Torah Weekly

For the week ending 12 May 2012 / 19 Iyyar 5772

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 omer of 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.


The End of Rule Britannica

“Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon…”

I must admit to more than a tinge of nostalgia when I read of the recent demise of that great 244 year-old creaking behemoth, the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Actually Britannica will continue in its electronic version but its weighty printed tomes will no longer grace the walls of many a suburban home. Britannica really stopped publishing its print edition in 2010 when it only managed to sell 12,000 copies worldwide, a paltry number to justify its vast team of experts churning out articles.

And as far as its online future is concerned? I’m not convinced. There’s some hot competition out there.

Like Wikipedia.

Nowadays, people are far more likely to search Wikipedia than Britannica. One reason of course is because Wiki is free – and everyone likes free. However, there's another reason here.

Anyone can write an entry in Wikidpedia.

In our society the axiom that democracy is only legitimate form of social organization is virtually unchallengeable.

The idea of a benevolent dictatorship strikes most people as an impossible oxymoron.

Our mindset is that the will of the majority is the best, the fairest and the only way to run society, and this ideology seeps into other areas of life as well — including encyclopedias. Critics of Britannica claim that it suffers from the biases of the experts it employs. Wiki, however, suffers no less from its biases, both cultural and personal. The difference is really between quality and quantity. Do you want your information brought to you by a panel of experts in the field or a vast multitude whose credentials are unverified?

Presumably, the democratization of our lives has its limits: I’m not sure how many of us would submit to extensive invasive surgery based on a straw poll taken on Twitter, however gung-ho the yay-sayers might be.

The idea that if you ask enough people a question you’re bound to come up with the right answer is inimical to Torah thought. The spiritual Masters teach, “The opinion of the unlettered,” presumably the vast majority, “is the opposite of the Torah scholars.”

Rabbi Nota Schiller once observed, “The Torah is a democracy of opportunity and an aristocracy of opinion.” Anyone can open a Talmud and start to learn. However, for one’s opinion to be significant it must pass a self-policing system of peer approval that validates only the greatest and the most expert.

If you think about it, the Torah was not given as the “Ten Suggestions – Please twitter this to your friends and see what they think.” It was given as Ten Statements – Divine and immutable.

The priesthood too is a totally undemocratic exclusive club to which only birth gains you entry.

As it says in this week’s Torah Portion, “And G-d said to Moshe, ‘Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon.”

We know that the kohanim are the sons of Aharon without the Torah having to remind us. Why then does the Torah stress this?

Not everything in life is democratic: Someone with Eastern features cannot elect to be Caucasian, Women cannot decide to be men, and a Yisrael cannot decide to be a kohen. A kohen is imbued with an innate higher level of holiness merely because of his lineage, because he is a descendant of Aharon HaKohen.

Google me on that – you’ll see I’m right.

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