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Emor (say!)

Leviticus 21:1 to 24:23, Ezekiel 44:15-31


A common theme in chapte 21 is that priests must stay tahor: whole and ritually pure. They are not allowed to blemish themselves while mourning, or (with a few exceptions) touch a corpse. (Nothing in scripture prohibits them from seeing a corpse or attending a funeral.)

Most Americans are so used to considering people "created equal" not only politically but in opportunity that verses 21:16-23 (in which physical blemishes disqualify people from the priesthood) seem very unfair. The Torah, in contrast, decrees different ways that different categories of people may serve God and be set apart for him, with no sense of wrongness that the rules are different for men and women, adults and children, Levites and non-Levites, priests and non-priests, geyr and ezrach—and no sense that people in any of these categories have an advantage in being happy and productive. God is responsible for making people as they are (Exodus 4:11) and the resultant diversity need not be apologized for.

Interestingly, if a priest buys a slave, that slave may eat the holy food, but if the priest has an eved (see Parasha Mishpatim) that bond-slave may not eat the holy food (verse 22:10-11).

The commands for how to celebrate Rosh HaShanah are very skimpy (23:23-25), so the commands about Yom Kippur begin with ach... ("But...") to prevent an assumption that Rosh HaShanah was another day of atonement.

The phrase "eye for an eye" appears three times in the Torah. It is the punishment for injuring a pregant woman (Exodus 21:22-24), for "blemishing" (crippling) someone (Leviticus 24:19-20), and for giving false witness (Deuteronomy 19:16-21). The general punishment for intentionally hurting someone is to conpensate for their lost time and be responsible for their recovery's costs (Exodus 21:18-19). Tradition interprets the intended repayment as being financial compensation, not corporal punishment; the Talmud records that historically the Israelites used capital punishment but never corporal punishment.

The phrase "bread of God" only appears in this Parasha (six times). It refers to the eeshay Adonai (things offered by fire to Adonai); see verses 21:6,21.

What does it mean that an offering can "make extraordinary a vow" (l'falay neder)?

Why don't birds need to be tameem (unblemished)? See Leviticus 1:14-17, 5:7-8.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

Note that the women of Aharon's family may tend to the dead, even when the men cannot.

The High Priest, who is responsible for overseeing the other priests, must be (as best possible) always ready to help in the Tabernacle if needed. Because the loss of "life producing" bodily fluid renders a person temporarily not-whole and thus ritually impure (Leviticus 15) the High Priest is doomed a life of minimal sexual activity, and is thus required to marry only a virgin (i.e., woman who has proved content to live without sexual pleasure).

The traditional lulav contains one palm branch, three sprigs of myrtle, and two sprigs of willow since these grow by water and on Sukkot we pray for rain. The palm fronds (kapot) remind us of Yitzchak, who was bound (kafah). The springs of myrtle, with many leaves, remind us of Ya'akov, who had many children. The springs of willow, which after wilting in drought so quickly flourish once it rains, remind us of Yosef, who suffered in prison but then rose to become a ruler over Egypt.

Tradition says the geyr who blasphemed (24:10-16) was the son of the Egyptian that Moshe murdered before Moshe fled Egypt. He heard that the twelve loaves of showbread sat in the Tabernacle for up to a week, and the fight mentioned in verse 24:10 started when this man asked acrimoniously, "What sort of King would want old bread?"

Why does the community place their hands on a blasphemer's head before stoning him? This gesture is used when a priest confesses sins onto an animal so that, as an offering, it will provide atonement from sin and reparation from guilt. Similarly, the witnesses to the blasphemy must repeat what they heard to prove the blasphemer guilty, and by doing so with their hands on his head they make their own misuse of God's name the blasphemer's responsibility.

Voluntary offerings are either a neder (vow or votive offering, which must be unblemished and offered on the altar) or a n'davah (voluntary offering, which may be blemished and sold with the proceeds donated to the sanctuary). Both neder or n'davah, when offered on the altar, can be either olah (22:18) or sh'lamim (22:21).

The punishment for the daughter of a priest jeapordizing the priestly lineage is so severe because the crime is like treason, not just sexual immorality (verse 21:9).