Wednesday, May 25, 2022

At first blush, Parshat Emor’s organization seems odd. The mixture of topics seem unrelated. Emor begins with laws concerning those people for whom kohanim can and cannot mourn and can and cannot marry. The Torah then mentions physical disfigurations preventing kohanim from serving publicly, offers instructions concerning the sanctity of terumah, a law against korbanot with blemishes, and articulates the limit of the period during which a korban can be eaten. Following thereafter are descriptions of the chagim, mention of the Menorah and the Lechem HaPanim, and then the parsha culminates with the incident of the blasphemer. Yet, the parsha’s organization is actually quite logical once we view it through the prism of the haftarah.

The haftarah for Parshat Emor comes from Yechezkel (44:15-31). It describes laws pertaining to the kohanim during the time of the Third Beit Hamikdash. What is often noted about the haftarah is that the laws it relates seem at variance with the laws for kohanim set out in the Torah. For example, the haftarah relates restrictions regarding those whom ordinary kohanim may marry. Yet, according to the Torah, these restrictions are only applicable to the kohen gadol. Many explanations for this seeming deviation are offered. Radak’s explanation is that in the future we will act and exist on a more elevated level. Consequently, laws that were only applicable to the kohen gadol will in the future be applicable to, or adopted by, all kohanim. This can serve as a guide to our understanding of the parsha.

Last week’s parsha, Kedoshim, related laws intending to elevate the people of Israel as a whole. Parshat Emor now addresses the kohanim, explaining that they must exist on an even higher level of kedusha than their brethren. They are set apart not just from the rest of Bnei Yisrael, but they are set apart from the priesthoods of other nations. The priests of other nations at that time ministered primarily to the dead. Kohanim eschew the dead except for their closest relatives. Kohanim serve the Living God and His people. After these instructions, the parsha goes on to further detail the manner in which kohanim must be mindful of their elevated state even in their enjoyment of the benefits of office, such as eating from the korbanot and terumah. Emor then segues into areas that will assist the rest of Bnei Yisrael in raising themselves up in holiness.

After discussing the enjoyment of korbanot and terumah by kohanim, the parsha speaks of how Bnei Yisrael and non-Jews may only bring unblemished animals as korbanot. Concerning this prohibition, Rashi, on verse 25, notes that when offered on a private altar, a non-Jew could offer a blemished animal—but not when this is done in the Beit Hamikdash. In the Beit Hamikdash a higher level of holiness exists for all. At this point the parsha relates those times when Bnei Yisrael will journey to the Beit Hamikdash to observe the shalosh regalim and also the chagim. When Bnei Yisrael do this they will experience the awesome holiness of the Divine presence.

Yet the Divine need not be experienced solely in the precincts of the Beit Hamikdash. The Divine can be experienced by all of us who study the Torah. Indeed, Rambam in the Mishneh Torah, at the conclusion of Hilchot Shemitah V’Yovel (13:13), teaches that any person whose spirit compels him to set himself apart and serve and know Hashem can obtain holiness and raise himself to the level of the Levi’im. The Menorah stood as a symbol of Torah while opposite it was the Lechem Hapanim, which stood as a symbol of the Divinely provided sustenance. Each week a miracle occurred whereby the week-old bread that sat on the Golden Table in the Beit Hamikdash remained fresh and warm and delectable. This miracle sends a message to the nation that those who devoted themselves to Torah can expect Divine assistance for provisioning themselves and their families.

The foregoing explains the juxtaposition with the story of the blasphemer. The midrash teaches that this individual cursed Hashem after a ruling by the beit din. Although the blasphemer was Jewish, because his mother was from the tribe of Dan, his father was Egyptian. Because his father was not Jewish, the blasphemer lacked a tribal affiliation. It was ruled that he was not entitled to camp in the area of Dan and would not be allocated land in Israel. The miracle of the Lechem Hapanim should have taught this individual that a plot of land was not a prerequisite for Hashem to provide for him. Rather than trust in Hashem, this individual cursed Hashem. This also serves as a segue into next week’s parsha.

Next week, in Parshat Behar, we are told that on Har Sinai Hashem taught Moshe the laws of shemita. Shemitah appears in connection with Har Sinai because the Har Sinai revelation showed us Hashem’s power and provided a further basis for our faith. That faith can sustain us through the year of shemitah by recalling that, given Hashem’s power, His provisioning us during shemitah is not a difficulty. If Hashem can miraculously maintain the freshness of the Lechem Hapanim, He can also maintain the freshness of our stored crops and provide for us even when we do not work the land.

William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelor of Arts in religion and a law degree from NYU, and served as a board member and officer of several Orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own.

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