Parashat Emor is from the Book of Leviticus and is part of the Holiness Code. It opens with the laws of regulating priestly behavior, namely, how to stay pure and holy. There are laws about contact with the dead, not marrying a harlot or a divorced person or tearing garments in mourning. It continues with setting the times in the Jewish calendar, including Sabbath, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Pilgrimage Festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.
It concludes with laws dealing with blasphemy and its punishment. Do not disrespect G-d’s name. Do not murder another human being or strike an animal. A person who murders shall be put to death. An injury you inflict on another shall be done to you in return. An eye for an eye. These laws apply to both the citizen and the stranger.
The word Emor means “say.” Throughout Parashat Emor, God commands Moses to speak to the priests, Aaron and his sons, and the Israelite people. Should we be like Moses and teach these laws and rituals to our children and grandchildren? Some of the customs we still practice today include eating unleavened bread during the festival of Passover and the blowing of the Shofar at Rosh Hashanah. Others, such as offering sacrifices, have been eliminated centuries ago.
A reflection in this Torah portion that I find interesting is the idea of purity or perfection. One who has a broken limb, is blind, has a scar, or is otherwise disfigured, or a woman who is divorced or raped is no longer pure or holy. It contradicts what we believe today that you are fine just as you are. After all, aren’t we all conceived in the image of G-d? We must look past someone’s “imperfection” to really see who they are on the inside.
The observance of Shabbat occurs weekly versus the High Holy Days or the Pilgrimage Festivals. We work for six days, and on the seventh day, we are to refrain from work. Shabbat is a day of rest, a day to not measure time but to enjoy it. We fill our week with work in our chosen profession, housekeeping tasks, raising children, running errands, caring for our family, and volunteering in our community. To enjoy the quietness of Shabbat, allowing ourselves time to pray, sing, meditate, read, laugh and refresh, is not just a gift to ourselves but a gift to G-d as well. When we enjoy the beauty of our surroundings, we know that G-d has helped to create them. We need to take time to care for ourselves in order to continue to take care of others. When it comes to the annual holidays we again need to pause from our normal daily lives. We need to decide that this time is holy and sacred. It is a time to reflect.
As a Reform Jew, I sometimes struggle with how to conduct myself on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. This has been especially true over the last two years during the pandemic and with our move just over a year ago. Before the pandemic, my husband and I would attend Shabbat services weekly. The last in-person Shabbat service we attended at Temple Israel in Akron, Ohio, was a Rock Shabbat Purim Service followed by a Sisterhood dinner on March 6, 2020. It was a glorious evening, and the theme was to dress as your favorite rock star. I don’t remember who I dressed as, but my husband dressed as Paul McCartney – his favorite rock star!
In January 2021, we moved two hours south to be closer to our son and “daughter.” We are a distance from a synagogue now; there are three in the Columbus area, and they are between 30 – 45 minutes away from our home. Until we can attend weekly Shabbat services and get to know the Rabbis and congregants, we will hold off from affiliation for now. In the meantime, we can watch services online or on YouTube.
Sometimes a moment arises that becomes special. A couple of weeks ago, we spent the weekend with friends near our former home. On that Friday, they made a fabulous dinner for us, and we celebrated being together. What made this Shabbat special was lighting candles, making Kiddush, and reciting the chamotzi. While this is not something I do on a regular basis, I was moved by the sacredness that evening.
I look forward to the time when I can once again be with my Women of Reform Judaism sisters to celebrate Shabbat, light candles, and together sing our prayers and songs in unison. Until then, I wish all of you a sweet Shabbat full of spirituality, love, and happiness.