Emor 5758

by Ami Schwab

As I sit and ponder what aspect of Parashat Emor to tackle for this D’var Torah, I am realizing how really hard it is to be a Jew. Huh? What does one have to do with the other? Well, as I read over the Parasha, it seemed to me that God expects a lot of us; and He does.

The Parasha starts out with laws of the Kohanim, the priests. They have many laws that only apply to them and they are expected to keep a higher standard than the rest of the Israelites. The Kohanim must remain pure and holy because they do the service of God. The Kohen Gadol, the high priest, has even more laws and restrictions than the regular Kohanim have. Any Kohen who has a physical imperfection may not officiate in the sacrificial service. (So what do these Kohen laws have to do with the rest of us? Keep reading and find out.)

Not only do the people offering the sacrifice, the Kohanim, have to be holy, pure and without blemish but so do the offerings themselves, the animals brought for the sacrifice. God also has many more laws concerning the quality of the sacrifices. Oh boy! God asks a lot from us. Who does He think He is? Does He think He is God or something?

So, what is the reason that God gives us for doing these things? “You shall observe My commandments and perform them; I am Hashem.” (Lev. 22:31) God is essentially saying that the reason for the commandments is because I said so. Many laws in Judaism have reasons given or the reason is implied for why we do them, but what it comes down to is that God commanded us and we must trust him.

How does this apply to us today? We do not offer sacrifices anymore. In the time the Torah was written and in the time of the two Temple periods, the accepted form of personally connecting with God was sacrifices. After the second Temple was destroyed, in place of the sacrifices the Rabbis of the time instituted a new form of connecting with God, which we call prayer. Prayer is a crucial part of Judaism. Our prayers are structured and set so that if we do not know what to say ourselves then the Rabbis have given us the words to talk to and reach God.

If the sacrifices in the time of the Torah and the two Temple periods had to be holy, pure and without blemish, than our prayer should likewise be holy, pure and without blemish. “You shall not desecrate My holy name, rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel; I am Hashem who sanctifies you.” (Lev. 22:32) It is our job to sanctify God through actions as well as through prayer because we have a covenant with God. He will stay with us and sanctify us if we follow Him. It is amazing that the Jewish people, even though we have gone through many hardships, has survived over three thousand years. Many times in history we have been taken “out of the land of Egypt” and saved from destruction. When we were in danger of extinction, we turned back to God in prayer for help. Now that we are not persecuted we are forgetting God and forgetting our covenant with him. We are not realizing that we are still facing extinction, but the extinction is a silent one. The number of Jews in the world is decreasing instead of increasing due to assimilation. We are not being oppressed by an outside source anymore, but no outside source really needs to oppress us. We are doing it ourselves.

We, like the Kohanim in the times of the Temples, are expected to be at a higher standard because of our covenant with God. We are a “Mamlechet Kohanim V’Am Kadosh,” a Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation. So these priestly laws do apply to us. It is up to us to sanctify Hashem “among the children of Israel” with prayer and action so that we may keep a place in the world for the “Mamlechet Kohanim V’Am Kadosh.”

Emor 5762

by Wendy Miller

A main topic that is discussed in Parshat Emor is the role of the priests, specifically the requirements of the priests, including who can and can’t make sacrifices. If the priests have any type of disability, then they are not allowed to perform the sacrifices. The Haftorah deals mainly with this topic.

Let me begin by stressing Judaism’s, and the Torah’s, view on the treatment and attitude of people with disabilities. In Vayikra Chap. 19, verse 14, it says: Lo- Tikalal heresh vileephnay evayr lo teetain meekshol vyaraytah me- elochecha ani Hashem. You shall not curse the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear the Lord Your God: I am the Lord. Basically what this is saying is that you need to respect the disabled and not ignore, or abuse them. Not for the reward, or because it’s nice, but because God said so. (Ani Hashem) It’s a rule you don’t question. Whenever you see Ani Hashem, you don’t argue, you just follow what God is telling you to do.

When discussing the disabled, the word normal comes up a lot. The term normal is not a correct term to use. For example, Isaac was blind, Moses was speech impaired, Jacob had a lame leg, and Leah had weak eyes. They were not what you would call “normal”.

Having summed up Jewish attitude and treatment of the disabled, I now turn to the role of people with disabilities within Halacha. Specifically how Halacha deals with deafness and blindness. For example, is the deaf person, the heresh, obligated to say the Sh’ma? The Sh’ma states HEAR O Israel the Lord our God, The Lord is one. The key word here is that makes this an issue is the word, Hear. In the Mishnah there is a disagreement over the validity of a deaf person reciting the Sh’ma: If one recites Sh’ma without hearing what he says, he has fulfilled his obligation. Rabbi Yossi disagrees. A long discussion follows where we find Rabbi Meyer countering the argument by quoting a later portion of the same paragraph which says “And the words shall be on your heart”. Therefore, according to Rabbi Meyer, the intention of the heart, and not the ability to hear establishes the validity of the Sh’ma. The Rabbinic view of the deaf is based on their ability to communicate and make themselves understood.

Now we turn to the blind, the suma, and the Halachic issues involved with the fulfillment of the Mitzvah “Kriat Torah,” reading torah. The key word here that makes this an issue is “Kriat,” reading. The rabbis of the Talmud established the following principle: The written Torah must not be recited by heart. The Talmud also says “A blind person may not read from the Torah because it is forbidden to read even one letter by heart.” However, a blind person may have an aliyah. This issue has not yet been resolved, but there have been changes made. In some synagogues, if there is someone who is blind and wants to fulfill “Kriat Torah” then the parson can chant, while someone follows along in the Torah with a Yad.

As you can see, it is an extremely complex situation regarding the disabled and Halacha. Parshat Emor discusses these views in terms of the priests, and those issues are still prevalent today.

Emor 5763

by Anna Hutt

Parshat Emor, the third to last parsha in the book of Vayikra, begins with a listing of special laws for the Kohanim, the priests of the Children of Israel, concerning limitations on marriage and requirements for offering sacrifices. Next, Hashem instructs Moses to address the entire nation of Israel and set out for them the holy times that He has sanctified: Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. The last part of Emor, which I found the most puzzling and interesting, deals with the topic of justice.

In chapter 24, verse 20, we encounter the famous line, “Shever tachat shever; ayin tachat ayin; shen tachat shen-A fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

I have heard this verse quoted many times before, and it has always struck me as such an extreme example of justice. In today’s society, do we live by this law? After all, if we really punished wrongdoers by inflicting the exact same crime upon them that they committed, wouldn’t we ourselves be criminals? (This is one of the main arguments used in debates on the morality of capital punishment.)

To relate the concept to a more common situation, say that an angry friend refuses to speak to you. If you decide to punish your friend by, equally, not speaking to him, it might make you feel better temporarily. But does it accomplish anything? More likely, it would throw you and your friend into a cycle of revenge.

While searching for commentary on this verse, I found one interpretation that satisfied my question. According to Bava Kamma 83b-84a, this verse is “perhaps the most misunderstood passage in the Torah.” (So apparently I fell into the same trap as many people.) This commentary says that the phrase was never meant literally. Instead, criminals were expected to make amends for their sins monetarily. For example, if a man killed an animal, his own animal would not be killed in restitution; rather, he would give the animal’s owner the amount of money that the dead animal would have brought in from the market. This interpretation consoled me; it seemed like a more reasonable form of justice.

Another twist I personally saw was the advantage of turning the law inside out. An injury for an injury…so why not an act of kindness for an act of kindness? Often I think we forget that justice isn’t only about punishing sinners-it is equally about rewarding those who make the world a better place.

To put the idea of positive justice together with the Bava Kamma interpretation of monetary justice, we arrive at what I felt was a perfect explanation for one of the cornerstones of our organization: SATO. Through conventions and chapter programs, fundraisers and community service events, we attempt to better our world through Tikkun Olam-raising money for tzedakah-and Social Action-making the world a better place by giving underprivileged members of our society the things that they lack and justly deserve. “An eye for an eye” doesn’t have to give us the image of a bloody, blinding battle of revenge. Instead, it is the image of what SATO and USY are all about-doing our part with both our money and our efforts to make the world a more just place.

Emor 5764

by Loen Peltz Amer

One of the things that impress me most about people is their ability to come together for hesed (goodness). Our lives are filled with the meanness, pettiness, and the bitterness of human interaction, often of such a huge scope that it baffles the mind. But however horrible we can be to each other as people, equally impressive are the great things we can do when we unite.

In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to bring oil to Aaron and the kohanim (priests) to use for the lighting of the menorah and other Temple lights: “Command the Israelite people to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly” (Lev. 24:2). The description of the required oil is very specific, as is typical of the materials needed for the mishkan (Tabernacle). The olive oil must be zach (clear), and katit (of beaten olives). Why are these additional requirements being placed on the oil that the people are commanded to bring? It’s as if when paying at Starbucks, only un-creased bills would be accepted.

The two requirements placed on the oil indicate two qualities of the light they will produce, which symbolize the community that has produced that light. If oil is katit, according to the great commentator Rashi, the olives used to produce it have been squeezed repeatedly, so that all that can be gotten from the olives has been removed, so when the olive is discarded, nothing is wasted. Light from oil katit will be stronger because the oil is thicker since more was pressed. Oil that is zach has had all possible impurities cleaned out. Flame from oil zach will burn brighter than regular oil, since there is nothing but oil to burn, no water or fat.

A nation that was able to produce “clear oil of beaten olives” together will be stronger and brighter than other groups of people. When the oil that all the Israelites all brought to the Temple together, the light that was produced must have been incredible.

Naturally, since this is a USY davar torah, this situation with the oil is analogous to USY. One can make one’s USY experience, as well as one’s olive oil, katit and zach. If you have gone to every possible USY event, come early, stayed late, lead services, acted for Israel, raised SATO money, and made great friends, then you have squeezed all you can out of USY, and the flame of your life will be stronger because of all that you have gained from the extra USY-love. If you have made your USY experience about the great friends, great learning, great ruach, and great opportunity, not what board position you had, then your USY experience was pure, and it will be clear in your mind as a great and important part of your life.

I’ll be leaving USY this weekend, officially discharged. I have no time left to improve my USY experience. I urge anyone who does to take USY and make it the katit-ist and zach-ist that you can. I know I will always regret events I missed and the dumb things I involved in my time here. However, with my fellow seniors I have done a pretty good job of the whole process. When we look at our combined experience, I know they were all pretty great. Together, we have made the whole greater than our individual streams of oil, creating a light bright enough to endure “for all time throughout the ages” (Lev. 24:4).

Emor 5769

by Tyler Dratch

May 9, 2009/15 Iyar, 5769

This week we continue in the book of Vayikra with Parsha Emor. The parsha talks about the Kohanim, descendents of Aaron, and the restrictions they have. The parsha also explains when certain holidays fall during the year. The first holiday that is explained is Shabbat followed by Pesach and the counting of the Omer. Later the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot are mentioned as well.

While it may not be the most important line of the parsha, one specific verse strikes me as a very important commandment. “When you reap the harvest of your land you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather gleanings of harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” (Leviticus 23:22). The purpose of this commandment is to leave food in your field for the poor. If a person was wondering through fields, he or she would know that there would be food for them. This idea is not only fulfilling the commandment of tzedakah, but also creates a kihilah kedosha, or holy community, where everyone is looking out for each other.

When Rambam listed his levels tzedakah, this practice would be towards the top. The person who is leaving food in their field does not know who will be taking the food. The giver is also never recognized publicly for their gift. This practice also shows hospitality to strangers among other things. The beautiful thing about the Jewish people is that we are all responsible for the well being of the community. Kol yisrael averim zeh bah zeh, all of Israel is responsible for each other. This concept is what has kept the Jewish people together and strong for so many years, and is the key valued expressed in this commandment.

Today, most of us are not farmers. I am lucky enough to live near a farm, but for many of us there may not be farms near our houses. This concept of leaving food in our fields for the poor is not relevant in our lives; however, we are not exempt from this commandment. There are other ways we can “leave food” in our fields for strangers. By donating money to the USY Tikun Olam Program, we are fulfilling the commandment. While our money is allocated very carefully by regional officers, each USYer does not know exactly to whom the money is going. Also, each individual USYer does not receive credit for donating to a certain charity. We are donating without ever knowing the receiver.

As we relax this Shabbat, I encourage you to think about how you can be a strong part of the sacred Jewish community. If it involves delivering Shabbat meals to families who can not afford them, or volunteering in the synagogue Hebrew school, you are participating in keeping the community strong. You are leaving the crops in your field for others, and this is a very honorable act of kindness. Shabbat Shalom!

Emor 5770

by Charlene Thrope

In this week’s parasha, Emor, is a detailed outline of the Jewish calendar. God instructs Moses, “And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering — the day after the sabbath — you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week — fifty days.” These words are said each night before we fulfill the mitzvah of counting the omer. As we count for 49 days, we mark the transition from the Exodus from Egypt on Pesach to the giving of the Torah on Shavuot.

Due to the death of hundreds of Rabbi Akiva’s students in the 2nd century, the omer has become a period of mourning. Weddings, haircuts, and shaving are all prohibited, with some exceptions. However, on Lag Ba’Omer, the 33rd day of the omer, the plague killing Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped, so we suspend our morning for one day and celebrate.

In addition to a period of mourning, the omer is an opportunity for spiritual growth. Each day of the omer is associated with two of seven s’firot, Kabbalistic aspects of emotion: chesed (kindness), g’vurah (discipline), tiferet (compassion), netzach (endurance), hod (humility), yesod (connection), and malchut (dignity). These small steps help us engage in a self-reflection process so that by the end of the seven weeks, we are ready to relive the revelation at Mount Sinai.

Aharey Mot 5762

by Adam Balachin

A look into the Parsha will let you see that Jews in the desert threw goats off of cliffs. Now you’re probably all snickering, and saying, “What’s this guy talking about? That’s too messy to be real!” Well here it is, USYers, straight from Vayikra ch. 16 vs. 7-10: Basically, Aaron is told to bring two male goats to the “Petach Ohel Moed,” or to the entrance of Tent of Meeting. Here he is to place lots on the two goats, “Goral echad lashem, v’goral echad l’azazel,” or one lot marked for Hashem and the other marked for Azazel. Aaron is to offer the goat designated for Hashem as a purification offering, while the poor other goat is led “l’azazel hamidbarah,” which can be translated as “to the wilderness for Azazel,” or in later interpretations, the goat was thrown off a cliff.

So this gooey mess is left for azazel, a demon. I don’t know about you, but I’m curious to know why this goat is thrown off a cliff for a demon. A midrash teaches that the goat is meant as a bribe to Azazel so that he will not testify to God against Israel, and used as a distraction so that Azazel will be kept away from his evil work.

But if we can’t accept this idea of a demon, than how can we understand this strange game of goat-shotput? If taken symbolically, the goat led off in the direction of the wilderness can represent “yetzer harah,” or our evil inclination.

I once learned from my rabbi that to be made in the “zelem elohim,” or in the image of God, is to have two basic parts. One part is the animal nature of the human being. It is the part that craves for physical pleasures. This is the part of us that can easily be lead away by lust or appetite. And by tossing a goat off of a cliff, these evil inclinations are in a way, thrown away.

This practice of the airborne goat is similar to the custom called tashlich, where Jews throw breadcrumbs into a river so that the hungry fish will eat our sins.It is the idea that words alone will not take away our inclination to do wrong. We feel that we must physically expell something from our possession.

So what about the other part of us, that is not always worrying about our evil inclination?

Hirsch interprets the case of the two goats as follows: “We can follow our sensual instincts into the wilderness, leading to self destruction, or we can sacrifice our instinctsto the service of God.” The part of humans that differentiates us from other animals is our ability to choose to do good in this world. It is the ability we have to focus on the goat designated for God, and bring God into this world through our t’shuvah and prayer.

We are confronted with many opportunities in our lives today. We have the opportunity to keep Shabbat, to keep Kashrut, to daven, to volunteer, to study Torah, the possibilities are endless. It really is a true test for all of us to see which goat we will end up following.

A little later in the parsha, ch. 18, vs. 5, the Children of Israel are given reason to keep God’s laws: “Ushmartem et chukotai v’et mishpatai asher ya’aseh otam ha’adam vachai bahem ani Hashem.” “You shall keep my laws and my rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live. I am the Lord.” What does it mean, “by the persuit of which man shall live?” Maimonides comments that it means that if one chooses to disregard the laws that are given to him or her, they are considered as dead. They do not seem to realize what it means to be truly alive.

So here we have it. Two distinct paths: One to a life as a Jew living in God’s world and one watching goats fall off of cliffs. Let’s take this opportunity to follow the right goat.

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