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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Parashat Emor

Parasha: Emor – Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23
Haftara: Ezekiel 44:15-31
Reading date: 10th May 2008 – 5th Ayar 5768

The previous portion dealt with the commandment that the entire nation should strive to become holy. Now the Torah turns to the Cohenim, who have a particular responsibility to maintain higher standards of behavior and purity. This is particularly true of us, priests in the order of Malchi Tzedek.

21:2 For the relative that is closest to him – nefesh – his wife, brother, sister (see next verse), father etc.

21:3 As long as a sister remains unmarried, she is still apart of the Cohen’s immediate family and he is required to participate in her funeral.

21:5 This was particularly prohibited, because it was a practice used by the Egyptian priests, who, according to Herodotus, shaved the whole body every third day, that there might be no uncleanness about them when they ministered in their temples. In the book of Baruch 6:31, the priests of Babylon are represented sitting in their temples, with their clothes torn, and their heads and beards shaved, and having nothing upon their heads.

21:7 The harlot who is prohibited to a Cohen is a woman who has lived with any other man who is not permitted to her because of a negative commandment. The term desecrated refers to any woman who is forbidden to marry a Cohen or a Cohen Gadol, but lives with him, i.e., a divorcee, or a widow with a Cohen Gadol. (Rashi)

21:9 It is commonly understood the woman would be put to death before being burned, probably by stoning.

21:10-12 Although the Cohen Gadol spent much or even most of his time in the sanctuary, it was not his permanent home.

21:18 The KJV mistranslates ‘flat nose’ it is the deformity where the bridge of the nose does not form. The Cohen Gadol had to maintain the highest possible level of purity. We know that after the destruction of the first Temple and the Babylonian exile, due to corruption within the priestly order, a lot of the desire for holiness disappeared.

22:2 People in the state of ritual contamination ‘tumah’ are required to withdraw and not partake of the sacrificial meat and the ‘trumah’ – the donated sacrifices. In the service of YHVH, according to Torah, neither an imperfect offering nor an imperfect offerer could be admitted. What then is the need of a mediator between YHVH and sinful men? Can we expect that any of our offerings and sacrifices, however sincere and well-intentioned, can be accepted, unless offered on the Living Altar that sanctifies the gift?

22:31-33 Marvelous words from the throne room of heaven.

22:32 Our primary privilege and responsibility is to sanctify YHVH’s name through our behavior, so that people say of us “Fortunate are the parents and teachers who raised such a person.” Conversely there is no greater degradation for a person than to act in a way that will make people say the opposite (Yoma 86a).

23:2 The festivals, including the Shabbat, are called ‘moadim’ – appointed times- because they are special days when we meet with YHVH, as it were. Just as ‘moed’ in space refers to the locality which people have as their appointed place of assembly (Ohel Moed – the Tabernacle or more correctly, Tent of Meeting), so ‘moed’ is a point in time which summons us to an appointed activity – in this case an inner activity.

23:5 Although the New Year begins in Tishrei with Rosh Hashanah, the months are counted from Nissan (Ex.12:2) as a constant reminder of the Exodus.

23:16 It is of interest that Shavuot is not mentioned as a specific day in the calendar but as the fiftieth day after the Omer offering, recalling the days after the Exodus, when our forefathers excitedly counted the days, each day elevating ourselves, so that we can be worthy of receiving Torah. Today we celebrate not only the receiving of the Torah but it is not by coincidence that we celebrate the giving of the Ruach haKodesh to us as individuals on the same day.

23:24 The shofar call is a call to repentance. As Rambam puts it, the shofar calls out: “Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Arise, you slumberers, from your slumber!” (Hil.Teshuvah 3:4). We know by the use of the Hebrew word ‘truah’ in the verse that it refers to a shofar blast and not a regular trumpet as this word is used in reference to a shofar alone.

23:27 The Hebrew word ‘ech’ – but- always implies a limitation. Atonement is available to those who repent, but not to those who ignore this opportunity to earn forgiveness (Rashi). You shall afflict is the Torah’s term for fasting.

23:40 The four species symbolize parts of the body. The ‘etrog’ – citron – resembles the heart; the ‘lulav’ – palm branch – the spine; the ‘hadasim’ – myrtle leaves – the eyes and the ‘aravot’ - willow branches, the lips. By holding all four together, we symbolize the need for a person to utilize all his faculties in the service of YHVH.

24:5-9 The Table of Showbread and the breads are described in Ex.25:23-30. Every Friday, twelve large loaves were baked and were placed on the Table on the Shabbat.

24:10:16 Torah continues with an account which seems to be out of place: The story of a Jew who committed the atrocious sin of blaspheming the name of YHVH, chas ve chelila! The following Midrash gives a historical reason for the connection of this incident to the previous passage. Rabbi Berechiah taught that the ‘son of the Israelite woman’ went about the camp scoffing about the showbread: “A king normally eats warm, freshly baked bread. Why would YHVH have cold, old bread in the Tabernacle?” An Israelite rebuked him. The two came to blows, whereupon the son of the Israelite woman uttered the curse.

24:18 A market value is used to determine the amount to be paid.

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