Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple.
The portion gets its name from a command to speak out (“Emor”) to the priests concerning their duties.
By extension there is an issue concerning Emor which applies to every Jew. When, how and why should a Jew speak out and declare their Jewish identity to the world?
The Book of Esther brings this issue into sharp focus. Esther, whose name may come from a root “s-t-r” which means “to hide”, is the symbol of not speaking out. By way of contrast, Mordechai is constantly called “The Jew”, leaving no-one in doubt that he is Jewish. Yet there is an ambivalence, since it is precisely this Mordechai the Jew who advises Esther not to speak out!
Speaking out tells the world,
“I am a Jew. I am different!”
Often over the years I saw Jews compromise their Sabbath, dietary laws and so much else in the hope that they wouldn’t be seen as different. In the end it never really worked. The non-Jews used to tell me,
“I have respect for Jews who don’t pretend!”
In many cases the comment continued,
“Why should a Jew hide? You have such a wonderful tradition that you should be proud of it!”
There is a verse that says Moses’ mother was “no longer able to conceal him” (Ex. 2:3). There is a time when a Jew can no longer hide. It might create problems when others find you are Jewish, but trying to cover up your identity doesn’t work.
DREAMING WITHOUT SLEEPING.
The sidra enumerates the festivals and their mode of observance. In relation to Sukkot it says,
“You shall rejoice before the Lord for seven days” (Lev. 23:40).
The Festival of the Water-Drawing – “Simchat Bet HaSho’evah” – was a leading feature of the festival in ancient days, and a Talmudic sage remarked,
“When we celebrated the Festival of the Water-Drawing we never saw sleep in our eyes” (Suk. 13).
The celebration was so absorbing that no-one could think of sleep. Later, the participants probably crashed, as we say these days. But in the meantime sleep would have been a luxury.
We all know people who never seem to need sleep. They can keep going day and night with apparently inexhaustible energy. I read of a certain rabbi who could dream without sleeping; his visions of things that could, should and had to be done maintained him on a constant high. Not everyone can be like that, but it must be said that many lack the excitement and challenge to dream dreams for the betterment of society, and their boredom and lack of purpose lead them to escape by sleeping for longer than their bodies really require.
Sleep when you need to – but don’t forget to dream whilst you are awake.
WHAT THE RABBI READS.
I was once the visiting rabbi at a certain congregation. As the synagogue was between rabbis, the official residence was made available for my wife’s and my accommodation. It was a highly impressive mansion in its own grounds, and we were very comfortable there.
However, the previous rabbi, as one would expect, had taken his library with him, and it was disconcerting to see rows of empty bookshelves. Actually one shelf was not quite empty. The congregational powers-that-be had put in a few books for me to read. The only problem was that they were sermon collections produced by two previous incumbents. Nonetheless I did browse through the sermon books and found myself impressed at the quality of the preachers who had written them.
One sermon which stuck in my mind was on this week’s parashah of Emor, which contains the command to demarcate between the permitted and the profane. On this verse the preacher had said that on that sentence rested the definition of Judaism. Judaism, he said, was the wisdom to know the difference between the wrong and the right, the unclean and the clean, that which was allowed and that which was prohibited.
I took the idea back to my own pulpit and developed it as the concept behind the Havdalah ceremony at the end of Shabbat. What Havdalah symbolises at the beginning of the workday week is that the beginning and end of being Jewish is the ability to know the difference between holy and profane (spiritual and the non-spiritual); between light and darkness (truth and falsehood); between Israel and the peoples (different expressions of identity); between the Sabbath and the six working days (different attitudes to time).
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Apple Blogs: at http://www.oztorah.com