“These are the set times of the Lord, the sacred occasions,
which you shall celebrate each at its appointed time.” (Leviticus 23:4)
Parashat Emor is the heart of torat hakohanim (The Laws of the Priests), mostly dealing with sacrificial rituals, the work of the priests, and the holiday calendar. It ends, though, with a puzzling story: an anonymous man gets into a fight, invokes God’s name in a curse, and is stoned to death as punishment. The story can be read as a straightforward presentation of the sanctity of God’s name. Rabbi Valerie Lieber (Director of Education at Kane St. Synagogue in Brooklyn, NY) interprets it as a commentary on a political struggle for priestly control.
The Israelites are not the only people in Canaan with priests. Further, even within the Israelite community, not all functioning priests are from the tribe of Levi. The book of Leviticus in general, and chapter 21 (the beginning of Emor) in particular, can be read as an attempt to establish the authority and primacy of the Levitical priests. Hence the story of the anonymous blasphemer.
A man who pronounces God’s name presents a challenge to the religious authority of the priestly class because only the High Priest may pronounce God’s name (and only on Yom Kippur). Further, while the man in un-named, his lineage is given: he is the son of, “… Shelomit daughter of Dibri from the tribe of Dan…” (Lev. 24:11). Dan is a northern tribe, with its own altars, priests, and rituals. Lieber maintains this episode is a Biblical polemic against alternate visions of Jewish practice that threaten the authority of the Levitical priests of the Kingdom of Judah (in the south).
Today’s Jewish world remains at least as fractured as that of the Biblical northern and southern kingdoms. Yet, JCC Association’s commitment to diversity and pluralism means no single group has the authority to define Jewish life for all.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom