Oz Torah: Insights on Torah reading Emor.


What people think of Jews is motivated partly by observation and partly by prejudice.

Observation leads decent outsiders to praise our sense of community and how we keep our standards even in unfriendly times.

Prejudice picks up anti-Jewish slogans and beats us around the head with them. Prejudice is hard to eradicate because it is neither rational nor fair. It is a pity that the modern age which understands the techniques of persuasion can still be guilty of anti-Jewish bias.

When the Torah speaks of “Kiddush HaShem”, however – God says,

“I shall be sanctified” (Lev. 22:31-33)

– it is not really talking about what gentiles say of Jews, but what Jews themselves say. The verse reads,

“I shall be sanctified among the Children of Israel”.

That’s why Jewish antisemites are often more dangerous than gentile Jew-haters. Jews who say terrible things about Israel are sometimes worse than gentiles who do.

True, Israel isn’t perfect, and neither are Jews… but surely if you can’t say nice things you should say nothing. If you see failings amongst your own people you should quietly work on them from within.


Parashat Emor calls the festivals “mikra’ei kodesh”, usually rendered “holy convocations”.

“Mikra” is from “kara”, “to call”; “convocation” is from Latin and means “to call together or assemble”.

“Kara” also means “to happen”. An example is Lev. 1:1 when, according to the sages, Moses denied that God deliberately appointed or called him; the communication just happened.

In this sense, “mikra’ei kodesh” are sacred times (Targum Onkelos’ translation) marking events which occurred as the Israelites traversed the wilderness.

Had certain things not happened during the years in the wilderness, the festivals would not have come into existence. This explains historical events like Pesach, Shavu’ot and Sukkot, but not Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur, yet they too are “mikra’ei kodesh”.

Maybe we can posit this theory: God told the people to respond to historical events by means of annual celebrations; they did so with such enthusiasm that He gave them two non-historical occasions (Yom Kippur has a possible historical connection) on which to look into their own souls and not just commemorate events.


Why does the law of the Omer say “count for yourselves” (Lev. 23:15)?

In grammar it is the ethical dative, also used in the Torah in phrases like “Go for yourself”, “Send for yourselves”.

Homiletically it is explained – e.g. in Parashat Lech-L’cha – as meaning “for your own benefit”. If you are Abraham and God tells you to go to a new country you need to be assured that the move will bring you blessing.

When the people are told “us’far’tem lachem” – “count for yourselves” it recalls Psalm 90 where we are told,

“Teach us to number our days”:

every day is a blessing and you can enhance its quality by being thankful.


Chapter 22:15 of Vayikra tells us not to

“profane the holy things of the Children of Israel”.

Naturally the verse has to be read in context, but it also has a wider application.

It suggests the need for reverence. Things which are central and sacred for Judaism must not be treated lightly or disrespectfully.

The rule is addressed to Jews, who must not belittle or mock their own heritage.

It also conveys a message about how to treat other people’s holy things. In our eyes the sancta of other religions are erroneous, but we have a moral duty to respect other people’s consciences and commitments.

What they hold to be holy is the result of their set of historical circumstances. They did not live through our history and we did not live through theirs. Or if we did on occasions share the same historical moments we each interpreted them differently.

The fact that they have often tended to denigrate what is sacred to us does not entitle us to reciprocate.

 Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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