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Parashat 04/30/2010

Parashat Emor
submitted by Robert Rabinoff

Last week’s parashah emphasized our need to keep ourselves separate from the world, to be a transcendental people as it were.  In this week’s parashah there are three points that touch on another requirement of ours – the need for internal unity.  Let’s look at them one at a time.

In verse 22:25 we read:

From the hand of a non-Jew you shall not bring Gd’s offerings from any of these [blemished animals].

Rashi comments:

Regarding a non-Jew who brings an offering to the Kohen to offer it to Gd, you may not bring a blemished animal, even though it is not forbidden to a non-Jew to offer a blemished animal, as long as it is not missing an entire limb – but that [leniency] only applies to private altars, but on the Altar in the Temple one may not bring it. [Note that an olah / elevation-offering may be brought to the Temple by a non-Jew; our verse is just saying that it may not be blemished, just as a Jew’s offering may not be blemished.]

The Talmud relates a story in which this law plays a prominent part.  A man in Jerusalem was giving a party, and sent his servant to invite his friend Kamtza.  The servant accidentally conveys the invitation to another person, bar Kamtza, who happens to be the host’s enemy.  When the host sees bar Kamtza at the party he moves to throw him out.  Bar Kamtza asks the host to please not embarrass him, offers to pay not only for what he eats, but for the whole party!  Nonetheless he is unceremoniously shown the door.  Furious, he decides to exact his revenge on the religious leadership, who did not protest his embarrassment.  He goes to the Roman authorities and “informs” them that the Jews were plotting a revolt (again).  To “prove” it, he tells them to send an offering to the Temple and see what will happen.  They send an animal with bar Kamtza, who inflicts a blemish on it that renders it forbidden for offering in the Temple, even though to the Romans it is not considered a blemish.  When the offering is rejected tensions escalate and the Romans wind up destroying Jerusalem and the Temple.  Thus our Sages teach us that “baseless hatred was the cause of the destruction of the Temple.”

At the end of our Parashah we find the story of the blasphemer.  This person, son of a Jewish woman and an Egyptian man (the Midrash fills in the details) “goes out” into the camp and is fighting with a Jewish man.  In the course of the fight he curses Gd.  The Midrash also answers the obvious question: “What were they fighting about?”  The man is identified (in the Torah text) as the son of Shlomit bat Dibri of the tribe of Dan, and our Sages tell us that he wanted to be counted in the tribe of Dan.  The Danites argues that although he was certainly Jewish, as the religion follows the mother, he was not of the tribe of Dan, or of any tribe for that matter, as tribal affiliation follows the father.  If this seems strange, consider that there are certain genes on the Y chromosome (found only in males and passed from father to son) that are virtually unique to those who identify themselves as Kohanim, descended from Aharon.  In any event, the matter is taken to Moshe Rabbeinu’s court (i.e. the Supreme Court) and the judgment is in favor of the Danites.  Indeed converts and Jews with non-Jewish fathers do not belong to any of the twelve tribes; according the the great medieval Kabbalist the Ari (R. Yitzchak Luria, 1534-72, Tzefat/Safed) such individuals form a sort of “13th” tribe with their own special rôle to play in Israel’s historical mission.  Furious, this individual curses Gd and must be executed.  Besides re-emphasizing the need for separation (it was mixing that caused this man’s confused status), this incident teaches us that the Jewish people need unity in the midst of our diversity.  Every Jew has his or her place in the community of Israel, and his or her job to do to bring about Redemption.  It is up to each one of us to discover our unique place in the community and work together with the rest of the community in a harmonious whole

Finally, the commandment to take the four species (lulav and etrog) at Sukkot is found in this Parashah.  The Artscroll Chumash comments:

The Midrash finds many symbols in the commandment of the Four Species.  The two best known teach the importance of unity – unity of purpose within oneself, and unity of the Jewish people, as follows:

The esrog resembles the heart; the lulav (palm branch) the spine; the hadasim (myrtle leaves) the eyes; and the aravos (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 Gd.

The esrog (which has both a taste and a pleasant aroma) symbolizes one who possesses both scholarship and good deeds; the lulav (a branch of the date palm whose fruit has a taste but no aroma) symbolizes a scholar who is deficient in good deeds; the myrtle (which has no taste but does have an aroma) symbolizes a person who is deficient in Torah but possesses good deeds; and the willow (which lacks both) symbolizes a person who has neither.  The Four Species are held together because all sorts of people must be united in the community of Israel.

We often wonder why Israel and the Jewish people are constantly under attack.  The answer is depressingly obvious – when we are not given the opportunity to fight outside enemies we generally “fight amongst ourselves” (no, Mike Myers is not Jewish).  For millennia our leaders and Sages have decried the corrosive effect of machloket/argumentativeness on the nation, and have found in it the source of all our national disasters.  From the sale of Yosef by his brothers to the various revolts during the 40 years in the desert to the split between the Kingdoms of Yehudah and Israel in the years after King Solomon’s reign, to the factional fighting in Jerusalem during the Roman siege, through Talmudic and Gaonic periods, and right down to present-day politics in Israel, we find the fabric of our national life torn apart by infighting, much of it ostensibly in the name of Heaven.  If we are to survive we must examine ourselves very, very carefully before we take up the cudgels for any cause, no matter how pure it may seem.  There is nothing like a hidden agenda, be it social, “moral,” or economic, to pervert and corrupt one’s actions.

Ultimately, I think it is fair to say that all these hidden agendas hinge on the fact that we attach ourselves to the superficial, material creation.  We, who in our essential natures are infinite, a piece of Divinity, latch on to infinitesimal pieces of finite creation and commit horrible sins against both Gd and our fellows, should anyone appear to threaten us.  We need to return to who we are and let go of all the layers of what we are not.  When each of us embraces the essential unity that is at our basis, we will no longer have to worry about one another, and certainly we will no longer project enmity outside of our community.

Pirke Avot Chapter 4, Mishnah 28

R. Elazar HaKappar says: Jealousy, lust and [the pursuit of] honor remove a person from the world.

Jealousy is dealt with in the 10 Commandments – Thou shalt not covet.  This trait of jealousy/covetousness stems from a basic theological misunderstanding.  If we understood that everything we have comes directly from Gd and is designed to present us with the opportunity for maximum spiritual growth, it would be impossible to even entertain the desire for something that someone else has.  What he has is right for him and wrong for me – I should be running away from it like poison, rather than trying to get it away from him!  These character traits drag us away from our mission in life, and even become the means to cause others to get away from their mission.  In doing so they bring disaster to the individual and the community in this world, and cause us to lose our share in the World to Come, Gd forbid!