Updated: Apr 27, 2021
This parsha is one of the longest in Leviticus. Emor, literally “Speak” is long because in it HaShem expresses or speaks concerning the litany of requirements for those serving in His Holy Tabernacle and the awesome responsibility they have to maintain it and themselves in holiness and sanctification (set apart) in every aspect of their lives — whether on duty in the Tabernacle or not.
While the previous chapters dealt mainly with the entire nation’s need to be holy before Adonai, this section of Leviticus focuses almost exclusively on the Tribe of Levi; the priestly clan, the kohanim. The commandments to maintain their holiness before G-d and man are most keen.
Every aspect of their lives, public and private, are met — from personal appearance, grooming habits and even style of dress — to whom a kohen may and may not marry.
While many of these commandments have been touched on in previous chapters they become highly stressed in Emor. The Rambam indicates that this emphatic repeating was done by HaShem to relate its vital importance to Him and all Israel that His kohanim not only have the outward appearance of holiness but they themselves be inwardly separated unto Him and His service to the point that holiness becomes their very nature.
“They shall be holy to their G-d and they shall not desecrate the Name of Adonai: for the fire offerings of HaShem, the food of their G-d they offer, so they must remain holy.” Leviticus 21:6
Since all requirements for holiness and separateness were to be met great care is given by HaShem to iterate whom and who not are qualified within the Tribe of Levi, of the sons of Aharon to serve as Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and kohanim (priests). These requirements are outlined in great detail in Parshat Emor.
HaShem also speaks concerning which sacrificial animals are eligible and those that must not be brought before His altar.
Adonai then goes on to speak in more detail concerning the special, unique qualities of Shabbat and the appointed Festivals, in essence this is HaShem’s start for establishing the calendar for the Jewish people, which over time will become fixed by the Sanhedrin. However, it is here in Parshat Emor we are allowed to witness HaShem pour that foundation that the later Courts will build on.
After establishing the set times for Shabbats and Festivals HaShem turns His attention to two certain elements of Temple service — the lighting and maintenance of the Menorah and the Lehem HaPanim (Table of Show-Bread). The purity of the olive oil used for lighting the Menorah is stressed as well as the proper placement of the loaves on the Table. The reason for adhering to the requirements of ultra purified olive oil was due to the fact that the light of the lit Menorah — which stood in HaKodesh (the Holy Place) in front of the Curtain that separated it from the Kodesh HaKodeshim (the Holy of Holies) where the Ark of the Covenant with the Torah stones within — was a testimony that Adonai’s Presence was over and among Israel every evening when the Menorah was re-lit by the kohen. This duty was performed by whichever kohen was on the evening watch; except during Yom Kippur in which only the Kohen Gadol was allowed to ignite the Lamp.
“Outside the Curtain of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle, Temple), Aharon shall arrange it, from evening to morning before HaShem, continuously; an eternal decree for your generations. On the pure Menorah shall he arrange the lamps, before HaShem, continually.” Leviticus 24:3-4
The parsha closes with an incident that occurred while HaShem was speaking to Moshe on the requirements for holiness. It appears two men got into a fight over something and one of the men profaned the Name of Adonai within the camp. HaShem commands Moshe to remove the blasphemer to outside the camp. Those who testified to his blaspheming were commanded to place their hands on his head, after which, the the whole assembly stoned him to death.
What seems at first glance out of place in the narrative when seen in light of the parsha preceding this one and the imperative importance of the need for holiness, not only in the Tabernacle and its kohanim but also within the nation (the camp) of Israel as stressed in this parsha of Emor — makes perfect sense.
This unholy act of both men fighting within the camp itself; but particularly of the one man who willfully and publicly used the Holy Name of G-d profanely for many to hear and witness was deftly used in this parsha to be a “bridge between the Temple laws and the social laws”— symbolizing “this need for purity.” [The Chumash]
There is one theme we are left with throughout the reading of this and the preceding parshas — and that is holiness.
“You Shall Be Holy for Me!”
Until next time — Shalom!