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Distinct & Set Apart

Parashat Emor begins where last week's parasha (Kedoshim) left off in its description of holiness and how Israel is to be a set-apart and distinct people. Emor continues this theme of distinction by describing how the kohanim (priests) had various restrictions and parameters that were even greater than the Children of Israel in general. For instance, while it was common for an Israelite to become unclean-keep in mind that being unclean in most cases had nothing to do with sin-a kohen was not permitted to become unclean through a corpse in most instances. The kohen gadol (the high priest) was  restricted even further than his priestly brethren to show his distinct position of service among them. Whereas the Children of Israel were to be distinct among the peoples of the earth, the kohanim were to be distinct among the Children of Israel, and the kohen gadol was to be distinct among the kohanim.

Another way this parashah enjoins Israel to be distinct is in their demarkation of time. Chapter 23 spells out the calendar that the people of God are to live by. It begins with God's instruction to His people:

These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts. (Leviticus 23:2)

How does a calendar point to holiness? We have to remember that although our English translations designate these times as "appointed feasts," this is not how it reads in the original Hebrew. It says they are mo'adei Hashem, or the "appointed times of the LORD." What is an appointed time? It's a time that is set aside to meet with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It's a time He has chosen to meet with His people, and therefore we should make those times a priority. After all, He calls them "my appointed times." If they are important to Him, they should be equally important to His people.

Parashat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27)

Parashat Kedoshim is primarily focused on practical, ethical laws that will set Israel apart from her surrounding nations. It begins with the directive, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). But when Hashem gives this instruction, He tells Moses to speak this “to all the congregation of the people of Israel.” The way Hashem addresses the Children of Israel is unique to this event. Let’s take a look at why this is the case. 

So far in the book of Leviticus, most of the instructions have been to Aaron and his sons, and then to the priesthood in general. In our previous portion, the LORD expands His instructions from the priesthood to the nation as a whole by saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel” (vs. 17:2). Now, He specifies that these instructions are to be heard by “all the congregation of the people of Israel.” In other words, whereas the previous instructions to the Children of Israel could be relayed to anyone not present during Moses’ teaching, this time He wants every individual to be present (hence “the congregation”) so that they can hear these important mitzvot.

What’s so important about these particular commandments? Hasn’t the Torah given some very important ones already? Evidently, the mitzvot that are contained in this section of the Torah have some critical bearing on both the nation as well as the individual. They include things like taking care of the poor, honest business dealings, impartiality in court, not bearing grudges, honoring parents and elders, and not giving into temptations to look and act like the people around them. This is a short list of things intended to make Israel stand out as a holy nation, consecrated to the LORD. But there is a problem in trying to establish parameters of holiness.

Parashat Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30)

Acharei Mot begins with instructions for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is one of the most important days of the year, and from our reading we can see the how atonement and forgiveness are granted for the nation of Israel. Often, we often fail to notice the details of the Yom Kippur service and exactly what is going on. There are two specific things that we need to realize about this ritual. The first involves the function of the two goats, and the second involves exactly what could and couldn’t be forgiven. Let’s begin by understanding the purpose of each of these animals.

Of the two goats of the Yom Kippur service, the goat that was designated l’Adonai, “for the LORD,” was slaughtered for the sanctification of the Tabernacle/Temple and all its furnishings:

Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. (Leviticus 16:15–16)

Although this goat was considered a chata’at, a sin offering, it only functioned to cleanse the Holy House from the impurities of the Children of Israel that had accumulated during the previous year. It did not actually remove sin from the people. However, the goat that was designated l’Azazel, “for Azazel,” quite literally took away the sins of the Children of Israel when it was sent into the wilderness:

Parashat Metzorah (Leviticus 14:1-15:33)

The first full chapter in Parashat Metzora is a continuation of the instructions regarding the metzora (the person who has tzara’at—biblical leprosy) from our previous portion, Parashat Tazria. In both of these readings our modern senses are immediately assaulted. Why do we read chapter after chapter of gross, or even embarrassing, details of skin diseases and bodily functions? After all, we live in a modern world where all of those type of things are handled privately and confidentially with one’s medical practitioner. Why are these detailed and meticulous laws concerning tzara’at important? They are actually a reminder of God’s great compassion. How so? 

The tzara’at itself does not render the person tamei (ritually unclean). One could go a lifetime displaying the symptoms of tzara’at without ever being considered a metzora. It is the only the ruling of the kohen that can render the person tamei and a metzora. The goal of this pronouncement was not destroy the person, but to protect the community and restore the person. It was a condemnation of the flesh, rather than the person himself.


Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 


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