Torah Weekly

For the week ending 13 May 2006 / 15 Iyyar 5766

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.


In Gee-Dash-Dee, We Trust

“You shall convoke on this very day (the festival of Shavuot)... When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not remove completely the corners of your field…for the poor and the convert shall you leave them; I am Hashem your G-d.” (23:21-22)

The strength of the United States is based on the dollar – not on the dollar’s value, but what’s written on each and every dollar: “In G-d we trust.”

The history of the world echoes with inhuman acts perpetrated by governments to maintain their vise grip on power. The more repressive the regime, the more it espouses the ‘good of the people’ to justify its cruelty; in the name of freedom, of supporting the poor, of the equality of labor, etc., the most egregious crimes are carried out.

Bitter experience shows that a government that has no belief in a Divine Power will see itself as The divine power; that its own continuing hegemony is the raison d’etre of the world itself.

The enormous success of the United States, on the other hand, is not because of the mighty dollar, but because it acknowledges the Might that is written on the dollar. “In G-d we trust.”

As we approach the celebration of receiving the Torah at Shavuot, we might ponder what we are celebrating. Obviously, part of our celebration is that G-d revealed to us some of the mysteries of the universe. For example, without the Torah, we would never have known that strapping a black leather boxes to our forearm and our head brings an influx of spirituality to our bodies. Had the Torah not warned us that eating meat cooked with milk or cheese creates a mystical barrier that makes it very difficult to sense G-d’s presence in the world, we would have cheerfully lined up to buy Big Macs.

However, at Shavuot we are also celebrating that G-d commanded us to fulfill “logical” mitzvot as well, such as giving charity to the poor and having pity for the downtrodden. These are actions that all right thinking individuals espouse.

You shall convoke on this very day (the festival of Shavuot)...When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not remove completely the corners of your field…for the poor and the convert shall you leave them; I am Hashem your G-d.”

In this week’s portion, the Torah juxtaposes the mitzvah to observe the festival of Shavuot with that of obligatory gifts to the poor. Ostensibly, the two have little in common. However, the Torah is teaching us that for the “logical” mitzvot as well we should have tremendous thanks to G-d. Despite these commandments being self-evident, without a belief in a Divine Commander who legislates even the logical, man can easily descend to the level of an animal.

Very few things stand in the way of bald-faced ego and the lust for power. The most powerful of society’s checks and balances is the belief that all our actions are scrutinized and accountable. And the accountant is a Divine One.

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