Torah Weekly

For the week ending 10 May 2003 / 8 Iyyar 5763

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 even of 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.


On His Majestys Service

"You shall not desecrate My holy Name; rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Yisrael." (22:32)

I just got back from renting a car. As usual, it proved to be a trying experience. I always assume that renting a car takes about 20 minutes, and so I failed to budget for the one-hour-plus that it actually took. Having made prior and important commitments, I didnt have this extra time to spare. So the net result was that I started to get impatient with the guy behind the counter.

He looked up at me with a look that seemed well-used. It was his heres-another-ultra-Orthodox-getting-impatient look. Now G-d forbid to tar all those who wear black hats with my own inadequacies, but it dawned on me that the average non-religious Israeli expects something more from the religious, and often gets something less. Hence "the look".

There is little doubt that the recent political success in Israel of those elements who wish to uproot and destroy Torah in the Land of Israel is based on a deep and implacable loathing to everything the Torah and its adherents stand for. However, there is a larger, probably overwhelmingly larger group who bears no inherent enmity to the Torah, but is dragged along by the rhetoric of contempt.


Someone once said "Dont judge Judaism by Jews." Unfortunately, thats exactly what happens. The Torah isnt judged by the Reb Moshes and the Reb Shlomo Zalmans of this world. It is judged by the sum of each and every secular persons encounter with someone religious.

They expect a higher standard from us - and they are right to. We claim that the Torah should make us better people. If we cant show this to people in our everyday lives, then a large proportion of the Israeli electorate will continue to swallow the lies of our detractors.

My rabbi once told me this story: Many years ago, he came upon a street-cleaner. In one hand was a broom with which he was sweeping the street, in the other, a small transistor radio that was blasting out a tune. (No doubt the precursor of the Shechuna-blaster.) My rabbi said to him "Thank you for bringing happinesss into our neighborhood." The street-cleaner looked at my rabbi with a deeply puzzled look. He then turned off the radio and with great seriousness said to him "If more religious people were like you, there would be no problems in this country."

Every Jew who wears a hat, or a kippa or a headscarf of a sheitel, is like it or not an ambassador. When we get on the bus and say "Good Morning!" to the bus driver; when we get up for and older person on the bus; when we wave thank you to someone who lets us in front of him in the traffic we are sanctifying the Name of G-d.

Its not enough that "You shall not desecrate My holy Name." It is also crucial that "I should be sanctified among the Children of Yisrael."

It is our job to go out of our way to show that we are all On His Majestys Service.

Bored With Breathing

"And you will bring a new mincha offering (meal offering) to G-d." (23:16)

Are you 'burned out'?

You seem to hear that phrase a lot these days. I'm 'burned out' from this; I'm 'burned out' from that; I'm bored with this; It's just lost its excitement for me.

Why do people 'burn out'?

Take two people working hard. One self-employed, the other working for a salary. There's a big difference between them. Someone who works for a salary has no particular interest in the company, except that it provides him with a living. And his apathy only increases if the company doesn't do well and there is no bonus to look forward to.

Someone who is self-employed, on the other hand, puts his very soul into his work. He is the company. He enjoys the moments of triumph and he grieves over the disasters, but bored and burned out? Never.

Unlike the salaried employee whose remuneration is fixed from the beginning with only limited scope for profit participation, the self-employed person knows that the sky's the limit. The company's success is his success.

When we learn Torah we should think of it like it was our own business. In your own business, if things aren't going right, who is there to put them right? Only yourself. If it takes extra time at the office, we would certainly, and gladly, put in the extra hours.

When we sit down to learn, do we mentally 'punch in'? Are we waiting for the next coffee break? For the check at the end of the month? Or do we feel the exuberance and challenge of our learning as though it was our own business?

How does the Torah refer to the monumental event of its being given at Sinai?

"And you will bring a new mincha offering to G-d."

Why is the reference so oblique? It's true that at the festival of Shavuot there is a command to bring a new mincha offering to G-d. But is that the most conspicuous aspect of Shavuot? How about the giving of the Torah? Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to spell out that on this day the Torah was given at Sinai? And yet it is with these few covert words that the Torah hints to the central event of Judaism.


The Torah doesn't specify the date of its giving because it doesn't want us to feel that it was given as a 'one-off' event. Rather, it wants us to feel like it's being given to us every day, and for us to receive it every day as though we were hearing it for the first time at Sinai.

The Torah is our life's breath. Even though a person breathes millions of times in the course of his life, does anyone get tired of breathing? Why not? Because we understand that our life depends on breathing, it's not a subject for boredom. Boredom can only set in when a person sees something as optional. Breathing isn't optional; it's obligatory.

This is the way we should feel about the Torah, for it is our life and the length of our days.

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