Parashat Emor

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Parashat Emor

Vayikra - Leviticus Chapters 21 to and Including 24

With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

This week’s Torah portion contains details about the priests. There were of course extra requirements to serve as a priest. It was not only a matter of birth. For example:

“And spoke unto Moshe, saying: Speak unto Acharon - Aaron, saying: Whosoever he be of thy seed throughout their generations that hath a blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his Elohim. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that anything maimed, or anything too long, or a man that is broken-footed, or broken-handed, or crook-backed … or that hath his eye overspread” Vayikra - Leviticus 21:16-20 (JPS version of the Torah).

This appears objectionable. Of course in the Synagogue we would also welcome the disabled, who are able up to the Bima. I believe all should have a Bar Mitzvah. Jewish law suggests that only those who have the requisite understanding can recite the Prayers or read from the Torah. Therefore someone who is mentally incapacitated is prevented from the rituals.  But I believe we make sure that every child has the opportunity even with assistance or they are Jews! I feel that even an autistic child should have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah and the Bima should be open to all, for it is not the “Temple” - “Beit HaMikdash”.

I certainly do not disagree with the Torah’s restrictions for there are good reasons when it comes in sacred services.

But again, if we look not at the specifics of the list perhaps we can uncover meaning for ourselves. I believe that we should expect far more from our leaders, for our leaders should live according to more stringent standards. While they may not shave their beards, we should mind very much if we find them drinking and partying long into the night and behaving, rather poorly to say the least. Those who have extra responsibilities must live according to more exacting standards. That is the point of the Torah’s restrictions. For the ancients the priest in those days was as important to the people as a top surgeon is in our own age. Extra responsibilities means extra standards and that is the message in a nutshell.

This is why we should expect more from our politicians and expect them to live by higher standards. Although, I am not surprised when powerful people go astray, we need only think of those indiscretions that take place in high places to illustrate this point. Or we can look at King Dovid’s sinful behaviour at a time, for an example. The written disappointment in David should mirror our own. Just because we are not surprised by such behaviour does not mean that it is permissible. More responsibility means more standards. I repeat, that is the message.

It is why I also expect more of our country than of other countries. The mission of our land is not just to protect us, its citizenry, but also to rescue those in distress; and to aid the world. I came out of the Holocaust and the lesson that we must have learned from our suffering is to reach out to those who are now suffering; and we simply cannot and we must not remain indifferent.

This is also why even though I am bothered when others, most newspapers’ columnists, hold Israel to a completely different standard than every other country in the world; I remind myself that Israel should be held to a different standard as well. If it sees itself as a leader of the Jewish people, as representative of the Jewish people worldwide, then it has responsibilities that transcend its protection of its citizens. Both Israel and we argue that their meaning extends beyond their borders. If we see ourselves as having more expansive responsibilities then we must live by more demanding standards.

That is the message of these lists regarding the restrictions with the priests and the countries we live in. But it is not just about our country, but also about our leaders. The truth is, it is actually about all of us. When Elohim, blessed be He, first spoke to the Israelites at Sinai, He said that our people were to be;

“Ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” Shemot - Exodus 19:6 (JPS).

Back to Emor we read in Vayikra - Leviticus chapter 22;

“And ye shall keep My commandments, and do them: I am . And ye shall not profane My Holy Name; but I will be hallowed among the Children of Israel: I am who hallow you that brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your Elohim: I am Vayikra - Leviticus 22:31-33 (JPS).

What does all this really mean for us? We are Jews, and therefore we are obliged that every one of us must work to live by these standards and do so by the best of our abilities. OK, we are not perfect, but that does not mean we cannot work harder to become closer with our beloved Creator and do His will!

The lesson really is that every single one of us must try and live by higher standards and we must live by more exacting structures in our lives. For our everyday moral choices really do matter.

For we never really know who might be watching and who might be following us. Each and every day every one of us is a leader. We never know if our lives might depend on it. We never know, the world could very well depend on us. Everything could really depend on each of us living by these exacting standards. We are called to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” thus somehow we are here to set a standard to the world, are you up to that?

That has been this week’s message. Let’s step up and not shy away from these exacting standards, let’s be a little more demanding and live by more stringent ideals day by day!

Shabbat Shalom.



For those who have a yearning to learn more about the Torah and grow in being a good and faithful Jew, there are many valuable studies on Hebraic Studies enter the index below. If you have any questions you are welcome to email me.

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Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

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