Posts Tagged 'Emor'

Memory Moorings 

As told in a Chassidic story by Rabbi Yechezkel Panet ( 1783-1845), a king was traveling through the desert, and his son, the crown prince, thirsted for water. But instead of dispatching a horseman to fetch water from the nearest town, the king ordered a well to be dug at that very spot and to mark it with a signpost.

“At the present time,” explained the king to his son, “we have the means to obtain water far more quickly and easily. But perhaps one day, many years in the future, you will again be traveling this way. Perhaps you will be alone, without the power and privilege you now enjoy. Then the well we dug today will be here to quench your thirst. Even if the sands of time have filled it, you will be able to reopen it if you remember the spot and follow the signpost we have set.”(Mar’eh Yechezkel)

This is brought as an explanation for Emor, this week’s Torah portion, where we read, “ These are the appointed times of God, mikra’ei kodesh– callings of holiness, which you shall call in their appointed time.” (Leviticus 23:2) What does it mean that we have these “appointed times”?

In a sense each of the festivals are landmarks in time at which we are empowered to call forth the particular holiness or spiritual quality embedded within it. Passover is the mooring for freedom; Shavuot is the landmark for our getting the Torah; Rosh Hashanah is for God became king of the universe; Yom Kippur is for the gift of teshuvah; and so on. The human experience is hard to navigate. These “appointed times” are set up to help us find our way. 

The special mitzvot of each festival are the ways with which we “call forth the holiness” of the day: eating matzah on Passover anchors our freedom, sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah connects us to awe, and so on with all “the appointed times of God.”

Similar to being lost in the desert is being lost at sea. Amidst the turbulent sea of our lives, like the Kong’s well these rituals are mooring for memories allowing us to deeply connect and get our bearings even when we are far from shore. 


Invitation to Belong: Emor’s Recipe for Community

This week’s reading, Emor, discusses the laws which pertain to priests and the high priest, and various laws which relate to sacrifices. These are followed by a lengthy discussion of the festivals. The portion concludes with the story of a blasphemer who was put to death. It is interesting to me that if you look at all aspects of Emor as a composite we see a definition of community. We have a clear definition of the leadership of the community during the time of the Temple. We have the regulations for convening at the Temple. We even get to see the limits of the community with the story of the blasphemer.

This reminded me of the book Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. In this book Block encourages a shift in our way of thinking about community so we can bring about the qualities of an authentic sense of belonging. There he writes:

The key to creating or transforming community, then, is to see the power in the small but important elements of being with others. The shift we seek needs to be embodied in each invitation we make, each relationship we encounter, and each meeting we attend. For at the most operational and practical level, after all the thinking about policy, strategy, mission, and milestones, it gets down to this: How are we going to be when we gather together? ( Community: The Structure of Belonging)

Block understands that creating and sustaining a sense of belonging is fundamentally about the experience of community, not about it’s formal structures and mechanisms.

The leader is the convener of these moments of belonging. It is amazing to look back and see how we evolved over time.  What is described here in Emor worked in the time of the Temple. It evolved into something completely different during the Rabbinic period of Jewish life. And as Rabbi Yitz Greenberg argues, we are transitioning into the next epoch in which we will need another kind of leader for us to cultivate the experience of belonging. Rabbi Greenberg puts forward a compelling argument that this next epoch will be defined by lay leadership.

In order for us to be successful in our third phase we will need to follow the Emor recipe.  We will need to define the role of these leaders. We will need to put forward a plan for our regular occasions to convene as  a nation. And yes, even if it seems painful. we will need to define our limits. If we do all of these things we will find a sense of belonging. You are all invited.

Listen to and watch Rabbi Greenberg on the 3rd Epoch of Jewish History

Inner Priest: Looking for the Little Bit of Special

There is a wonderful teaching by Rav Nachman of Breslov in which he writes:

Know that you must judge all people favorably. This applies even to the worst of people. You must search until you find some little bit of good in them. In that good place inside them, they are not bad! If you can just find this little bit of good and judge them favorably, you really can elevate them and swing the scales of judgment in their favor. This way you can bring them back to God. (Likutey Moharan I:282)

It is amazing to think that in each and everyone of us there is something special. Rav Nachman is asking us to be less judgative and more curious about the people around us.

I was thinking about this Torah when reading Emor, this week’s Torah portion. There we read a whole lot of laws regarding the person and conduct of the Priests. To many this is troubling in the adulation of one particular form of perfection. But in thinking about it this week I came to enjoy the idea that the Priest might represent something special as part of the whole of the people of Israel. Maybe our collective sense of being special is connected to the Priest being in our midst. Like Rav Nachman’s teaching, if each of us is a microcosm of Israel, there be a little part in each of us that special like a Priest. Like the Priest there is that little bit of special that is set a side and is supposed to be treated with extra care and even restrictions. What would it be like to not only be constantly looking for that little bit of special in the people we love, but even in the worst people? In the process of this openhearted search we might even discover that very special bit of goodness in ourselves.

What Is In A Name?

God willing Adina and I are expecting our fourth child at the end of July. In this context we have been giving a fair amount of thought into what to name this child. What is in a name?

This question reminds me of interesting writings in Freakonomics where University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner tackle the importance of names. How much does your given name impact your opportunities in life?

This question of the importance of a name was in my head when reading Emor, this week’s Torah portion, in which we account of the case of the blasphemer. There we read:

And the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelite woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp. And the son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name, and cursed; and they brought him to Moshe. And his mother’s name was Shelomit, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. And they put him in ward, that it might be declared unto them at the mouth of the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Bring forth him that has cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: Whosoever curses his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him; as well the stranger, as the home-born, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.  (Leviticus 24:10- 16)

On one level we see the tragedy of this unnamed person who is killed because he uttered God’s name. British anthropologist Mary Douglas suggested that if wordplay is admitted, the story could be read to say that the blasphemer hurled insults at the Name of God, and then God ordained that the blasphemer should die by stones hurled at him. Douglas goes on to suggest that the story told to children could go like this: Once there was a man with no name, son of Retribution, grandson of Lawsuit, from the house of Judgment, who pelted insults at the Name, and God said that he should die — because he pelted God’s Name, he should be pelted to death. In this context even though he does not have a name the names of his ancestors have a large impact on his path. He seems to destined for death row. Another interpretation might be that if he actually had his own name he would not have cursed God’s name.

All of this is to say that we are open to suggestions for good names for our child.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 245 other subscribers

Archive By Topic

%d bloggers like this: