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Parashat Emor: Finding the Good Among the Bad

Parashat Emor speaks of two kinds of holiness: that of people and that of time. We have defined the concept of Kedusha, holiness, several times, not as something lofty and unattainable, but as the consecration of something or someone and of time. Remember: separating that something or that time from the common and making it special for oneself.


The chapters of our parasha take us from the consecration that the Cohen had to preserve, to the description of each of the moments of consecration of time that we have with Shabbat and our festivals.


Regarding the preservation of the consecrated by the Cohen, the verse draws attention. It says:


וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֱמֹ֥ר אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים בְּנֵ֣י אַהֲרֹ֑ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ לֹֽא־יִטַּמָּ֖א בְּעַמָּֽיו׃


And it concludes:


לֹ֥א יִטַּמָּ֖א בַּ֣עַל בְּעַמָּ֑יו לְהֵ֖חַלּֽוֹ׃


“Adonai said to Moshe, speak to the sons of Aaron, regarding their soul, they must not defile themselves among their people….”


The first thing that draws attention is how the text makes clear that the Cohen, in his role as leader in the Great Temple and the Tabernacle, not only connected with or served the People of Israel. The words "be Amav" in their Peoples, give a hint that there might be another people also involved in the ritual. We know that the festival of Sukkot was meant to invite people who did not belong to the People of Israel to participate not only in daily life in the Sukkah but also in the offerings that were made during the week, fulfilling the commandment of the Torah. This includes the inclusion of the proselyte. Not only those who wanted to be members of the People of Israel had to be included but also those who lived in our cities without following the Law of Moses.


There is an interesting interpretation by Rabbi Chanoch Tzvi, who lived in the late 19th century in Poland, regarding this text that I just cited. He says that the text describes different forms of defilement that the Priest had to avoid, such as contact with corpses and other situations of disease, but specifically in this verse, it speaks of the defilement of the soul: NEFESH. How is that? The place of the Cohen, the priest, was the receptacle of the miseries of those who approached to be freed from the guilt of some error committed, or some fault against the law or in coexistence with others. According to Rabbi Chanoch Tzvi, it was very easy for the Cohen to "contaminate" himself with those bad things that people brought to redeem themselves. Moreover, the Cohen could feel like a judge of the person in question and only hold on to the bad that had been brought.

The Priest, as a leader of the Congregation, not only politically or ritually but also spiritually, had to detach himself and look at others and find the virtues they might have, and not criticize them for their faults. The word YOUR PEOPLES creates a closeness with the person as someone close who must be led with a relationship of humility, to make them feel better, even in their guilt, and to follow a better path, not discredit or subdue them but stimulate them to improve.


Regarding the consecration of Time and especially the time of Shabbat, there is something unique in the way the parashah presents it. It calls it moed and mikra kodesh, when in the conventional sense of the words, it is neither. Moed is an assigned time with a fixed date in the calendar. Mikra kodesh means either a sacred assembly, a time when the nation gathers in the central Sanctuary, or a day proclaimed holy, that is, through the determination of the human court of the calendar. Shabbat is none of these. It does not have a fixed date in the calendar. It is not a time for the national assembly. And it is not a day consecrated by the proclamation of the human court.


This strange way of describing Shabbat can be better understood if we look at the context in which it appears, in the chapters of the Torah whose main theme is holiness or consecration. Mikra kodesh and moed as they appear in Vayikra, have an additional meaning that they do not have elsewhere because they evoke the very beginning of the book of Vayikra when it said, “He called (Vayikra) to Moshe, and the Lord spoke to him in the Tent of Meeting (Ohel Moed) saying…”


The focus is on mikra as "calling" and moed as "meeting." When the Torah uses these words to be applied to Shabbat and the Festivals only in this chapter, it would be emphasizing the encounter, the meeting of God and humanity in the realm of time. Whether the call is from God to us or from us to Him, whether God initiates that meeting or we do, that meeting time translates into a consecrated, different, and special time. It becomes a moment to stop the rush in which we are immersed to make that encounter special. The Lord and His people, like a lover and beloved, or a parent dedicated to their children. To make a special time within the common time. Creator and creation "make time" for each other and get to know each other in the special way of knowing that we call love.


Today, there is no priest to mark our virtues. But we have just read a few days ago that we must be an entire People of priests and be consecrated, dedicated to others and the world simply because our God is so, consecrated.


The change for Tikun Olam, to make this world a little better, is within each of us. In our particular and collective Imitatio Dei, the imitation of the goodness and Holiness of the Kadosh Baruch Hu.

May we be able to see the good in others, helping it to stand out above the bad. May we be able to make special times with those we love.

May we see our families and the entire People and others enjoy a life of peace and tranquility without absences, without violence.

May we meet this Sunday celebrating the life and existence of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Gustavo Geier


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