Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 May 2024 / 10 Iyar 5784

Parshat Emor

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The kohanim are commanded to avoid contact with corpses in order to maintain a high standard of ritual purity. They may attend the funeral of only their seven closest relatives: father, mother, wife, son, daughter, brother, and unmarried sister. The Kohen Gadol may not attend the funeral even of his closest relatives. Certain marital restrictions are placed on the kohanim.

The nation is required to honor the kohanim. Physical irregularities that invalidate a kohen from serving in the Temple are listed. Terumah, a portion of the crop that is given to the kohanim, may be eaten only by kohanim and their household. An animal may be sacrificed in the Temple after it is eight days old and is free from any physical defects.

The nation is commanded to sanctify the Name of Hashem by insuring that their behavior is always exemplary and by being prepared to surrender their lives rather than murder, engage in licentious relations or worship idols.

The special characteristics of the holidays are described, and the nation is reminded not to do certain types of creative work during these holidays. New grain may not be eaten until the omer of barley is offered in the Temple. This Torah portion explains the laws of preparing the oil for the Menorah and baking the lechem hapanim in the Temple. A man blasphemes Hashem, and is executed as prescribed in the Torah.


Is There Anyone Else Up There?

“You shall not desecrate My holy Name; rather I should be sanctified among the children of Yisrael; I am Hashem, Who sanctifies you.” (22:32)

A reckless motorcyclist. A stormy night on a twisting mountain road. The rider takes a curve and finds himself face-to-face with a huge truck. He tries to slither to a halt but he and the bike go over the cliff. As he’s falling to his death, he sees a root sticking out of the side of the mountain. He grabs it and holds on for dear life. His cries pierce the sky: “If there’s Anyone up there, please, please save me!” From out of a flash of lightning and a peel of thunder, a Heavenly voice booms, “Let go of the branch and I will save you!” Says the rider, “Is there anyone else up there?”

It's easy to believe in Hashem when your life doesn’t depend on it. When it doesn’t ‘cost’ you anything. That’s the difference between emuna and bitachon. Emuna means faith, an intellectual understanding of Hashem’s existence. Bitachon means trust, putting your life on the line.

Belief is a slippery thing. People often think you either believe or you don’t believe. The truth is that a person’s emuna and bitachon constantly wax and wane. Emuna is a character trait, and just like any character trait, it requires constant work and attention.

For example, intellectually, a person would agree that being an angry person is a very bad thing, but that won’t stop him from being angry unless he works continually to reduce that natural tendency.

Similarly, a person could intellectually agree to the necessity of a Divine Being, without that affecting the way he lives his life. Or affect his trusting Hashem.

The last seven months have been an increasingly challenging opportunity for us to strengthen our bitachon in Hashem.

I just got back from London, where I spent some time with some less religious friends. They are faced with a dilemma: as liberal-leaning Anglo-Jews, they have long espoused the values of the Left wing, but they are now faced with the ugly fact that many, if not all, of the political figures that they support are either rabidly, or covertly, antisemitic. Whether they like it or not, they’ve been ‘outed’ as Jews.

Hashem is putting us to the test. And not just Jews whose contact with Judaism is at best, ‘match, hatch and dispatch.’ Also, the so-called religious part of the Jewish People must realize that the real war is being fought in our hearts, between the voice that believes and the voice that doubts. The voice that doubts tells us to scan the news for ‘good’ news. Did the Americans send the bombs in the end? The Israeli Eurovision entry got the second highest public score. The voice that believes puts down the newspaper, turns off the computer and picks up a Book of Psalms to say and pray.

Everything is really good news because, inexorably, Hashem is bringing redemption to Zion, and that should give us cause for great joy!

Oh, and by the way, there is no one else up there.

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