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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Leviticus/Vayikra - Emor 101
Posted May, 2000
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Parashat Emor can be found in Vayikra (Leviticus) Chapters Chav-Aleph through and Chav-Daled (21 through 24).  Emor has three sections.  The first covers various laws concerning the kohanim (priests), their lives and requirements with regard to service to the Sanctuary and the Temple.  The second part goes into detail concerning what qualifies as a suitable offering.  The word "offering" is far more appropriate than "sacrifice."  Offerings encompass everything that was brought to the Temple according to what Hashem set out in the Torah - vegetables, grains, fruits, and animals.  The word "sacrifice" tends to denote two things - animal and expatiation of sin.  Those who have read the Torah know that offerings related to sin formed a small part of the total picture.  The third section covers Shabbat (the Sabbath) and the various Chagim (Holy Days). 

Before going into a particular area of this week's Parshah, it seems appropriate to mention that this and the previous two Parashot (weekly portions) form an interesting phrase: 

Acharei Mot Kedoshim Emor
For those who have died, speak holiness 

In other words, and this seems to be the case most of the time, once a person has passed away, we only say good things.  From this, there is a lesson to be learned and that is that we should speak of others in those same tones while they are living.  To do so eliminates completely any loshon hara.  Klal Yisrael (the Nation of Israel - the Jewish people) would be much better off if there was no loshon hara (evil tongue - gossip, slander, tail-bearing).  The prohibition against loshon hara, by the way, was discussed in last week's Parshah. 

In Chav-Gimel (Chapter 23), at gimel (verse 3), it says the following: 

Six days shall work be done, and on the seventh day the sabbath of cessation of work is a convocation to the Sanctuary, no work may ye do, it is a Sabbath to God in all your dwellings. 

In this section, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch brings together various points concerning Shabbat throughout the Torah.  He says the following: 

The Sabbath law occurs repeatedly in the Torah and always with a reference to a different phase of Jewish life, to which, indeed, Sabbath forms the fundamental institution.  Thus we find the Sabbath of Creation (Genesis 2:1), the Sabbath of the Wilderness in connection with the struggle for existence, for obtaining food (Exodus 26:22), the Sabbath of the Decalogue, as evidence of the whole Jewish consciousness of God (Exodus 20:8), Sabbath and its effect on human and social life (Exodus 23:12), the sanctity of Sabbath and its relation to the Temple (31:13 et seq); and 35:2 et seq); Sabbath and its relation to education (Leviticus 19:3); and Sabbath and its relation to heathen necromancy (29:30).  Now, here, Sabbath stands in its relation to the cycle of Festivals of the year.  These Festivals have just been described as times destined for meetings with God, which, at God's command and direction, the Nation itself was to fix as invitations for themselves and whose sanctity is essentially dependent on this free act of decision of the Nation.  In contrast to them, at their head at once stands the Sabbath, as the unique one, fixed, and sanctified once for all by God, the appointment of which is not to be fixed by the Nation, whose holiness does not come from the Nation, is not first to be proclaimed by the Nation as an "invitation to holiness" or "to the Sanctuary" but which is, at its entry, itself mikrah kodesh (prescribed in holiness) and so proclaims itself as one given starting point and the culminating point of all holy days, it is their basis and should find its realization in them. 

First, allow me to point out that Shabbat (the Sabbath) is detailed first in this section of the Torah and all the Holy Days or Festivals follow after.  In other words, R' Hirsch is pointing out that the very placement of Sabbath ahead of the Festivals was deliberate and then explains the reasoning.  R' Hirsch goes on to say: 

And in fact, it is Sabbath, that day symbolizing God as Master of nature and history, that institution for the education of mankind, out of which, and for which, Israel came forth, and all those special days which Israel has to sanctify have no other purpose than to make the teaching of mankind to acknowledge God which is postulated by Sabbath a reality to Israel and in Israel. 

R' Hirsch concludes by pointing out that the Sabbath is "not to satisfy the requirement of a day of rest, but a day acknowledging God," and "is an expression of this homage to God, it is given, fixed by God, sanctified by God, and it is just this fixed nature of its demands - free from all human choice - that makes [acceptance of] it an act of homage-offering to God." 

There is no easy way to explain Shabbat.  For those who don't experience it, it is seen as a terrible restriction - no television, no computers, no cooking, no working in the garden.  As I learned when I first began to discover my Judaism, there is a simple rule - Pray, Eat, Sleep.  That pretty well sums it up.  Of course, there are a few other things.  Play with the children without any distractions.  Family discussions.  Family meals together.  A time of thanksgiving when I can reflect on the many blessings in my life - especially my Judaism and my family.  For those who have experienced Shabbat, they will say it is anything but restriction.  It is total and complete freedom.  For a period of 25 hours, there is an island in time - it is almost as if nothing exists - there is total and complete freedom from the world, from work, from the day to day struggles.  There is God, there is family, there is rest.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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