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Parashat Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23)

“You shall observe My commandments and perform them; I am Adonai.” (Leviticus 22:31)

The Book of Leviticus is known generally as Torat Kohanim, the Laws of the Priests, because of its many laws governing the sacrificial rites. Technically, Torat Kohanim refers to the first part of Parashat Emor, specifically, which focusses on issues of priestly k’dusha, sanctity, and tahara, purity.

A kohen who becomes impure must immerse in a mikveh, or ritual bath and then wait until sunset to become ritually clean (Lev. 22:7). Only then can he resume his priestly duties and eat from the evening sacrifice. Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935; first Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the British Mandate) explains immersion in the mikveh achieves tehar yoma, purification of the day, while offering the evening sacrifice achieves tehar gavra, purification of the individual. Both are required to achieve complete tahara.

This innocuous verse embeds an invented ritual (eating the sacrifice) within the context of a natural phenomenon (sunset) and elevates time as a primary frame for k’dusha. Because time is so significant, it becomes the first issue addressed in the Mishna (“From when are you permitted to recite the evening Sh’ma?” making time the opening theme of the entire Talmud.

The idea there is a particular time for particular acts is central to Jewish practice. You can’t “make time;” you can only make use of the available time. And time is beyond human control; you cannot speed it up or slow it down; nor can you reclaim time passed. So, K’dusha, a concept acknowledged by human acts, is tied to a concept impervious to human acts. Emor reminds us living in the moment can be a sacred act. Or not.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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