emphasise the dimension of holiness (the word kodesh appears no less than twelve times in Lev. 23), it makes systematic use of the number and concept of seven. So there are not only seven holy days in the annual calendar. There are also seven paragraphs in the chapter. The word “seven” or “seventh” occurs repeatedly (eighteen times) as does the word for the seventh day, Shabbat in one or other of its forms (fifteen times). The word “harvest” appears seven times.

    However, it seems to me that Leviticus 23 is telling another story as well – a deeply spiritual one. Recall our argument (made by Judah Halevi and Ibn Ezra) that almost the entire forty chapters between Exodus 24 and Leviticus 25 are a digression, brought about because Moses argued that the people needed God to be close. They wanted to encounter Him not only at the top of the mountain but also in the midst of the camp; not only as a terrifying power overturning empires and dividing the sea but also as a constant presence in their lives. That was why God gave the Israelites the Sanctuary (Exodus 25-40) and its service (i.e. the book of Leviticus as a whole).

    That is why the list of the festivals in Leviticus emphasises not the social dimension we find in Deuteronomy, or the sacrificial dimension we find in Numbers, but rather the spiritual dimension of encounter, closeness, the meeting of the human and the divine. This explains why we find in this chapter, more than in any other, two key words. One is mo’ed, the other is mikra kodesh, and both are deeper than they seem.

    The word mo’ed does not just mean “appointed time”. We find the same word in the phrase ohel mo’ed meaning “tent of meeting”. If the ohel mo’ed was the place where man and God met, then the mo’adim in our chapter are the times when we and God meet. This idea is given beautiful expression in the last line of the mystical song we sing on Shabbat, Yedid nefesh, “Hurry, beloved, for the appointed time [mo’ed] has come.” Mo’ed here means a tryst – an appointment made between lovers to meet at a certain time and place.

    As for the phrase mikra kodesh, it comes from the same root as the word that gives the entire book its name: Vayikra, meaning “to be summoned in love.” A mikra kodesh is not just a holy day. It is a meeting to which we have been called in affection by One who holds us close.

    Much of the book of Vayikra is about the holiness of place, the Sanctuary. Some of it is about the holiness of people, the Cohanim, the priests, and Israel as a whole, as “a kingdom of priests.” In chapter 23, the Torah turns to the holiness of time and the times of holiness.

    We are spiritual beings but we are also physical beings. We cannot be spiritual, close to God, all the time. That is why there is secular time as well as holy time. But one day in seven, we stop working and enter the presence of the God of creation. On certain days of the year, the festivals, we celebrate the God of history. The holiness of Shabbat is determined by God alone because He alone created the universe. The holiness of the festivals is partially determined by us (i.e. by the fixing of the calendar), because history is a partnership between us and God. But in two respects they are the same. They are both times of meeting (mo’ed), and they are both times when we feel ourselves called, summoned, invited as God’s guests (mikra kodesh).

    We can’t always be spiritual. God has given us a material world with which to engage. But on the seventh day of the week, and (originally) seven days in the year, God gives us dedicated time in which we feel the closeness of the Shekhinah and are bathed in the radiance of God’s love.

  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.

  17. 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

  18. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan

    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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.)

  22. 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.

  23. 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

  24. 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!

  25. 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)

  26. Wendy

    From Rav DovBer Pinson


    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.

    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.

  27. Wendy

    ~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~



    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.


    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 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.

  28. 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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