Torah Weekly

For the week ending 13 May 2017 / 17 Iyyar 5777

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 thekohanim. 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.


How Do You Spell “Shabbat”?

“These are the appointed festivals of G-d, the holy convocations, which you shall designate in their appropriate times.” (23:4)

A true story.

The scene: Shabbat at a well-known Jewish outreach organization’s outpost in Cyprus. Every Shabbat in the summer months, hundreds of secular Jewish youth flock to experience what may be for them their first-ever taste of Shabbat.

Young student to the Rebbetzin: “Can you give me the code for the wi-fi?”

Rebetzin reprovingly and a little shocked: “It’s Shabbat!”

Student to Rebetzin: “How do you spell that…?”

The four sons at the Seder represent four generations of Jews. If the father doesn’t teach the wise son the minutiae of halacha and its underpinning beauty and meaning, down to the smallest law that one may not eat after the afikoman, then the next generation will be the Rasha (the evil son) who sees no spirituality in Judaism, just labor. “What is this work to you?”

And although the Rasha has some connection, albeit negative, to Judaism, hisson is a simpleton (in a Jewish sense). A Tam. All he remembers is a grandfather with a white beard and a yarmulke who sat him on his lap. All he can say is, “What is this?”

However, the next generation has no memory of a frum zeide. The connection of the fourth generation to Judaism is only the second-hand stories of his father’s memories. He has no idea what to ask. He is the Eino yode’a l’ishol. One who doesn’t even know enough to ask.

Notice there is no fifth son at the Seder.

Cultural memories last for four generation and that’s it.

And yet all is not lost. Something deep in the sense memory, deep in the soul still calls:

“These are the appointed festivals of G-d, the holy convocations, which you shall designate in their appropriate times.”

The root of the word “convocation” is the same as the word “vocal.” They call to us. The festivals have a power to call us to holiness whatever the distance.

Similarly, three lines later the Torah says, “… a holy convocation for you…” Every festival has two parts, the “l’Hashem” part —the prayers and the learning part — the so-called spiritual part; and “l’chem” part – the “for you” part — the physical enjoyment of fine food and drink. The power of the festival convocation, the l’Hashem part “calls” even the “l’chem” part to holiness.

Even if the fifth son’s relationship to Shabbat is the code word for the wi-fi, holiness is still vocal; it is still calling to him.

  • Sources: based on the Chidushei HaRim as seen in Iturei Torah

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