Torah Weekly

For the week ending 9 May 2009 / 14 Iyyar 5769

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 (High Priest) may not attend the funeral of even his closest relatives. Certain marital restrictions are placed on thekohanim. The nation is required to honor the kohanim. The physical irregularities that invalidate a kohen from serving in the Temple are listed. Terumah, a produce tithe 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 G-d 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 omerof barley is offered in the Temple. The Parsha explains the laws of preparing the oil for the menorah and baking the lechem hapanim in the Temple. A man blasphemes G-d and is executed as prescribed in the Torah.


It’s NOT Hard To Be A Jew

“Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and tell them…” (21:1)

In some ways it's never been easier to keep the Torah.

Kosher food is available from Canada to Katmandu. (Mind you I once found myself on a train out of darkest Bristol in Britain having eaten nothing but Pringles for two days.)

The cheapest boxed set of arba minim for Succot that you can pick up in a Jerusalem shuk today would probably have been prized by the greatest Rabbis in Europe a hundred years ago.

Virtually every Orthodox Jewish home has a Kiddush cup that would dwarf the one used by the Chafetz Chaim.

The “gashmiut of ruchniut” — the physicality of spirituality — has never been easier.

What's more difficult is the ruchniut of ruchniut – the spirituality­ of spirituality.

Not more than two generations ago Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zatzal, said it took only four words to “kill” a generation of Jews. Those four words were, “Shver tzuzein a Yid.” “It’s hard to be a Jew.” The trials of keeping the faith as an immigrant in early twentieth-century America proved overwhelming to many.

The Kohanim are the leaders of the Jewish People.

The currency of leadership is inspiration.

You cannot lead by telling people that their lives are going to consist of perpetual drudgery. If you do that they will vote with their feet in droves.

The beginning of this week’s Torah portion contains a seeming redundancy: “Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and tell them…” If Moshe has to “say” something to the Kohanim, why does he also need to “tell” them?

The word “to say” — l'hagid — implies tough talk. No-nonsense communication. Words as tough as sinews. “To tell” — l’amor — is the soft speech of feeling. Words of gentleness.

The repetition of the two words is to stress to the Kohanim that in order to bring the people close to Torah they must express eternal laws, which are as immutable as stone in such a way that the ear of the people can grasp their beauty and excitement and relevance.

That it’s not hard to be a Jew.

  • Sources: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe as heard from Rabbi C. Z. Senter

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