For the week ending 1 May 2021 / 19 Iyar 5781

Parashat 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. 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.


Comfort in Times of Loss

“He shall not come near any dead person; he shall not contaminate himself to his father and his mother.” (21:11)

Dealing with the passing away of someone we love is one of life's great challenges. Even someone of staunch faith can be challenged by the seeming finality of death. A frequently misunderstood concept in Judaism is tumah andtaharah— usually translated as “impurity” and “purity.” The word tumah – meaning impurity - is connected to the word "atum", which means sealed. The Jewish idea of impurity is something that seals us off from holiness. The Torah tells us that the greatest source of tumah is contact with a dead human body. Now we're not talking here about physical decay or disease. A dead human body is tameh – impure – even if moments before in life, it was physically healthy in every way. Why should it be that a cadaver is the greatest source of spiritual impurity? When life leaves the body, it seems like The End. We don't see the continuity of the life of the soul in the World of Souls and the eventual reuniting of body and soul in the World to Come. These are at best intellectual concepts to us. But do we see it? We don’t see it. The great barrier that separates us from those who pass beyond this world, this greatest “sealing off,” this feeling that after life there is nothing — is the greatest impurity that can be. In parshat Ha'azinu, G-d says,מָחַצְתִּי וַאֲנִי אֶרְפָּא — I struck down and I will heal. The word מָחַצְתִּיcan be read as mechitzat — My barrier —I will heal. This is G-d's promise that the doom of death is not eternal and this ultimate barrier to the life beyond will eventually fall.

The word taharah, purity,is related to the word for “shining” or “light.” The brightest part of the day, is called tzohoraim — noon. The most open part of the Altar in the Holy Temple was called the tohoro shel haMizbeach. Taharah is when the light of holiness reaches us. When Noach – Noah - built the Ark, God instructed him to put in a window — a tzohar. Tzohar comes from the same root as taharah. Just as a window lets light into a building, taharah lets holiness flood into our lives. We feel the eternity of the soul. The knowledge that death is only a temporary barrier is our greatest consolation in times of loss.

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