Dvar Torah Parshat Emor 5776 2016

The Portion of Emor instructs the Kohanim as to how they are to conduct themselves. They are told when they may become defiled by coming in contact with the dead and when they may not. They are told whom they may marry and who not. Among all the laws pertaining to these holy persons we read a very strange statement. The Torah says: קְדֹשִׁים יִהְיוּ לֵאלקֵיהֶם וְלֹא יְחַלְּלוּ שֵׁם אֱלֹקיהֶם, “They should be holy to their G-d and they should not desecrate the name of their G-d.” (Lev. 21,6)

This is strange because the Torah is talking to the Kohanim, and they are supposedly the holiest among all the Jewish people, and they are told not to defile the name of G-d. Who would think that the Kohanim, who have been designated to the high spiritual status would fall down in their responsibilities and become defiled?

In fact the Torah is speaking specifically to them because they are so holy. They are admonished to be extremely conscious and careful not to do anything that would offend the name of the Almighty.

The moral lesson is that the more important a person is in the eyes of others, the more carefully he is obligated to act. People look at important people and consciously or subconsciously tend to imitate their manner of action. Hence for them it is extremely significant that all their actions should be blameless.


Dvar Torah Parshat Emor 5775 2015

In the Portion we read this Shabbat the Torah repeats the list of the Jewish holidays and some of the laws pertaining to each one. In connection with Yom Kippur the Torah says no work may be performed on this day: כִּי יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים הוּא, “…for it is the Day of Atonement…”.(Lev. 23,28)

It has been often said that the name Yom Kippurim in Hebrew implies that this day is similar to the day of Purim. When comparing two things usually the lesser important one is compared to the more important one. Thus the statement infers that Purim is more important than Yom Kippur. Why is this so?

An answer to this question is given by Rabbi Simcha Bunim. He says that in one aspect Purim, indeed, is more notable than Yom Kippur. During Yom Kippur we fast and thus afflict our bodies. On Purim we are told to drink until we lose our ability to know the difference between Mordechai and Haman. This indicates that we are to afflict our ability of reasoning and understanding. This is worse than afflicting the body.

It is clear from this explanation that we must not perform any act that affects our ability to make sensible and reasonable decisions. We must keep our wits about us at all times.

Dvar Torah Parshat Emor 5774 2014

In the 613 commandments in the Torah we have a specific concept of two types of laws. One is known as מצוות עשה, simply translated means “Positive Mitzvot” and we have מצוות לא תעשה, “Mitzvot of Prohibition”. Of the former ones there are 248 and of the latter there are 365.

In this Shabbat Torah reading we find a verse which states: וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, “You shall not desecrate My holy Name, and I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel…”. (Lev. 22,32) The first part is a negative commandment, not to desecrate Hashem’s Name. The second part is a positive commandment, to see that Hashem’s Name should be sanctified. Why is one commandment in the negative and the other in the positive?

Perhaps the reason is that we must not desecrate Hashem’s Name as a matter of a commandment. To sanctify His Name, however, should be a natural desire on our part. To sanctify it we should want to do so of our own free will, yet we should also do so because it is a commandment.

The same is true with our dealings with other people. We must not do them harm because it is wrong according to the Torah and according to the law. To do good to others, to do favors, to help another person, should be done because we want to and also because we know it is the right thing to do.

Dvar Torah Parshat Emor 5773 2013

וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי, “You shall not desecrate My holy Name…”. (Lev.22,32) This is the caution that Hashem presents to Bnei Israel. Very few people would think that they profane Hashem’s Name. Yet there are times when we act in a way that we may think it is not an immoral manner and yet, unbeknownst to us, we have actually desecrated His Name.

The Talmud asks, “What constitutes profanation of the Name? Rav said, ‘if for example I take meat from the butcher and don’t pay him at once.’ R. Yochanan said, ‘In my case, if I walk four cubits without uttering the words of Torah or wearing Tefillin.’ ” (Yoma 86a)

We see from this that we must be ever mindful of how people see us and what effect our actions have on others. We may think we have not done wrong but our actions have sent a message, of which we were unaware, to others. We have truly profaned Hashem’s Name without realizing it. Whenever we do something we must consider how others perceive it.

Dvar Torah Parshat Emor 5772 2012

The Torah relates laws that pertain to the Kohen and then says: ויקרא
וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ, “You shall sanctify him…”. (Lev. 21,8) Chazal understand this to mean that we must give honor to the Kohen. That is why he is given the privilege of leading the Grace After Meals. That is why he is given the first Aliya when the Torah is read in the synagogue. Many other honors are bestowed upon him.

In the Talmud we are told by the Rabbis, if there is no Kohen נתפרדה החבילה, “the bundle is separated”. (Git.59b) That means it is not necessary to give the first Aliya to a Levi or to any specific individual. Harav Soloveitchik explained this to mean that we do not require giving the first Aliya to a Levite because that would diminish the honor we give to the Kohen. Only the Kohen is singled out for this special respect.

Because of the Kohen’s special position he deserves exceptional distinction. One may feel that this is an unfair privilege given to the Kohen and sets him up above everyone else. The truth is that the Kohen has many restrictions placed upon him because of this status.

In today’s Portion we are told he must not come in contact with a deceased body except someone in his immediate family. He may not marry a divorcée. He was not given any property in Israel when the Jews first entered the Holy Land and portions of the land were granted to all individuals.

Indeed, he does have special privileges but he also has special restrictions and requirements. He is to be a holy individual serving the spiritual needs of his people.

Dvar Torah Parshat Emor 5770 2010

The Sidra of Emor is devoted mainly to the laws pertaining to the Kohanim. As we know, the Jewish people are divided into three types, Kohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim. I say types and not classes because while there is a distinction between these three classifications they do not create a caste system with privileged individuals. Rather, as we see in our Sidra, there are numerous obligations imposed on the Kohanim.

Concerning the Kohen we are told VEKIDASHTO, “And you shall sanctify him…” (Lev. 21,8) According to the way this word is interpreted by Chazal, and Rashi reminds us, it means everyone is obligated to see that the Kohen remains sanctified. That means that even if the Kohen does not live up to his obligations it is we who are responsible to see that he does.

The divisions among the Jews are not divisions of privilege but rather of obligations. We must give the Kohen respect for his position of holiness. The Levi must also be recognized for his position and, for that matter, every individual must be respected for everyone has some worth in which he or she excels and serves mankind.

Just as a curious fact, Rabbi Soloveitchik, who was the mentor of the Rambam Day School in Boston, insisted that every child who was a Kohen or Levi, when submitting examination papers or homework should write after their name their designation so that in future years when these children grow up, they will remember who they are and these divisions will not be forgotten.

Dvar Torah Parshat Emor 2009 5769

In the Portion we read today we are instructed about certain practices dealing with the laws of Korbanot. We read that Hashem says we should be careful to follow the Mitzvot and you shall not desecrate My name, VENIKDASHTI BETUCH BNEI ISRAEL, “…and I will be sanctified among the Children of Israel…” (Lev.22,32)

Commenting on this passage the Talmud states that an individual saying the Amida does not recite the Kedusha. It is recited only when there is a Minyan of ten men, because the sanctification has to be “among the children of Israel”.(Ber. 21b) That is why we say Kedusha only in the repetition of the Amida.

Chazal teach us an extremely noteworthy lesson here. A person should not be striving to improve only his own Kedusha or holiness by acting according to the dictates of the Torah, but should also be concerned about his fellow Jew. Jews are responsible for one another and should always be ready to assist other Jews to reach a higher standard of religious living. His prayers and his concerns should also be for the welfare and conduct of others.