A SUMMARY OF EMOR, LEV. 21- 24:
In K'doshim, God gave all Israel 70 laws; this week, He begins with rules for the cohanim, priests within God's kingdom of priests. After the intriguing sexual mystery of life, we now confront the frightening mystery of death. Both realms connect us to the earth, from which we are continually sustained and recreated, as Adam. Earth itself is "UNDER", dependent upon, the sun- photosynthesis; we dig into the earth to plant seeds for our food and conquer it with our metropolises. Earth has the final victory, however, as it receives the lifeless body of Man, the potential image of God Himself: HOW LONG WILL YOU JUDGE WICKEDLY... I SAID THAT YOU ARE (to be) DIVINE POWERS... IN TRUTH, YOU WILL DIE, LIKE EARTH-MAN... (PS. 82). ...AND THERE IS NO (ultimate) SUPERIORITY FOR MAN UNDER THE SUN (ECC. 2:11).
Each high impact human experience of sex, the origin of life, and of death, its departure, remains but a meaningless dot in the printout of biological existence, unless linked to that beyond the earth, even BEYOND THE SUN; there man can find superiority, even eternity. One must, however, live in this world, UNDER THE SUN, and develop it as a vessel for God's Presence. Our portion deals with the constant tension between body and soul, between heaven and earth, as well as their interrelationship, via the priests, sacrifices, and holidays.
THE HAFTORA, Ezek. 44:15-31, gives rules governing the personal life and Temple Service of the priests, stricter than those of the Torah in Ezekial's time.
A SHORT STUDY OF EMOR, LEV. 21- 24:
In K'doshim, God gave all Israel 70 laws; this week, He begins with rules for the cohanim, priests within God's kingdom of priests. After the intriguing sexual mystery of life, we now confront the frightening mystery of death. Both realms connect us to the earth, from which we are continually sustained and recreated, as Adam. Earth itself is "UNDER", dependent upon, the sun- all vegetation requires photosynthesis; we dig into the earth to plant seeds for our food and conquer it with our metropolises. Earth has the final victory, however, as it receives the lifeless body of Man, the potential image of God Himself: HOW LONG WILL YOU JUDGE WICKEDLY... I SAID THAT YOU ARE (to be) DIVINE POWERS, AND ALL OF YOU SONS OF THE MOST HIGH; IN TRUTH, YOU WILL DIE, LIKE EARTH-MAN, FALL LIKE ONE OF THE PRINCES (PS. 82). ...AND THERE IS NO (ultimate) SUPERIORITY FOR MAN UNDER THE SUN (ECC. 2:11).
Each high impact human experience of sex, the origin of life, and of death, its departure, remains but a meaningless dot in the printout of biological existence, unless linked to that beyond the earth, even BEYOND THE SUN; there man can find superiority, even eternity. One must, however, live in this world, UNDER THE SUN, and develop it as a vessel for God's Presence, especially the human body. Our portion deals with the constant tension between body and soul, between heaven and earth, as well as their interrelationship, via the priests, sacrifices, and holidays. We likewise try to harmonize our so limited hearts and minds with the infinite and ultimately UNKNOWABLE Word of God; we thus "explain", not only obey, the mitzvos, per Rav J. B. Soloveichik- I express how I personally EXPERIENCE them. Rambam prefers that talmudic view which advocates doing so, over others who see mitzvos as unexplainable. As most scientists, the latter talmudists are concerned with WHAT are God's Laws and HOW they work, not WHY. Whenever Sefer Hachinuch DESCRIBES a mitzva, he, as Rambam, also tries to guess its reasons. He thereby reveals the hidden depths of the talmud, which constantly rationalized God's Word (Mitzva 159), "glimpsing thru the lattice" (S. of S. 2:9).
Yet all such rationalizations remain tentative guesses- as modern scientific theory, they're always subject to revision. Each age approaches the Torah with its unique outlook; Modernists, e.g. Hirsch and Malbim, are often far more relevant to our concerns and outlooks than famous medieval commentators. Jewish Law, Divine, does not change- our response to it, as its application to changing facts, does. Yet we must remember- HE MADE EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IN ITS TIME. HE HAS ALSO PLACED THE WORLD IN THEIR HEARTS, SAVE THAT MAN SHOULD NOT FIND OUT THE WORK WHICH THE LORD HAS WROUGHT FROM BEGINNING TO END (Ecc. 3:11- but he might discover a bit of the middle!). WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I FOUNDED THE EARTH?- TELL- IF YOU REALLY KNOW THAT INSIGHT (with which I founded it, the Torah- Job 38:4; cf.Prov. 3:19).
BACKGROUND- L'CHAYIM!: Last week's grand summary of Israel's task- how to be a unique holy nation- ends with a seemingly anticlimactic p.s.- the death penalty for those who divine by conjuring up the dead. This theme continues, however, in the first law for cohanim- to avoid defiling contact with the dead. Pagans, both ancient and modern, equate religion and preoccupation with death- one only crowns God in the next world; some even focus on the death of their god! Jewish Holiness and holy people are primarily equated with life; God's immortal living word, the Torah, is primarily to guide us thru this world of free will. We ignore oracular messages from the world of death. Our prayers simply proclaim 2 messages- God both kills and revives the dead! Isaiah (8:16-9:1) warns of murky messages from those who consult the dead- their temporary influence will be replaced by the true word of God (Hirsch).
SYNOPSIS: Tho contact with the dead is prohibited to an ordinary cohen, he MUST defile himself for his deceased legitimate wife, parents, children, brother, and VIRGIN sister (21:2-3). ALL Jews are barred from marring the body, in mourning. A priest's adulterous daughter's penalty is death by fire (see San. 51; cf. being a rabbi's kid). The HIGH priest may not render himself impure, nor do certain mourning rites, for ANYONE (even to leave the service to attend his parent's funeral), except to bury an abandoned corpse (see Rashi 21:11). He can only marry a virgin, but may consumate a marriage entered into with a non- virgin, before he became a cohen gadol (Mish. Yev. 59a). Those bodily defects, which disqualify a cohen from tabernacle service, are listed; he may still get priestly dues; the tabernacle service, in "sacred space", reflects the Edenic, and potential Messianic, world where ALL IS VERY GOOD, combining PHYSICAL & SPIRITUAL PERFECTION. Another message may be that only the best, no "seconds", are to be dedicated to God- rabbis shouldn't be nebachs.
CH. 22: Neither a non-Cohen, nor a ritually unclean cohen, may eat of sanctified food. But a cohen's wife, purchased servant, or his never- married, or childless once- married, daughter may eat it. Restoration + a 20% fine is due if a non-priest eats it in error. Only unblemished animals may be sacrificed; newborn animals are only fit for sacrifice after 7 days of bonding with their mothers (cf. circumcision); a dam with its young (M or F) may not be slaughtered on the same day (the father may be slaughtered the same day- do you believe the Lamaze doctrine that "he's having the baby too"?). A "Thank-God offering" must be pleasant to the offeror and consumed in one day (No stale religious experience?). "AND YOU SHOULD GUARD MY COMMANDMENTS AND DO THEM, I AM GOD. AND YOU SHALL NOT PROFANE THE NAME OF MY HOLINESS (by defective sacrifices, etc.) AND I SHALL BE SANCTIFIED IN THE MIDST OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL (one should die rather than profane God's name). I AM GOD WHO SANCTIFIES YOU, WHO BRINGS YOU OUT OF EGYPT (Mitzrayim) TO BE YOUR LORD- I AM GOD" (22:32-3).
IN CH. 23, we encounter periodic "sacred time", amidst the profane days between Eden and Messiah. Holidays, intimate periodic meetings with God, are established via the Jewish calendar- it's determined, with some discretion, by the Sanhedrin. But Shabat, first of the holy days, was established by God Himself at Creation. The prohibition of work on holy days is followed by specific commandments re each holiday, starting with Passover- the offering of the first barley on the morrow of Pesach (here called Shabat) is set forth, together with its sacrifices; new grain may not be consumed before it. 49 days, 7 complete weeks, are counted until Shavuot; then 2 CHAMATZ (leavened) first wheat loaves are offered with their sacrifices; the cohen gets them. The holiday is unnamed here. Gleanings and field corners are to be left for the poor and stranger- I AM GOD YOUR LORD. Rosh Hashana is only called a "memorial of blowing" here (a hint of Shabbat, when we just talk about the shofar).
Next God introduces Yom Hakipurim (by name, unlike RH), a day of self- affliction, fasting, and atonement. The Jew is to afflict himself on the 9th day, from "eve to eve", a hint of the mitzvah of FEASTING on the 9th- it's as difficult as fasting for a sensitive soul, contemplating the awesome 10th. God then commands the 7 days of Sukkos, the 8th day an unnamed holy day of convocation. All 7 days are celebrated as a harvest festival, the 1st and 8th days work- free sabbaths. On the 1st day, a Jew is to take in hand an esrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), myrtles, and willows; we rejoice 7 days. This must be at harvest time, and Passover in the spring; thus Jews intercalate the lunar calendar, coordinating it with the solar seasons. All citizens (= males here) must dwell (eating & sleeping) in sukkos, booths, for 7 days; this replicates the Exodus experience- I AM GOD YOUR LORD.
Moshe taught everyone the relevant laws at the approach of each festival (Torat Cohanim Emor 17:12). Aharon's not singled out here- we're not dealing with sacrificial details, his special province. Some say that only the leaders must learn about each festival 30 days in advance; they teach the folk just before the holiday.
CH. 24: God directs Moshe to COMMAND the Jews to bring HIM pure beaten olive oil, to burn thru the night. The cohanim clean and trim the lamps each morning (shabbat too!). One light, called "western", was lit continually; Every Shabbat, 12 breads are set on the golden table, OPPOSITE the menorah, in 2 stacks; beside each stack is pure frankincense, a "memorial" for the bread It's an eternal covenant. The cohanim must consume the holy bread in a holy place. THE MENORA AND TABLE hint at the post- biblical festivals- the menorah implies Chanukah light and the table the Purim feast (heard from Rav Y. Engelman). Perhaps the pestle or hammer used to pound the incense is a hint of Yom Atzmaut, when lowbrow secular Israelis hit each other over the head with plastic hammers- their collective unconscious reminds them that they should set their heads in order, return to the Torah, and celebrate the day as a religious holiday.
A son of a Jewish woman and an Egyptian man left the communal norms and fought with another Jew. He was brought to Moshe, who put him in safekeeping, awaiting further instructions from God as to the penalty. Moshe was in no rush for an answer, not eager to punish anyone; he acted similarly with the sinner who gatherered wood on Shabbat. When people needed help, the daughters of Tzlafchad and those unclean on Pesach, Moshe brought their cases to God for immediate clarification (Targ. Yon.)- a true leader eagerly help others and be reluctant to castigate or punish (Rav J. Soloveichik; cf. today). God set stoning as the penalty here. Murder of a human brings the death penalty; only money is paid for killing a beast or wounding a human. The stranger and native have one law- FOR I AM GOD YOUR LORD. The blasphemer was stoned.
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