Parasha Emor

Parashat Emor extends the teaching of holiness beyond the priestly family to the entire congregation of Israel with the verse "v'nikdashti betokh b'nai Yisrael," that God is sanctified in the very midst of the people of Israel. This verse serves as the foundation for the idea of the minyan. There is a great deal of attention in our parashah to purity-of body, of action, of speech and even of thought. But the largest concern of the portion, and the section which causes us to revisit Emor throughout the year, is Chapter 23, delineating Shabbat and each of the festivals.

In the Talmud Yerushalmi Rabbi Berakhia teaches in the name of Rabbi Hiyya that Shabbat is to be divided in half. Part of it is for God and should be spent studying Torah. The other part is for us and should be spent eating and drinking. Thus, the day is both for God and for Israel. In his comments to this verse in Torah Temimah (1902), Rabbi Barukh HaLevi Epstein cites Midrash Tanhuma'sharmonization of these agendas. Shabbat should balance out our week. For scholars who studyTorah all week, Shabbat can be dedicated primarily to relaxation-eating and drinking. Conversely, for workers who don't have the chance to study Torahall week, Shabbat should be dedicated to spiritual concerns. 

What I revere in this teaching is that it views the Jewish community organically. Instead of honoring one segment of the population to the disparagement of the other, it views each segment as needing balance. Shabbat functions as a balancing mechanism-it is a day to break routines and restore a sense of pleasure and purpose to life. Shabbatgives us both pleasure and purpose when we blend spiritual activities like Torah study with physical pleasures until the day becomes holy and delightful.

This parashah gives us a chance to develop the idea of "shvut" or simple relaxation on Shabbat and the festivals. It is a verse about Rosh HaShanah, which the Torah calls "Shabbaton" that prompts theRamban, Nachmanides, to develop the concept of "shvut" in the fullest sense. He speaks about how it is possible to avoid "work" (melakhah) while still failing to observe the holiday. One could prepare all sorts of commerce without actually writing or violating technical aspects of the day. Rambanemphasizes the importance of differentiatingShabbat and festivals from other days so that we can experience tranquility (menuhah) and restore the balance in our lives.

For some, as we move from spring into summer, this time can be somewhat like a Shabbat at the end of the work year. Most of us continue to work-sometimes more intensively than before-but the change in pace is helpful for everyone. I hope that each of you will make time for activities, like exploring nature, that are elusive during the year. Have a restful, holy and delicious Shabbat and summer.


Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham