Torah Weekly

For the week ending 5 May 2018 / 20 Iyyar 5778

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 the kohanim. 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.


Put On Your Dancing Shoes

“And G-d said to Moshe, ‘Say to the Kohanim...’” (21:1)

Arguably, Fred Astaire was one the greatest dancers who ever lived. And what made him so great? He made it all look so easy, so effortless. While other dancers labored their way around the screen, Fred made it all look so simple. But behind that "effortlessness" were hours and hours of relentless hard work. As his coworkers testified, he was a perfectionist. Yet it never showed. It all looked so, so easy. A Jew is supposed to dance through life, not to labor with a heavy heart.

There once was a rich man who arrived at a hotel. He was given the penthouse suite and the clerk assured him that his luggage would be brought up presently. After an hour, and with still no sign of his cases, the rich man phoned down to the bell clerk. “But, sir,” came the reply, “We sent your bags up twenty minutes ago!” Just as the rich man was putting down the phone, there came a knock at the door. The rich man made his way over to the entrance to his suite and opened the door. There was a bell-hop who was turning various shades of puce from his exertions. Under both his arms were two large cases. “Here!”, he gasped, “are your cases, sir!” He then proceeded to sink to his knees from oxygen deprivation. The rich man, without batting an eyebrow said, “Take them back downstairs!”


“Take them back downstairs!”

“But I’ve just practically broken my back bringing them all the way up here!”

“Take them back downstairs! These are not my cases.”

“But you haven’t even looked at them!”

“I know they aren’t mine.”


“My cases are full of diamonds. Diamonds are very light. If you’re huffing and puffing, these can’t be my cases.”

There’s an old expression in Yiddish that translates as “It’s difficult to be a Jew.” This phrase was obviously coined by someone who was carrying the wrong cases.

“Its ways are ways of pleasantness”, says the Psalmist about the Torah. The Torah may be demanding, it may take a lot of hard work and practice, but the last thing it wants from us is to be a bunch of joyless “laborers”.

One of the hardest things for people who become religious is to add a little touch of “Fred Astaire” to their observance.

And sometimes this can lead to tragic results.

A ba’al teshuva wants nothing more than his progeny to be living exemplars of faith and halachic observance, and yet this dream often ends in heartbreak.

Ba’alei teshuva have little to hang on to except their enthusiasm and a lot of siyata d’Shmaya. If you stand over your children like a halachic KGB, how can you hope they will stand up to the blandishments of an increasingly hedonistic society? How can you imbue them with a love of Torah and mitzvot unless you dance with the Torah — and not just on Simchat Torah?

Whenever the Torah gives the instructions for a halacha, a Torah law, it always uses the expression of dibur — speak. Dibur is a strong word. It implies a certain toughness and implacability, as would befit the immutable Word of G-d. All halachot in the Five Books and also in the Book of Yehoshua are transmitted by using the words Vaydaber (“And He spoke”) or Daber (“Speak”). All, that is, except one.

In this week’s Torah portion we see that the instructions to the Kohanim, the Priests, were given over using the expressions “Vayomer” — “And He said” and “Emor” — “Say.” These are much softer and lighter expressions. Why the change?

Even though the work of the Kohen was extremely exacting and, in some cases, physically taxing, the Torah charges the Kohen to perform his tasks with lightness and ease. The Kohen was also responsible to teach the Jewish People. Here again, if they showed that their tasks were light and joyous for them, this would encourage the people. But if they made it all seem so difficult, who would want to follow their example?

In life you have to know how to “dance” a little — especially if you want others to dance with you.

  • Sources: The Dubner Magid, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in D’rash Moshe. Thanks to Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Senter.

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