Our Torah portion sets forth much of the instruction regarding observance of the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee Year, which follows after seven Sabbatical Year cycles have been counted. This year is a Sabbatical Year and its advent was duly recognized in Israel. But we have long ago lost the practice of keeping track of the Jubilee Year. The Rabbis explained that the Jubilee Year disappeared with the disappearance of the Ten Lost Tribes, almost a thousand years before their time.
Our Torah portion, Emor – Speak, is the third in a series of portions whose names, strung together, form a classic Jewish joke – “Aharei mot (- After the death), Q’doshim (- Holy Ones) , Emor (- Speak)- After death, ‘Holy’, is what we should say about them.” In other words, no matter what kind of life a person lived, after they die, we strive to make them into saints. This observation is usually spoken with a sardonic tone and a kind of wink of the eye. Continue reading
This year we read this Torah portion right after we have heard that the Supreme Court of the United States is seriously considering overturning the established right of women to decide for themselves whether they should have an abortion. Should that happen, the results for the health of many women, as well as the health of our society, will be catastrophic. A gigantic step forward will have been reversed.
Parashat Aharei Mot
Philosophers have wondered about the necessity for a scriptural component to a religion. If what the Torah, for instance, tells us comports with our own moral judgments, then those human conceptions of morality should be sufficient without a redundant expression in a text. What is added by the Torah telling us not to steal when we know this is wrong already? Indeed, wherever the Torah deviates from our moral convictions we feel compelled to find a way to get the Torah to align with our values. Our own reason seems to be the authority, not the Torah’s revelation.
Passover 5782 – 2022
When the Israelites came to the banks of the Red Sea, on the seventh day after leaving Egypt, they were too afraid to obey God’s command that they “keep moving forward!” (Ex. 14:15) The Talmud (BTSotah 37a) records a tradition that only one person had the nerve – and the faith – to jump into the waters, Nahshon (identified later in the Torah as the head of the tribe of Judah). It was only after Nahshon demonstrated his courage and pioneering leadership by jumping into the surging sea that the sea split open and the waters parted. Then the rest of the people were able to walk through the sea on dry land.
Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33
How much control do we have over our bodies? What do we experience when we lose control of our body? Starting with last week’s Torah portion (- which is often combined with this week’s portion as one reading) and continuing into the reading for this Shabbat, the Torah gives us a few examples of a person enduring loss of control over their body or of some bodily function.
Last week we began with the experience of childbirth. Whatever preparations might be undertaken, the birth of a baby (- in times before inducing labor was possible) happened whenever it did, without the decision of the mother (or anyone else, of course). The next example discussed is a strange skin affliction, tzara`at. The affliction comes upon a person unbidden, and seems to leave the person without the Torah explicitly giving a reason or cause. And our Torah portion mentions other bodily problems – the involuntary discharge and emission of genital pus or seed or blood.
Parashat Tazri`a/Shabbat Rosh Hodesh/Shabbat Ha-hodesh
Leviticus 12:1 – 13:59
Most of our Torah portion deals with the phenomenon called tzara`at – a surface affliction that can affect a person’s skin and hair. If the priest examines the person and determines that their condition is not a medical one of disease, but is really this unique problem, the person becomes ritually impure. (To be clear: Disease does not render someone ritually impure; only this particular condition has such an effect.) The person is instructed to leave the encampment and dwell alone. They must leave their hair disheveled and wrap themselves in a cloak and call out: “Impure! Impure!” (Lev. 13:45) Continue reading
Parashat Shmini/Shabbat Parah
Our Torah portion concludes with an extensive section devoted to laws of kosher and un-kosher animals, birds and fish. These directives are meant to lead us toward becoming holy. (Lev. 11:44-45) How does this system help to do this?
Destruction by Russian attack of peasant village of Yakovlivka in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
The name of our Torah portion, “tzav,” means “command.” God tells Moses to command Aaron and his sons to follow the rules of the priesthood rigorously. This sense of command is also mentioned at the close of our Torah reading – by Moses, as something he feels personally. (Lev. 8:35) (For a discussion of this last instance see Sparks for 2013.) The force and urgency of a command is called forth to reinforce the importance of the task to be performed and to galvanize the will of the person who is to fulfill that command. The Torah, God’s Voice, is heard to say, “That’s an order!” Continue reading
Parashat Vayiqra/Shabbat Zakhor
“Bloodshed” is what we call it – the harm and death we inflict on living creatures, most especially upon our fellow human beings. The first time the Torah mentions blood is after a murder of a man, Abel, by his own brother, Cain. Or we call it “spilling blood,” as if we knocked over a milk container, only it’s blood that the vessel contained, blood that has spilt. We are constantly, senselessly, shedding and spilling blood. Is there any use crying over it?