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

“And Moses declared the appointed festivals of Adonai to the Children of Israel.” (Leviticus 23:44)

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 k’dusha, sanctity, and tahara, purity of the priests. The parasha (portion) ends with a complete listing of the holidays in the Jewish calendar.

Emor commands: “You shall not desecrate my holy name, rather I should be sanctified amidst the Children of Israel; I am Adonai who sanctifies you.” (Lev. 22:32) The verse presents an intriguing symmetry: we sanctify God (v’nikdashti) while God sanctifies us (m’kadishchem). The verse raises an interesting question, though: just how do we make God holy?

The Torah’s answer is for the community to perform the mitzvot, or commandments, and specifically, fulfill the sacrifices, which celebrate and recognize God’s k’dusha. Since the destruction of the Temple, however, prayers take the place of sacrifices. While the entire liturgy focusses on God’s greatness, certain prayers focus on God’s k’dusha, specifically (the kaddish, barchu, and k’dusha within the amidah). These prayers require a minyan, or quorum of ten, because they are so central to Jewish thought. This verse is the basis for that requirement.

The rabbis use the word “amidst” to link this verse to the story of Korach’s rebellion, when God says, “Separate from amidst this community.” (Numbers 16:21). The rabbis understand “this community” to mean the ten spies who had no faith the Israelites could conquer the land of Canaan (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 21b) and make a minyan a requirement for those prayers. When we recite these prayers as a minyan, we are sanctifying God within our midst.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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