Parashat Emor

May 20-21, 2016 – 13 Iyyar 5776
Annual (Leviticus 21:1-24:23): Etz Hayim p. 717; Hertz p. 513
Triennial (Leviticus 23:23-24:23): Etz Hayim p. 727; Hertz p. 522
Haftarah (Ezekiel 44:15-31): Etz Hayim p. 735; Hertz p. 528

PDF Emor 5776

Speaking, With and Without Words
By Rabbi Joshua Corber, an alumnus of the CY (2009-2011) and graduate of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, serves as Director of Congregational Learning at Beth Tzedec in Calgary, Alberta.

The second Gerrer Rebbe (Rebbe Yehudah Leib Alter) in his famous commentary on the Torah, Sfat Emet, brings a midrash from Vayikra Rabbah which connects our parashah with Psalm 19, based on these verses:

 And Hashem spoke to Moshe: ‘Speak (אֱמֹר) to the Priests…’ (Lev. 21:1)
Day after day they pour forth speech (אֹמֶר), night after night they convey knowledge (Psalm 19:3). 

Psalm 19 describes the cosmic speech of the heavenly bodies. There are Kabbalistic teachings which hold that these celestial bodies—stars, planets, moons, etc.—are intelligent beings which communicate with one another. The Psalms, and concordantly many of our prayers, belie this concept. Oddly enough, the following verses in the Psalm (19:4-5) read:

They have no speech, they use no words, no sound is heard from them,
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.                                                                                        

We are initially told that the stars are speaking and conveying knowledge.  Moments later we are told that there is no audible sound coming from them, yet their ‘voice’ goes out to all the world. What is going on here?

The Gerrer Rebbe tells us that Psalm refers to the well-known midrash of the Or Haganuz, the ‘hidden light’ that G-d stashed away from of the light of Creation, for tzadikim to eventually reveal. This light, of course, is not physical but spiritual illumination, knowledge. This knowledge is actually reverberating throughout the cosmos but we are unable to apprehend it and this, he says, is our work on Earth. The righteous—and, in our aspirations, all of us—have the power to sift and clarify this light and to reveal new Torah. This task requires purity of mind and body, which is why our parashah, like much of Leviticus, instructs us on how to avoid contamination.

The Gerrer Rebbe also connects this required purity to Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer, which is also mentioned in this parashah, among the mo’adim, the major festivals and yamim tovim. Just like those holidays, the days of the Omer counting are invested with kedusha – holiness, with an elevated ethereal presence.  To capitalize on this, we need to use this period to purify our middot (our “character traits” or “ways”); in other words, to ‘recalibrate our emotional infrastructure’ so that we can better perceive the Torah that is emerging from the cosmos at every moment.

What is the Torah that G-d wants you, personally, to learn today? What is G-d saying to you through the people around you and through earthly and celestial events? To be sensitive and open to that Torah, one must look inward to the heart and mind and cleanse the emotional detritus that blocks us from hearing the cosmic symphony that is playing around us every day.

A Vort for Parashat Emor
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

God tells Moses to tell the people “When you have come into the land which I give you [אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם]”… (Lev 25:2), the verb “give” in the present tense.  Rebbe Nachman of Breslav (a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, Ukraine, 1771-1810) said on arriving in Eretz Yisrael that he could now appreciate the verse.  The tastes and experience of being in Israel are renewed every day.  R’ Yaakov Auerbach, in Korban Oni (pub. 1908) says that kedushat ha’aretz, the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, is uncovered slowly, only through effort and preparation, a little more each day, similar to Torah, where we bless God as notein Ha’ Torah, Who gives Torah anew each day.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

In our Parasha we have 2 major topics: The rules pertaining to Kohanim (priests), some of which are still practiced to varying degrees, and the holidays on the Torah calendar.

1) 21:1: A Kohen (priest) is forbidden to become impure due to contact with a dead body (or being in its vicinity).  Nor is he allowed several practices of mourning (21:5-6). What might the reason for this? What are the practical implications of this law?

2) The law mentioned above has some exceptions, as found in 21:2-3.  How would you define the group that the Kohen may become impure for upon their death? (Today all sisters are included in this group.) What might be the message in this exception?

3) In the list of holy times (chapter 23) Pesach (Passover) is the first on the list, following Shabbat (23:4-8).  Why did the Torah start with this holiday? Exodus 12:2 might help you.

4) We are told to bring an Omer (a measurement) of the first harvest to God, no new grain may be eaten until this is done (23:9-14).  Why do you think that God should receive a portion from the first harvest? You may wish to think about how we feel about completion of a project that we have worked on for a long time (as the farmer works on growing the grain).  What do we do at the point of completion?

5) In the next verses, 23:15-16 we have the source for that Mitzvah of counting the Omer.  How long do we count for? There have been big debates regarding the starting date of this counting (today it always starts on the second night of Pesach). Can you find the source of the confusion in v. 15?  (For those interested, Samaritans and Karaites have a different understanding of this verse, and therefore also of the timing of the holiday of Shavuot.)