Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion – Emor

Emor: Sunday: What to remember when you are big

“Say to the Priests, the sons of Aaron and you shall say to them, they shall not become impure for a soul in their nation”. Rashi explains: “Say”,” and you shall say” – This comes to warn the big (adults) about the small (children)”.  In other words, not only is it forbidden for adult Kohanim (Priests) (who are obligated to fulfill the commandments) to become ritually impure, themselves, but it is also forbidden to cause a child Kohen to become ritually impure, as well.

This is a foundational educational principle: We must take responsibility to positively influence all those who are ‘smaller’ than us – not just our own children, but all those who we can teach and inspire. To “warn,” from the Hebrew root zohar , as per Rashi’s commentary above, also means “to illuminate”. We must illuminate the world for others – not just for ourselves. Moreover, when a person is occupied with illuminating the world for others, his own light intensifies. “This comes to warn the adults about the children” would then mean, “to illuminate the adults by the very fact that they are occupied with the children.”

This is instructive on a personal level, as well. Sometimes we are ‘big’ and sometimes we are ‘small’. ‘Big’ is a state of expanded consciousness, when a person fulfills G-d’s will with joy and broad-heartedness. “Small” is a state of contracted consciousness, when a person falls from his previous level, feels distant and submerged in dreary small-mindedness.  What can we do when we fall?

As we see from our verse, there is the service of “warning the big for the small”. When you are in a state of expanded consciousness, prepare the ground for the contracted consciousness that will inevitably follow. Prepare now for the future fall, and ensure that it will not be a total fall into sin, G-d forbid – but rather, a relative fall from an illuminated state. For example, on Shabbat, prepare yourself for the relative fall of the days of the week.

How do we make this preparation? When you are in an expanded state, don’t for one moment think that you are great. Remember that everything that you have – physical, material, intellectual, emotional and spiritual assets, are from G-d. Thank G-d for your positive situation. When you take a fall, you will be able to strengthen yourself from the memory of your expanded state and ultimately return and grow even more.

If, however, while in your expanded state, you make the mistake of thinking that it was due to your own talents, if the greatness went to your head…then you have really fallen to the depths. “Warning the big for the small” warns us to make sure that our moments of greatness do not hurl us into the depths of smallness.

(From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Ma’ayan Ganim)

Emor: Monday: The Daughter of the Kohen

Our Torah portion contains special laws pertaining to the daughter of the Kohen. In the Zohar it is written that “daughter of the Kohen” is a name for every soul of Israel, the daughter of G-d, Who is called Kohen. The daughter of the Kohen is the shared root of all souls of Israel, “Knesset Yisrael”. The soul is called a daughter because relative to G-d, we all have a feminine identity, the status of the woman, the receiver.

The soul, however, may become entangled in complexities and troubles, just as the daughter of the Kohen also appears in the Torah in a negative context. Initially, she is in the home of her father, but she eventually is involved with a strange man, and sometimes even descends into prostitution.

Ultimately, the time for the soul, and the entire Knesset Yisrael, to return to her father will come. This can happen the hard way, as is written about the redemption: “If they were not worthy, (the redemption will come) in its time/(b’itah)”.  Fittingly, the numerical value of Daughter of Kohen/bat Kohen equals in its time/(b’itah).

The main goal is to reach the time when the daughter/בת will become a home/ בית– when the Divine Presence will be revealed within her, the letter yud (symbolizing G-d’s Presence) within the daughter/ בתwhich turns the word בת intoבית/home.

 

Emor: Tuesday: Be Simple

It shall be complete to be accepted”. The offering must be complete, perfect, with no blemish. Prayer is in place of an offering. When we pray, it is forbidden for us to have blemishes. What is a spiritual blemish? Chassidut explains that the entire Jewish Nation is like the organs of one body. If a person harbors even a bit of hatred for another, he is spiritually blemished!

This is why it is so important to say every morning before praying: “I accept upon myself the positive commandment of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. By doing so, a person becomes complete in all of his organs, connected to all the souls of Israel. Then, his prayers will ascend and be accepted.

When we open our eyes in the morning, the first thing we say is Modeh ani/ I give thanks before You. The beginning of our service of G-d is by offering thanks, an expression of the trait of Hod (Splendor/Thanksgiving) in the soul. The inner dimension of Hod is the trait of simplicity in the soul. This is precisely the commandment “It shall be complete to be accepted”.   When a person is simple, complete, his service of G-d ascends to Heaven and is accepted. This is reflected in the numerical value of It shall be complete to be acceptedwhich equals temimut/simplicity.

Emor: Wednesday: Divine Omer – Human Omer

“And you shall count for you from the day after the Shabbat, from the day that you bring the omer hatnufah, seven complete weeks they shall be.” There is a deep connection between the mitzvah of the counting of the Omer (and the Omer offering) and the name of this Torah portion, Emor, which means ‘say’. In Hebrew, Omer is written ֹ עֹמר ayin, mem reishand Emor is written אמֹר  alef, mem, reishThe letter alef is the inner dimension of the letter ayin. Thus, inside the Omer is the Emor. What does that mean?

The secret of the word Emor is to be found in its first appearance in the Torah. “And G-d said, ‘Let there be light’.” The act of utterance, or saying, turns into light. In addition, the word amar/ אמר is an acronym for אור מים רקיע/light water firmament – the process of descent and actualization: The intangible light turns into liquid, which moves back and forth, and the liquid turns into the solid firmament (as in the description of the creation of the firmament: The water froze as a result of G-d’s admonition). These are the basic stages of any process: First an intangible, abstract idea – light. Afterwards comes the aspiration to actualize it in reality. The idea begins to crystalize, but it is still fluid and can coalesce in many different ways – water. Ultimately, the firm, decisive actualization comes into being – the firmament.

Fittingly, the last letters of the words “אור מים רקיע /light water firmament spell the word omer (in reverse). In other words, the utterance appears from above to below (as is reflected in the fact that it is spelled out in the first letters of the words”אור מים רקיע” /light water firmament). The omer, on the other hand, grows in response from below to above, as is reflected in the fact that it is spelled out in the last letters of the words “אור מים רקיע /light water firmament. The omer is our human service.

In Hebrew, Counting of the Omer is called Sefirat Ha’omer. The words Sefirah is cognate to sapir/sapphire, an illuminating gem. During the days of the sefirah, we rectify, polish and purify our character traits, until they shine. In this way, the Divine amar/utterance manifests within the human omer.

The letters אמר/amar appear with the same vowels as omer with an ayin in the verse, יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אֹמֶר וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה דָּעַת”/From day to day he will express an utterance and from night to night he will express knowledge”. The utterance,omer with an alef, belongs to the day, the direct light from above to below. The “night to night he will express knowledge” is our human Counting of the Omer at night, in which the nights express knowledge one to another (How much was yesterday’s counting?).

Emor: Wednesday: Divine Omer – Human Omer

“And you shall count for you from the day after the Shabbat, from the day that you bring the omer hatnufah, seven complete weeks they shall be.” There is a deep connection between the mitzvah of the counting of the Omer (and the Omer offering) and the name of this Torah portion, Emor, which means ‘say’. In Hebrew, Omer is written ֹ עֹמר ayin, mem reishand Emor is written אמֹר  alef, mem, reishThe letter alef is the inner dimension of the letter ayin. Thus, inside the Omer is the Emor. What does that mean?

The secret of the word Emor is to be found in its first appearance in the Torah. “And G-d said, ‘Let there be light’.” The act of utterance, or saying, turns into light. In addition, the word amar/ אמר is an acronym for אור מים רקיע/light water firmament – the process of descent and actualization: The intangible light turns into liquid, which moves back and forth, and the liquid turns into the solid firmament (as in the description of the creation of the firmament: The water froze as a result of G-d’s admonition). These are the basic stages of any process: First an intangible, abstract idea – light. Afterwards comes the aspiration to actualize it in reality. The idea begins to crystalize, but it is still fluid and can coalesce in many different ways – water. Ultimately, the firm, decisive actualization comes into being – the firmament.

Fittingly, the last letters of the words “אור מים רקיע /light water firmament spell the word omer (in reverse). In other words, the utterance appears from above to below (as is reflected in the fact that it is spelled out in the first letters of the words”אור מים רקיע” /light water firmament). The omer, on the other hand, grows in response from below to above, as is reflected in the fact that it is spelled out in the last letters of the words “אור מים רקיע /light water firmament. The omer is our human service.

In Hebrew, Counting of the Omer is called Sefirat Ha’omer. The words Sefirah is cognate to sapir/sapphire, an illuminating gem. During the days of the sefirah, we rectify, polish and purify our character traits, until they shine. In this way, the Divine amar/utterance manifests within the human omer.

The letters אמר/amar appear with the same vowels as omer with an ayin in the verse, יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אֹמֶר וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה דָּעַת”/From day to day he will express an utterance and from night to night he will express knowledge”. The utterance,omer with an alef, belongs to the day, the direct light from above to below. The “night to night he will express knowledge” is our human Counting of the Omer at night, in which the nights express knowledge one to another (How much was yesterday’s counting?).

 Emor: Thursday: Why Eat?

It is a Shabbat of resting for you and you shall afflict your souls on the ninth of the month from evening to evening you shall rest on your Shabbat.” This verse refers to Yom Kippur, which is very similar to Shabbat. It is a mitzvah, however, to make the Shabbat pleasurable with food, drink and more. On the surface, the fasting and abstinence on Yom Kippur is the complete opposite of pleasure. In truth, however, there is an even greater inner pleasure on Yom Kippur, as is written about the World to Come, “There is no eating or drinking in it, but rather, tzaddikim sit and their crowns are on their heads and they take pleasure in the brilliance of the Shechinah.” This is the greatest pleasure of all.

How can we take pleasure in the brilliance of the Shechinah while we are still here in this world? By the service of teshuvah (return to G-d). “In the place where those who have returned to G-d stand, complete tzaddikim do not stand.” Through teshuvah, we achieve the indwelling of the Shechinah among us.

One does not have to sin, however, to become a returnee to G-d. The lofty advantage of the returnees to G-d are included in the great tzaddikim. Just as G-d contracts His Shechinah within the Beit Hamikdash (contraction is this case means concentration and focus), so He contracts His Shechinah within these great tzaddikim (as is written of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai). By virtue of this contraction/tzimtzumצמצום , a person can fast (in Hebrew, tzam tzom, cognate to tzimtzum) from a place of great pleasure. When the Shechinah dwells in our midst, who needs to eat?

Homework: In the verse above, “שבת שבתון הוא לכן ועניתם את נפשותיכם בתשעה לחדש בערב מערב עד ערב תשבתו שבתכם” , the word Shabbat appears four times in its various forms. Besides those appearances, the letters of the word Shabbat שבת appear at equal intervals within the verse. How many times can you find?

 

Emor: Friday: How to Dance on Sukkot

“But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather the grain of the Land, you shall celebrate the holiday of G-d, seven days, on the first day a day of rest and on the eighth day, a day of rest. And you shall take on the first day the fruit of the hadar tree, branches of date-palms, and a bough of a myrtle tree and willows of the brook and you shall rejoice before Havayah your G-d for seven days. And you shall celebrate it as a holiday to G-d seven days a year, a statute for your generations, in the seventh month you shall celebrate it.”  Until these verses, rejoicing had not been explicitly mentioned in connection with holidays. Here, “and you shall rejoice”! With celebrations and dancing (one of the explanations of the Hebrew word for holiday, chag, is that it is cognate to chug/circle’ – dancing in a circle).

The process of the three regalim, the holidays on which we ascend to Jerusalem to celebrate in the Holy Temple, comes to an end in these verses. The holiday of Pesach is like the love of a bride and groom before their wedding, as depicted in the wondrously romantic Song of Songs, which we read on Pesach. The holiday of Shavuot is the betrothal itself. “Behold you are betrothed to me”. G-d betroths His nation, Israel, through chuppah and kidushin at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The betrothal is the Torah and mitzvot that G-d gave to us, “Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot”. The connection between the bride and groom, however, is still abstract, and thus, rejoicing is not explicitly mentioned. But then comes Sukkot, which is the actual marriage, the actual union between the bride and groom – the physical meeting that brings the joy down to earth and  completely joins the bride and groom, “Like a groom rejoices in a bride, your G-d will rejoice in you.” As such, the dancing on Sukkot is the joyous dancing at a wedding, where the custom was to dance with myrtle branches.

This process parallels the three basic stages of service of G-d, taught by the Ba’al Shem Tov: Submission, Separation and Sweetening. At the first love of Pesach, there is an abundance of light, but this is un-actualized love. This results in submission in the soul. (Similar to the matzah, which does not have any illusions of grandeur). On Shavuot, the betrothal take place. This is separation. (“Behold you are betrothed to me” means that you are separated and made distinct only for me). Sukkot is the time for the sweetening, the complete joy of union, which encompasses the entire reality of the bride and groom as in the verse in the Song of Songs, “Eat beloved friends, drink and become drunk, lovers”.

Answer to yesterday’s homework:

The word Shabbat in the verse “שבת שבתון הוא לכן ועניתם את נפשותיכם בתשעה לחדש בערב מערב עד ערב תשבתו שבתכם”  appears five times at equal intervals of letters from start to finish, and an additional six times from end to beginning. In all, Shabbat appears 15 (numerical value of hod) times in this verse: 4 (dalet) times explicitly, 5 (hei) times at intervals from start to finish and 6 (vav) times at intervals from finish to start.

 

Emor: Shabbat: The Exception to the Rule

“And the son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the name of G-d and he cursed and they brought him to Moses, and the name of his mother was Shlomit the daughter of Divri, of the tribe of Dan.”  Our Sages explain:” ‘Shlomit’ (cognate to ‘shalom’, for she would inquire about the well-being (shalom) of everyone, shalom to you, shalom to you. ‘The daughter of Divri’ because she was a yenta/talker (cognate to dibbur/speech), who would speak with everyone. And why was her name publicized? In order to praise Israel and to say that of all the women of Israel, there was only one who had illicit relations with an Egyptian.” Our Sages also tell us that the father of the blasphemer was the Egyptian who Moses killed at the beginning of his path to leadership.

On a simple level, this is praise for all of Israel and a condemnation of Shlomit bat Divri. She is the negative exception to the rule, which highlights the goodness of the rest of Israel. But on a deeper level, there is a rectification here for Shlomit: First, she did not intentionally have illicit relations with the Egyptian. (Our Sages explain that the Egyptian masqueraded as Shlomit’s husband, and that is why he hit him on the following day). Second, it is actually a positive thing to say hello to everybody, similar to Aaron the Priest, who “loved peace and pursued peace”. Shlomit, however, went too far with her friendliness. This is a slight blemish, which stems from the desire to find favor in everyone’s eyes (which in itself stems from a fear of being hurt). The revelation of this blemish brings about its rectification.

Our Sages say that the man who cut down the trees on Shabbat did so for the sake of Heaven, so that everyone would see the severity of desecrating the Shabbat. By the same token, Shlomit the daughter of Divri’s actions are also explained in a positive light – even if she did not consciously plan this outcome: She teaches us the importance of the modesty of the daughters of Israel and their loyalty and love for their husbands. Additionally, the story of Shlomit the daughter of Divri is what aroused Moses to act with self-sacrifice on behalf of Israel, which ultimately led to their redemption.

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