Torah Weekly

For the week ending 6 May 2023 / 15 Iyar 5783

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 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.


Turning a Blind Ayin Hara

“No layman shall eat of the holy...” (22:10)

Why does the Torah refer to Terumah – the priestly gifts - as ‘the holy’? Why not call it by its more common name, ‘teruma’?

Nothing is more holy than giving. When a person is a giver, he becomes like Hashem. Of course, Hashem is the ultimate giver because there’s nothing that we can give to Him. He already has everything. But in our own way, what makes us holy is to be, as much as we can, like Him.

But being a giver also provides greatest protection from an extremely destructive force that exists in the world. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 107a) says that Rav once visited a cemetery. After leaving the cemetery, he said, “Of the 100 people buried here, only one died of natural causes. The other 99 died of Ayin Hara (The Evil Eye).”

The Torah and Chazal are replete with references to Ayin Hara: Sara put an ayin hara on Yishmael (Rashi on Bereshet 21:14), which gave him a fever and he couldn’t walk. The Midrash Rabbah says that Sarah caused Hagar to have a miscarriage with Ayin Hara. Rashi says that Yaakov told his sons when they went down to Egypt to not all enter through the same gate, to avoid Ayin Hara.

One of the five possibilities of the derech ra’ah (bad path) that we should avoid is ayin harah (Pirkei Avot 2:14). Ayin Hara is also one of the things that remove us from the world (Pirkei Avot 2:16). The first set of luchot given to Moshe at Har Sinai were given with much publicity, which led to an ayin hara and destruction, while the second set, given more quietly, were able to last forever. The Torah said to give a half-shekel for the purposes of a census and to not count Jews directly to avoid an ayin hara. The Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim (241:6) says that brothers do not get consecutive aliyot to avoid ayin hara. In Baba Metziah, 107alef again, Rav Yehuda told Ravin not to buy property adjacent to the city because it would then be subject to an ayin hara that would be able to damage it. And on and on.

Yes. Ayin Hara is a reality and can be enormously destructive. But before you despair completely, there’s another Gemara that quotes Rabbi Yochanan as saying "I am a descendant of Yosef, over whom ayin hara has no power." Why were Yosef and his descendants protected from the Ayin Hara?

Jealousy causes ayin hara. So, someone who is self-evidently focused on the good of others, doesn’t provoke ayin hara. A person who is a giver and not a taker, in all of his dealings with the world, will not arouse any jealousy. This is why the descendants of Yosef are not susceptible to the ayin hara – because Yosef was so selfless. Yosef was the mashbir, the provider. Yosef’s sole intent was to provide for others, both the Jewish People and the Egyptians.

To the extent that our eyes are focused on others, the evil eye will not focus on us.

  • Thanks to Rabbi Asher Resnick

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