20 May 2016

Emor 5776: Divine Humanities

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Emor 5776: Divine Humanities

There was never any heart truly great and
generous, that was not also tender and compassionate.

 — Robert Frost

As is the case with the book of Leviticus, there is much in the material presented that is far removed from our modern experience. Perashat Emor is no exception. Among the details of this parasha are the standards expected of the cohanim who are selected to serve in the Mikdash, the standards and quality of the animals that are brought as offerings, and the rules for eating offerings.

Though these requirements are not relevant for us today, there is one issue that is closer to us than it sounds. Torah prohibits bringing an animal with a physical blemish as an offering to G-d.

G-d spoke to Moshe, saying:…A man…that brings near his offering to G-d…wholly sound must it be, for acceptance, any defect must not be in it. One that is blind, broken, or mutilated, or scab or eruptions, you are not to bring near.  (22:17,21-22)

Understanding that the animal itself was the ‘gift’ presented to G-d, it makes sense that the offering chosen should be of superb quality. Of all the commandments in the Torah, however, it is this one that is recalled as a core problem in the nation hundreds of years later.

Malakhi, the last of our prophets, brings this issue out as the final point from G-d to Israel before signing off from prophetic messages altogether. It is the message chosen to reverberate through the incoming generations of prophetic silence.

When you present a blind animal for offering — is it not wrong?! When you present a lame or sick one — is it not wrong?!…The Lord of Hosts has said ‘If only you would lock my doors, and not kindle fire on My altar to no purpose! I take no pleasure in you…(1:8,10)

In the final days of the Davidic Monarchy, in which the State had reached the point of decay and dissolution, the people had looked at their interaction with G-d as religious obligation rather than mutual covenant. The offerings had altered from acts of love to mechanical requirements aimed at appeasing G-d rather than bonding with Him. The people were less sensitive to the physical state of the animal assuming that G-d was only interested in the act above the sentiment. Therefore, G-d expressed his feelings to the contrary through the prophet Isaiah:

What need have I of all your slaughterings? Says G-d. (Isaiah, 1:11)

They honour Me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from Me.… (ibid., 29:13)

In his rebuke to the people, Malakhi highlights one point that puts the entire issue into perspective. He asks them how their local official would respond if such an offering was presented to him as a gift.

Offer it to your governor! Would he accept you? Would he show you favour?! (1:8)

Rather than focus on their religious insubordination he simply asks that the people consider how a human whom they were meant to respect would respond after receiving such a gift.

From this we learn a fundamental principle regarding our relationship with G-d. We are meant to engage with G-d and to build a relationship with Him based on our human interactions and relationships. G-d is not meant to be seen by us as some cosmic overlord, but rather as a parent, a master, a mentor and a carer. It is a relationship that must be cultivated, and in which we must invest our time, energy and care. Perhaps most important, we learn from this that G-d’s ultimate desire with us is to share.

All of Torah and its laws, Leviticus included, are aimed at one purpose: to provide a means through which we can share with G-d. But sharing can only occur when there is mutual care, attention, sensitivity, respect and appropriate boundaries. Bringing a blemished gift to the one you love expresses a lack in the most important ingredient — the thought and care that is meant to be the motivation behind it.

This principle is as relevant today as it ever was. It prompts us to focus on our personal relationships and examine how we are faring in building and supporting them. And it encourages us to consider our investments in these relationships and the manner in which we engage in them. When we become adept at these we can discover a genuine relationship with G-d that has a high level of mutuality. We can walk with G-d as partners and share with Him in the richness of life’s journey.

Law and Lore

Aliyot to the Torah – Mondays and Thursday

While on Shabbat we call seven people to the Torah and it is permitted to add more than seven aliyot, on Mondays and Thursdays, when we call only three people to the Torah, we do not add to them under any circumstances.

When there are people who should be called up because of a celebratory occasion on Monday or Thursday morning the Parnas can respectfully request that the Cohen relinquish his right to the first aliya so as to open the three aliyot to three other individuals who are neither Cohanim nor Leviyim. If the Cohen obliges, although he need not leave the synagogue, it is nonetheless appropriate for him to do so at the beginning of the reading.

When this occurs the Parnas or Hazan says ya’amod Yisrael[1] bimkom kohen – ‘Let a Yisrael stand in place of a Kohen’.

[1] Spanish and Portuguese custom is to say the name of the person taking the aliya

Parasha Perspectives


39a              The ordinary kohen  (21:1-9)
Cannot be defiled with dead bodies. Limits on marriage
39b              Increased restrictions for Kohen Gadol  (21:10-15)
More restrictive: no defilement at all, must marry virgin
39c               Physical blemishes in a kohen  (21:16-24)
Kohanim with physical defects cannot officiate, can eat
40                Eating kodesh  (22:1-16)
Regulations for kohanim and their families for eating
from the korbanot
41a              Quality and method of offerings  (22:17-25)
Unblemished animals can be offered, others can be
used elsewhere.
41b              Restrictions on offerings  (22:26-33)
Chillul and Kiddush Hashem (22:32)
42                Intro. to holy occasions. 7th day is Shabbat (23:1-3)
43                Pesach*:  15/1 (15th day, 1st mth.). Chag HaMatzot.
Chnw (Called holy, no work). Eat Matza  (23:4-8)
44a              The Omer:  16/1  Bring first omer of harvest
for an offering  (23:9-14)
44b              Shavuot*:  50 days later. Special offerings,
Chnw, harvest law  (23:15-22)
45a              Rosh HaShana*:  1/7  Zichron Teruah. Chnw
                    (23:23-25)      [Note: *= not mentioned by that name]
45b              Yom Kippur:   10/7  Yom HaKippurim. Chnw.
Afflict you souls…  (23:26-32)
46                Sukkot:  15/7  Chag HaSukkot. Chnw. Four
species, live in Sukkot  (23:33-44)
47                Menorah    Must be continual – tamid  (24:1-4)
48a              The Showbread  (24:5-9)
Twelve loaves in two rows on ‘pure’ table in
Mishkan. Add levona (24:7) Renew every Shabbat.
Brit Olam (24:8). Eaten by kohanim in Mishkan.
48b              Son of an Egyptian man  (24:10-12)
The son of an Israelite woman and Egyptian man
had a fight with an Israelite man.
The son of the Israelite woman (Shelomit Bat Divri
                    -Dan tribe) blasphemed and cursed God
49                The punishment for blasphemy and other
punishments  (24:13-23)
God commanded the punishment of stoning and
taught the general rule (24:13-16)
Murder → death. Damage or kill an animal or
maim a person → pay (24:17-23)

 Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS