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Parashat Emor 5779 — 05/18/2019

Vayikra 21:1-24:23
Parashat Emor is one of the two main places in Torah where the holidays are listed. The other is Parashat Pinchas, towards the end of Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers), where the special offerings for each day are listed. The Maftir readings for the holidays are drawn from the appropriate section of Pinchas, and the holiday Mussaf prayers contain a summary of each day’s offerings.

R. Goldin notes several peculiarities of the holiday of Shavuot, which is coming up in about 3 weeks. Among other things, for all other holidays, the Torah specifies the date of the holiday – 15 Nisan for Pesach, 15 Tishri for Sukkot, etc. Shavuot, on the other hand, is defined only in relation to Pesach:

And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the day of rest [RAR: i.e. the first day of Pesach], from the day you bring the ‘Omer wave offering, seven complete weeks. Until the day after the seventh week you shall count fifty days, and you shall bring a new-grain offering to Hashem. (23:15-16)

We have been using a fixed calendar since the 4th century, and nowadays Nisan always has 30 days and Iyar always has 29. Counting 50 days from the “day after the day of rest,” i.e. 16 Nisan, means Shavuot always falls on the 6th of Sivan in the fixed calendar, but in the days when the Temple stood and the first of every month was based on witnesses’ sighting of the actual New Moon, that date could vary. Further, Shavuot is identified as the time of the giving of our Torah (z’man matan Torateinu). The Torah, however, is a bit vague as to what day the Torah was actually given on, and it nowhere identifies that date with Shavuot! What is going on?!

Here is what Rabbi Goldin suggests:

There is, I believe, much more to these rabbinic observations than meets the eye. In essence, the rabbis are emphasizing that Revelation is not a historic event.
The Patriarchal Era, the Exodus, the wandering in the wilderness, the entry into the land of Canaan and so much more, are periods and incidents rooted in the past. They are meant to be learned from, reexamined, re-experienced, even seen as prototypes for the present; but they are all past events.
Revelation is different. Matan Torah [RAR: the giving of the Torah] is a process that continues to this day and beyond. Every time we study a text, ask a halachic question or share a Torah thought, we stand again at Sinai receiving the Torah. Every time the rabbis apply the law to changing circumstance, suggest new insight into an age-old text or enact new legislation to protect the community, we participate in Revelation. When concerns ranging from in vitro fertilization to stem cell research to the definition of death and its impact on organ donation are actively addressed and debated within Jewish law, Matan Torah unfolds.

Let me begin by pointing out that Gd’s act of creation itself is ongoing, as we say in the liturgy, “He renews in His goodness every day the act of creation.” Gd is transcendental to space and time, so it would make sense that any process that goes on within Gd’s own nature would also not be bound by time (or space). This appears to comport well with the Big Bang theory (the theory itself, not the TV show), which describes the universe as having come out of a singularity, or point, that is transcendental to space and time. In other words, the Big Bang was not an explosion that took place at a certain point in space and time. Rather space and time began unfolding from this singularity in some way that physics does not understand (and may be unable to understand), but the whole process involves the creation of time itself from something timeless, and therefore we might consider the process to be eternal.

I want to look at this from another angle, as it will give us some insight into what “Torah study” means, in my opinion. Last week we saw how R. Sacks describes creation as an act of Gd’s love. Gd assumes the role of Lover (subject) and Beloved (object), and it is the dynamic tension between these two roles from which creation arises. Now our esoteric tradition tells us that everything in creation has a vibratory value (this too comports very well with the findings of modern physics, which describes everything as a complex pattern of vibration of one Unified Field). All these different vibratory values can actually be captured in the sounds, the grammar, syntax and semantics of the Hebrew language. So apparently this virtual duality (Lover/Beloved, Seer/Seen, Subject/Object) within Gd gives rise to these vibratory patterns. And these patterns exist on a level that transcends space and time.

We spoke several weeks ago about a remarkable statement in Rashi to Numbers 7:89. Commenting on an unusual vocalization in the word “He spoke,” Rashi says that the verb is actually reflexive, and that Gd was speaking to Himself, and Moshe Rabbeinu was just “overhearing.” Putting this all together, here is the way I see the picture: There is an eternal vibration within Gd’s nature that contains within it the entire structure of creation. This is the essence of Torah. Someone with a refined enough consciousness, like Moshe Rabbeinu, can “overhear” these sounds. This is the way Moshe Rabbeinu “learned Torah” from Hashem. Since Gd transcends time, this vibration is always there, continuously, waiting, as it were, for someone on an exalted enough level to pick up on it.

We are commanded to learn Torah day and night, continuously. The commentators all temporize on this commandment, because obviously we have to eat and drink and sleep, and most of us have to make a living as well. So it can’t really mean continuously. But if learning Torah means having one’s awareness at this supreme level of direct cognition on the transcendental level, then it is certainly possible to “learn Torah” continuously – in fact, we do that automatically! Everywhere we look, everywhere we turn, there is nothing but Gd and His Torah. We just have to listen carefully.

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Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Emor
“Emor” means “speak”: Gd commands Moses to speak to the sons of Aaron and to Aaron, Gd’s Voice speaking through an individual to a group, just as each Sound of Torah is an Individual Sound vibrating within the Whole, which is Gd. Repeatedly in Torah Gd has said “Be thou holy for I am Holy”. In this parshah, we see Gd’s commands about the nature of Holiness, purity. And “speech” is Speech, Gd’s Speech, when it is pure.

The overall context of Emor is that it is a parshah in “Torah”, a Vibration of Gd, the Liveliness of Gd, Gd Speaking within Gd to Gd.

Since Gd has no beginning or end, “Beresheit Bara Elohim”, the first words of Torah, cannot be “In the beginning, Gd created”, but “in the beginning of Gd’s revealing”, the beginning and the revealing to be found in every point of Gd, everywhere in Gd’s Speech. This means that Gd plays hide-and-seek within Gd — the unlimited, omniscient, pretends to be limited and a seeker of knowledge, of wisdom. To this role of Gd, Gd reveals the Nature of the process through which Gd appears to be void and then within the void, Gd reveals the range from apparent emptiness to Fullness, a ladder in time, a sequence which is a cycle through which we find the emptiness within the detail and the detail within the emptiness.

This description shows us how each action of ours begins from silence of our awareness, to more and more concrete and wide-ranging manifestations, how a desire of ours proceeds to become more concrete and fully realized.
Parshat Emor, “speak,” shows four groups of commands that reveal the detail within the word “speak.”  It continues the Book of Leviticus: “Leviticus” derives from “Levi”, attached, pledged — to Gd. This is specifically referring to the Levis, the priests, who attached and pledged themselves to Gd during their service when the Mishkan and the Temples stood.

At any time, and certainly today, whether we are Levis or not, we pledge and attach ourselves to Gd, not only through our daily prayers, but ideally through what we learned (and continue) to learn through our religion, but certainly through any innocent prayer for Gd to reveal to us Gd’s Will and give us the purity to do It. And also through any innocent action, kind and loving action, that we feel is in the direction of attaching ourselves to Gd. Something simple like helping a friend, a family member, or a stranger; something complex like doing a large project for an international organization or business that we feel is helping our world to become more pure.

Prayer includes the innocent action to do something that seems to be not just for our individual self but for the community, for the Harmony of Life.
The commands in Parashat Emor can be divided into four sections:

1. The commands about purity of the Kohens, the priests who are direct descendants of Aaron, himself of the tribe of Levi.

2. Establishing Festivals and the Sabbath — times when there are special rules to be pure and celebrate purity

3. Lighting the menorah — light that symbolizes the victory of purity over impurity.

4. Penalties for blasphemy, murder, destruction of property — very clear descriptions of actions to avoid so that we remain pure, grow in purity, and do not suffer.

In the beginning of Parashat Emor, we see Gd, Who is Holy, Speaking to Moses, an open channel for his speech and a good example of being holy as Gd is Holy.

In the conclusion of the parshah, we see the consequences of blasphemous speech, speech which moves away from Holiness rather than toward it. The penalty was stoning to death. This is certainly not the penalty today but the penalty at any time is that with blasphemous speech our nerves and heart become hard, like stone, and little by little, if we do not return to purity, we stone ourselves to a joyless life, to suffering, to death of our spirit, and eventually, to death of our bodies. This is a very good reason to speak in praise of Gd and to speak encouragingly to all, encouraging all to act purely so they return to Wholeness.

Parshat Emor is good to read aloud or silently, to listen to, to act on so that we continue to speak holiness and to act in holiness.

Baruch HaShem