Parashat Emor / פרשת אֱמוֹר
Read on 1 May 2021 (19 Iyyar 5781).
Parashat Emor is the 31st weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.
Torah Portion: Leviticus 21:1-24:23
This portion starts out discussing various laws of the Kohenim, the priests. It starts off by admonishing priests that they are holy and should only participate in performing last rites if there is no one else to do it. A priest may “contaminate” himself only if the deceased is a member of his immediate family. A cohen must only marry a woman who has not yet been married. A Cohen may not make any gashes or alterations to his body. Likewise, in order to officiate at the Temple, he must not have any disqualifying blemishes or deformities. Animals being used as offerings must also be free of disqualifying blemishes or deformities. He may, however, eat terumah or food offerings.
Verses 31 and 32 of chapter 22 is considered a very important verse, Torah in microcosm. Verse 31 tells us to observe and perform Hashem’s commandments. Verse 32 tells us not to desecrate Hashem’s holy name. Associated with these verses, the sages tell us that the only times we are to give up our lives is when faced with either idolatry, sexual perversion, or unnecessary bloodshed.
The sedrah then discusses the three pilgrimage festivals observed throughout the Jewish year. They are described as mo’adim, or appointed times, because that’s when Jews come together to meet. The Children of Israel are commanded to designate these dates as special times.
Passover, or Pesach, is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month. This is Nisan observed in the spring. We are to do no laborious work (preparing food is fine). We are to eat only unleavened bread for seven days (eight in the diaspora). Starting on the second day, we count the Omer, the offering of the first grain harvest, barley. This reflects the ancient practice of bringing the first harvest to the Temple as an offering. An omer is a unit of dry measure, equal to the volume of 43.2 eggs.
We count the Omer for forty-nine days to arrive at Shavuot. This celebrates Moses bringing Israel the Law, the Ten Commandments. Shavuot also is the festival of reaping.
In the seventh month on the first day is Rosh Hashannah, described as a day of remembrance with shofar blasts. Ten days later is Yom Kippur, the day we afflict ourselves and repent our sins.
On the fifteenth day, we observe Sukkot, the Festival of Booths and the culmination of our process of repentance and redemption. This commemorates the protection Hashem gave us when we wandered in the wilderness. It is also the time when the summer’s produce is gathered. This ends with Atzeret, the day of assembly. We are then commanded to take the four species, the estrog/citron (resembles the heart); lulav/palm branch (representing the spine); hadasim/myrtle leaves (representing the eyes); and the aravot/willow branch (representing the lips). They are held together and used during the Sukkot services.
Finally, we are commanded to perform the lighting of the Menorah, and placing the twelves loaves of the showbread on the table in the Temple.