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Parsha Emor “Say” Leviticus 21:1-24:23

Parsha Emor “Say” Leviticus 21:1-24:23

This week’s portion starts off talking about the laws that apply to the “Big Kahuna” and his sons. I found it funny that the Hawaiian term “Kahuna—Priest/Master” can be translated as “Priest/Service” in Hebrew as well, though the languages themselves are totally unrelated to each other. The letter pattern “k-h-n” in Hebrew always relates to the Priesthood of Israel from the lineage of Aaron. After the laws which apply to the priests, the portion goes on to explain the yearly “Moadim—Appointed times” which are the cycle of festivals, as well as, the weekly “Moed—Festival” which is the Shabbat/Sabbath.  
The portion continues by ordering the Children of Israel to keep the Menorah lit and the showbread set continually before the Lord. And lastly, we read a story about the blaspheming of God’s name and the punishment that goes along with this kind of offense.
For this portion I am going to concentrate on the verses, which don’t concern the Festivals, because throughout the yearly cycle I will be able to address each holiday as it comes along. So, let’s start in Leviticus 21:1 and see where it leads us. “Vayomer Hashem el-Moshe Emor el-HaKohanim B’nei Aharon V’Amarta Aleihem—And the Lord said to Moses, ‘speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them…’” What is interesting about this verse is that it uses the word “Emor—Speak” rather than the normal word used throughout Leviticus which is “Daber—Speak.”
Why is this the case? What does the change in wording signify?
Rabbi Binny Freedman writes in one of his articles concerning this verse that, “Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his Darash Moshe, notes that the word used twice for speaking here, “emor,” is a warmer, softer form of speech, as opposed to “daber,” which also means speak, but harshly and more directly. This is the tone (emor) one is meant to use with children…” But, what tells us that this verse is directed towards children? The words “B’nei Aharon—Sons of Aaron.” We already know that the “Kohanim—Priests” are the “Sons of Aaron,” so why are these words included in this verse but to point to the future generations of priests that must also be taught these laws and statutes. How are these laws to be taught? By “Emor—Speaking” in gentle and soft tones. Children grow through praise and encouragement, not criticism and harsh disapproval. When God tells Moses to speak to Adults, He says, “Daber el-B’nei Yisrael—Speak to the Children of Israel.” God uses the term “Daber” which signifies a more direct and commanding tone. But when God instructs the priests to educate their children, He says, “Emor el-HaKohanim B’nei Aharon—Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron…” God uses the expression “Emor” which implies a gentler approach of giving a command.
“The boy Samuel, son of Hannah”
By Adolf Hult from the Library of Congress. Bible Primer. (1919)
What were the laws these “Gentle-Talking Priests” were to convey to their children? The laws regarding holiness and purity required of those who were of the priestly order within Israel. The “Kohanim—Priests” had an even higher criteria of holiness than the rest of the nation of Israel. The priests were the mediators between the nation and God; therefore, they were kept to a much higher standard of purity. As we read through the book of Leviticus there are several key words to listen and watch out for concerning the priesthood of Israel. Let me tell them to you in the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “The key verbs for the cohen, the priest, are lehorot, to teach, instruct, deliver a judgment, make a ruling, and more generally to guide, and lehavdil, to distinguish, separate, divide. Among the most important words in the priestly vocabulary are kodesh and chol, holy and common, secular, everyday; and tahor and tamei, pure and impure…” The priests were not only instructed to “be holy.” In Leviticus 10:10, God tells Aaron and his sons to “…distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean…” This weeks Haftarah (Prophets) reading comes from Ezekiel 44, which is Ezekiel’s vision of a restored priesthood, in his revelation of a future Temple. It says of this restored priestly order, that “…they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the unholy, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.” This was and will be the job of the Aaronic priestly class. The “Kohanim—Priests” had the role of being intermediaries between God and mankind. Today, the role that a priest played in connecting heaven and earth is not possible with the absence of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. But there is one thing the priests have been mandated to do which is still possible in our time. Numbers 6 tells us, “…the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘this is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.’ So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.’” Today, in our modern world, the sons of Aaron the priest can still “put [God’s] name on the children of Israel.” This is the job of every son of Aaron today, their mandate is to put God’s name upon God’s people. Notice, when the priests put God’s name on the children of Israel, that is when God says, “I will bless them.”  The blessings come in response to the obedience of the priests. Having God’s name upon oneself means that the responsibility of correctly representing the Name is applicable to that particular individual. That is why in this portion, Leviticus 22:32-33, God says, “You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel…”
A priest’s job was to hallow God’s name among the nation of Israel and by so doing, Israel would be a light to the world. You see the Aaronic priesthhod was instituted to rectify the sin of Adam in the garden. In Eden, there were no priestly mediators, neither was there a need for them. Each person, in this case Adam and Chava/Eve, were their own “priests.” But disobedience led them to be exiled from their “Garden Temple” into the world we know of today. After leaving the Garden, Cain kills Abel/Hevel and in Genesis 4:25-26 we read, “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, ‘For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.’ And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the Lord.”
In Hebrew, the last line of this verse I underlined is, “Az Huchal Likro B’Shem Hashem.” From the English used here we would think that this is a good thing that “men began to call on the name of the Lord” right? Wrong…the word used here for “began” is the word “Huchal,” which can mean in Hebrew “to profane, defile, pollute, or desecrate.” After Cain kills Abel/Hevel and Seth has a son, Enosh, “then men profaned by calling the name of the Lord.” What does this mean? It means that mankind misused and abused the 4-letter name of God, which He uses to describe Himself by.
This brings me to an interesting point I want to bring up from a video I watched done by AlephBeta and Rabbi David Fohrman. The video I watched was on the portion Nitsavim/VaYelech from Deuteronomy, but the points that were brought up, I believe, are applicable to the desecration versus sanctification of God’s name, which we are reading about in these chapters of Leviticus. In Deuteronomy 31 God says to Moses, “…you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land…and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them…many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods.”
In these verses, Israel leaves God for the idolatrous practices of foreigners to the point that God in His wrath forsakes His people. Then the nation of Israel repents and says “Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?” So, if the children of Israel make a statement of repentance, why then does God continue and say, “I will surely hide My face in that day?” Because the repentance of the nation of Israel is not true “Teshuvah—Repentance.” Did evil come upon the children of Israel because God was not among them? Or, did evil come upon them because they played the harlot with the god’s of the nations? Instead of recognizing their own sin, they try and blame their current troubled situation on God not being with them. Yes, God isn’t with them… but why? They recognize God has left them, but they won’t recognize the why behind their situation.
Remember, God’s name is upon the nation of Israel through the blessing of the priests, so when Israel goes through troubled and evil times, the nations of the world say, Have not these evils come upon [them] because [their] God is not among [them]?” When the nations ask this question, the name of God is blasphemed. When the children of Israel are exiled from their land, the name of God is blasphemed. When the land of Israel becomes a desert and the nation of Israel is globally scattered, the name of God is blasphemed.
As it says in Ezekiel 36, “When they (Israel) came (were exiled) to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name—when they (the nations) said of them (Israel), ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they have gone out of His land.’” When the nations of the world say these words, then we know that God’s name has be profaned and blasphemed. In Ezekiel 36, God continues and says, “But I had concern for My holy name…” So what does God do? He says, “I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.”
God’s name is proclaimed rather than profaned among the nations, when the people of Israel return to their own land. What should the nations of the world’s response be? Psalm 126 says, “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion…Then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us (Israel), and we are glad.” Notice, it is only after the nations recognize and tell Israel that God has done great things for them, that the people of Israel realize the miracle for themselves. God’s Holy Name will be honored and glorified in this world, the question is, are you proclaiming or profaning it? If you are a “Kohen—Priest” then your role is to place the name of God upon the people of God, if you are Jewish then your role is to end your exile and return to the Land from whence God is calling you, if you are part of the nations then your role is to say to the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, look at what God has done for you! And when we all find our place in the great jigsaw puzzle of life, it will prepare the world to receive the God whose Name once again has a place of honor in this earth! 

Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

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