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Parashat Emor 5780 — 05/09/2020

Parashat Emor 5780 — 05/09/2020

Vayikra 21:1-24:23

If a Kohen’s daughter shall be married to a non-Kohen, she may not eat of the separated holies. A Kohen’s daughter who becomes a widow or a divorcée and has no offspring, she may return to her father’s home, as in her youth, she may eat from her father’s food. (22:12-13)

First, a couple of technical points. The passage is talking primarily about eating terumah, which is a tithe of about 2% of the produce that one harvests, that is set aside and must be given to a Kohen (the owner of the produce has the right to choose to which Kohen he will give the terumah). Terumah is considered sacred food and is forbidden to a non-Kohen. A Kohen (and his family) may only eat terumah if both they and the produce are in a state of ritual purity.

A daughter of a Kohen who marries a non-Kohen loses the right to eat terumah as long as she is connected to the non-Kohen, either by her ongoing marriage or by surviving offspring of the union. If she is separated from the non-Kohen by death or divorce and has no surviving offspring (even if she had offspring at one point, but they did not survive), she regains her Kohanic status and can once again eat terumah.

The reverse is true for the daughter of a non-Kohen who marries a Kohen. As long as she is connected to the Kohen by marriage or by surviving offspring, she has the right to eat terumah. If she is separated completely from the Kohen by death or divorce and has no surviving offspring, she reverts to her non-Kohanic status and loses the right to eat terumah.

Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? It is, and on the surface the halachah is pretty simple to understand, although there are subtleties that I’ve glossed over. However the surface is just the surface. Or haChaim goes much deeper.

I have seen fit to inspire people’s hearts by a great allusion hinted at in this passage. … [The Sages] said that Hashem created four worlds, each one higher than the next. They are encoded in the verse: All that is called by My Name, and it is for My glory that I created it, I formed it, and also made it (Yeshayah 43:7). For my glory alludes to the highest world, called Atzilut; I created it alludes to what is called the World of Beriyah (“creation”); I formed it alludes to the World of Yetzirah (“Formation”); I made it refers to the World of Asiyah (“Making”).
You should also know that the glory of [Hashem], blessed be He, fills each and every world, and even underneath the world … and the light of [Hashem] blessed be He, shines in the four worlds.

Artscroll translates Atzilut as “Emanation.” It also has the connotation of nobility and lordship. The root a-tz-l connotes closeness, so perhaps Atzilut is that first sprouting (emanation) from the infinite, the level of manifestation that is just on the border of the unmanifest. The other worlds are progressively more and more manifest. Thus the root b-r-a implies creation from nothing (Beriyah / creation) whereas the root y-tz-r connotes formation of already-existing substance into a specific form (Yetzirah / formation). The root a-s-h has the meaning “to make” or “to do,” and corresponds to action with already-existing things; think of yetzirah as forming a pot out of unshaped clay and asiyah as using the pot to cook with.

Note that Or haChaim says that Gd’s light fills all the worlds. Certainly it is more apparent the “closer” one gets to Gd – that is, the less manifest, more abstract levels reflects Gd’s light better, but there is no level that is devoid of Gdliness. In reality, Gd is all that there is, and all levels of manifestation are no more separate from Gd than a wave is separate from the ocean from which it rises.

Or haChaim goes on to correlate these 4 worlds with 4 levels of the human soul:

  • The lowest level of the soul, the nefesh correlates with Asiyah. The nefesh is that part of the soul that animates the body.
  • The next level, the ruach (“spirit”) correlates to Yetzirah
  • The neshamah correlates with Beriyah
  • The highest level of the individual soul, called the chayah (from the root meaning life) or the neshamah of the neshamah corresponds to the highest world, Atzilut

There actually is a fifth level of the soul that is sometimes discussed. It is called the Yechidah or Unity. I believe that this level is the universal aspect of our personality, which we experience when the mind settles down completely and experiences its own unbounded nature, devoid of any object of awareness. It is transcendental to the individual levels of the soul delineated above; perhaps it corresponds to Gd, Who transcends all the four worlds that He created.

Or haChaim goes on to describe the relationship between the various levels of the soul. The nefesh, or lowest level, is what binds the soul together with the body. The body is too crude and thick (and light-blocking) to be very compatible with the soul, yet the two must be bound together for the soul to do its work in refining the material world, as well as its work in refining itself by meeting the moral challenges of the physical world. The nefesh is the “crudest” part of the soul and therefore it serves as an intermediary between the body and the higher levels. In the same way, the ruach serves as an intermediary between the nefesh below it and the neshamah above it, and the neshamah serves as an intermediary between the ruach and the chayah or neshamah of the neshamah. Perhaps we can extend the reasoning and postulate that the chayah – the faint sprouting of individuality from universality, serves as the bridge between yechidah, the transcendental level of the soul, and the manifest levels below it.

When a person steeps himself in Torah and mitzvot, that is, bringing the awareness to the transcendental level where Torah is structured, and then coming out and performing action in accordance with the Divine Will to perfect the creation, he progressively elevates each level of the soul to a higher level, and at the same time purifies the body so that its functioning can sustain the higher levels of perception and awareness to which the soul is now exposed. Or haChaim describes this state as “send[ing] forth his hand and enjoy[ing his reward in the World to Come] like a person who is making use of his own [as opposed to a gift].” In other words, it is a reward earned by living an integrated life.

The opposite effect is created by neglecting our connection to the transcendent and focusing our attention on purely physical sensations, which are by nature ephemeral. In this case, the connection of the various levels of the soul to the higher levels is weakened, thereby impeding the flow of energy and intelligence from Gd. Life becomes a strain, and action veers off the correct path. The body begins to malfunction, and no longer even affords us the pleasures it previously craved. The answer to this situation is t’shuvah or return. This means turning within and returning to the source of our existence in the transcendent, which recreates the spiritual bridges between the different levels of the soul, and between the soul and the body.

Using this framework (which of course Or haChaim explains at much greater length and with much greater clarity), we can interpret our verse:

The passage begins by saying: Any outsider shall not eat of the holy. … [On the level of remez / hint this means] the hidden “holies” which is the spiritual bounty [that provides] sustenance to the children of Gd [RAR: i.e. “insiders” who experience the transcendent, as opposed to “outsiders” who only go for superficial values]. It then says, the toshav [RAR: “one who resides with”] of a Kohen or his hired hand shall not eat of the holy. This alludes to the ruach and the nefesh, for the ruach is the “toshav [RAR: taking the meaning from the root sh-v / to sit] of a Kohen,” meaning “the seat of the Kohen,” for the ruach is the seat [RAR: i.e. the basis and support] of the neshama, which is called a “Kohen” because [the neshamah] is the highest level [among the three lower parts of the soul, as the Kohen is above the Levi and the Yisrael]. And the hired hand is likewise the nefesh, for the nefesh is what activates all human endeavors. These two aspects of the soul, the verse tells us, are not worthy of benefiting from the sustenance called kodesh [“holy”], since kodesh is a high-level [spiritual force]. …

Continuing, Or haChaim interprets If a Kohen shall acquire a nefesh for money… Here the plain meaning is that if a Kohen acquires a Canaanite slave, the slave can eat terumah. On the remez level, the Kohen is the neshamah, which can “acquire” the nefesh (now meaning the lowest level of the soul, as above) by raising it to its own level by Torah and mitzvot. At this point, the nefesh can eat terumah; in other words, it has risen to the level where it can assimilate the pure, Divine bounty that sustains the neshamah.

If a Kohen’s daughter shall be married to an outsider, she may not eat of the separated holies. Or haChaim interprets:

It says, If a Kohen’s daughter: The verse speaks of a neshamah that was blemished and defiled through its deeds, that it will lose the benefit of [the Divine sustenance called] kodesh. Married to an outsider: i.e. the Satan, that it craved his delicacies and it strayed after him.

This neshamah, so far from raising up the lower levels of the soul, descends down to the lower levels. In such a case, the neshamah cannot be supported by the same degree or intensity of Divine effulgence, as long as it is bound to the lower levels of existence, particularly the material level. In addition, since the neshamah is no longer pure, but has an admixture of evil clinging to it because of the wrong action of that person, it would actually be dangerous.

I’ll leave the rest of the verse as an “exercise for the reader.” Or haChaim gives many additional details which I have left out (I’ve already gone way over the normal space). I suspect there are many more details that Or haChaim left out because they’re too esoteric to publish.

The theme running through all of these comments however is that the body / physical world is the farthest extension of the multilayered emanation of creation from Gd. Since nothing, ultimately, is separate from Gd, Gd’s Divine light penetrates all these layers of existence. It is as much present in the physical as it is in the celestial, but our perception is such that we do not perceive it as clearly in the physical. Bringing our awareness to the transcendent refines and purifies both our perception and our physical bodies, which support our perception, to the point where Gd’s light is truly perceived as all-pervasive, and our action, being in that light always, is completely in tune with Gd’s Will.

In fact, I think it is incorrect to imagine that the “4 worlds” are all in a different place or on different levels. In the same way that molecules and atoms and subatomic particles all are in the same place, and are just different ways of describing exactly the same physical world, so our whole conception of different levels of creation is nothing other than a construct of our minds that allows us to focus on one range of phenomena or another. The actual reality however is pure Wholeness of life, and it is our job to realize that in the life we live.

Pretty straightforward, isn’t it?


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 parashah, 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 with our becoming aware of the silence of our awareness, the Self-Referral level of our awareness, always fulfilled and unfolds more and more concrete and wide-ranging manifestations as increasing awareness of the gap between our Self-Referral level of awareness and our individual awareness produces a desire of ours perform actions that will narrow and eliminate the gap and restore our individual awareness to Self-Referral Awareness, Total Awareness.

Parashat Emor 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 Levites, 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 Levites or not, we pledge and attach ourselves to Gd, not only through our actions and 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 so that every action of ours is innocent, kind and loving narrows the gap between our small self and our Big Self and attaches ourself to Gd.

The essence of Gd’s Will is that we should “Love the Lord thy Gd with all thy heart, all thy soul and all thy might” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Gd may be a bit abstract but our neighbor is concretes and so 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 helps us move in the direction of loving Gd.

Prayer, the ideal speech, in Judaism is much more a recognition of the Blessedness, the Blissfulness of Gd, than it is a request for something. Our actions allow this Blessedness to increase in our awareness and flow through us when they are not just for our individual self but for the community, for the Harmony of Life.

The commands in Parshah Emor can be divided into four sections:

  1. The commands about purity of the Kohanim, 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, act with love and do not suffer or cause suffering.

In the beginning of Parashat Emor, we see Gd, Who is Holy, Speaking to Moses, an open channel for his speech and a good model for us to help us act so that we are holy as Gd is Holy.

In the conclusion of the parashah, 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.

This is a good parashah 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