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Parashat Emor 5777 — 05/13/2017

Parashat Emor 5777 — 05/13/2017

Vayikra 21:1-24:23
Parashat Emor is one of two parshiyot where the Festivals are listed and explained. (The other is Pinchas, in Sefer Bamidbar, and this list includes the special sacrifices for each day.  The readings for the maftir and the mussaf Amidah for the festivals come from Parashat Pinchas.) In both cases, Shabbat is mentioned first:

For six days labor may be done, but the seventh day is a day of complete rest, a holy convocation – no labor may be done – it is a Shabbat to Hashem in all your dwellings (23:3).

Ramchal lists some of the differences between Shabbat and the Festivals.  For the festivals, although there is a prohibition against working, it is not quite so stringent, and the language used to describe the prohibitions reflects this.  Whereas for the Shabbat it says, “… you shall do no labor …” (kol m’lachah lo ta’asu), on the festivals it says, “… you shall do no servile labor … ” (kol m’lechet avodah lo ta’asu).  In practice this difference translates into permission to do work for the purpose of food preparation, with some restrictions. In addition, Shabbat is called “holy” / kadosh, while the Festivals are called “appointed for holiness” / mikra’ei kodesh.  The Shabbat is sanctified by Gd – it comes every seven days like clockwork every week.  The dates of the Festivals, on the other hand, depend on the declaration of the New Moon, and that is given to human beings (in the form of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem) to determine – even now that we have a fixed calendar, that calendar itself was determined by a Rabbinical Court many centuries ago.  In fact, the commandment of Shabbat is equated to all of the commandments of the Torah – it is that fundamental to our lives as Jews.

Ramchal continues:

On a deeper level, the sanctity of Shabbat stems from the spiritual influence descending to the world from the level of kodesh, while the spiritual influence associated with the festivals descends from one level lower referred to as mikra’ei kodesh.  On Shabbat, Israel is elevated to the level of kodesh entirely, whereas on the festivals they are only partially elevated.

Therefore Shabbat is absolutely distinguished from the 6 days of the week, while the Festivals are only partially distinguished, as can be seen from the restrictions on doing work, full or only partial.

Ramchal then asks why Shabbat comes only once a week?  He answers that Gd requires a balance between human and Divine input into the world.  For six days we have to deal with the challenges the physical world provides, and on Shabbat Gd provides us with rest – even those being purified in Gehinnom are given a respite on Shabbat!  This of course begs the question why it is necessary for us to spend the great bulk of our time wrestling with physical, and perhaps more importantly, moral challenges.  Why could we not be born perfect?

One answer our Sages give to this question is that it allows us to earn our reward of closeness to Gd, rather than having it just granted to us gratis.  Shabbat is said to be 1/60 of the World to Come, so it is part of our reward given to us in this world.  The trick is, we have to observe Shabbat in order to take advantage of this reward.  If we don’t make Shabbat special, well then, it won’t be special for us, no matter how sanctified it is in its essence.

I think we can consider another reason why Shabbat comes after the 6 days of creation.  We generally think of rest as a preparation for activity, although it can certainly also be nice to step back after having accomplished something good and take a deep breath.  If we look more closely, we see that there are different qualities of rest.  The lowest quality of rest is what we experience in deep sleep – it is total inertia.  We sleep like a log, a totally passive state.  It’s like an arrow sitting in its quiver – inert, with no potential to fly to the target.

There is a more profound level of “rest.”  We learn from Scripture that creation emanates from Gd.  This is called creatio ex nihilo, or “something from nothing” (yesh mei’ayin).  What this means is that from the level of the Unity of Gd, which is beyond time, space and change, all of the changing forms and phenomena arise.  Indeed, I heard a lecture where the Rabbi opined that this creation should be called “nothing from something,” for the creation, which is always changing and ephemeral (“nothing”) comes from Gd, Who is infinite and eternal (“Something!”).  Now Gd is unchanging, unmoving.  This is a very profound level of silence indeed, but it is unlike deep sleep in that it is inherently infinitely dynamic – all of the dynamic activity of the creation is within it and comes out of it.  This kind of silence is potentially dynamic, like an arrow drawn back on the bow, waiting to be released to fly forward.

But Shabbat comes at the end of the cycle of creation.  When Shabbat comes, we are supposed to view all our work as having been completed, the way Gd viewed the entire process of creation of the universe as having been created at the onset of the first Shabbat – and He evaluated it as “very good.”  The course of creation and evolution is towards structures that display ever more fully the infinite intelligence and orderliness of the creation.  Thus, we have a kind of circular process, where the original undifferentiated Unity appears to differentiate into diversity, and then that diversity, which has, up till now, cloaked the Unity, becomes a perfect reflector of the original Unity – all diversity is seen as nothing other than Unity, rising in waves.  I think this is the goal of the whole process – an integration of Silence and Activity, of Unity and Diversity, and I think further that this is the ultimate significance of Shabbat.



Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parshat 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 — to me — 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” becomes Speech, Gd’s Speech when it is pure.

The overall context of Emor is that it is a parshah in “Torah” I take to be the vibration of Gd, the liveliness of Gd, Gd Speaking within Gd to Gd.

Beresheit Bara Elohim”, the first words of Torah, I take to be not “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.

Parshah Emor specifically continues the Book of Leviticus: “Leviticus” derives from “Levi”, attached, pledged — to Gd. This is specifically referring to the Levites, the priests, who attached and pledged themselves to Gd during their service when the Mishkan and the Temples stood. Today, we all do service through our daily prayers, 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 that we feel is in the direction of attaching ourself to Gd. Something simple like helping a friend or a stranger; something complex like doing a large project for an international organization or business. It is 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 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 blashemy, 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 Parshat 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. I

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 can be (I think it is) that with blasphemous speech our nerves 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, death of our bodies.

Parshah Emor is a good parshah 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

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