Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Parashat Emor

            Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Emor, and it is mostly a list of rules for the priests to follow, though it also includes an explanation of holidays for all the Israelites to observe, and ends with story about a blasphemer that sets a strong tone for justice in the Israelite camp. In the last parasha, the Torah tells us multiple times, “You shall be holy,” but in this week’s parasha, as the Torah tells us of the extra responsibilities of the priests, that “They shall be holy” (Leviticus 21:6). Rashi comments on this use of the third person that it means they should be holy, even if against their will. A Midrash called the Torat Kohanim explains that this is to teach us that though the kohanim have extra responsibilities and carry a heavier burden of holiness, this extra load is not theirs alone. It is up to the community to continue to do their own work toward holiness and support the priests in their work. It is up to the community to hold the priests accountable for their actions and to see to it that the priests are indeed being holy.
            Later in the parasha, God commands that there should be one law for all in the camp, whether native Israelite or proselyte. This follows the story of the blasphemer, who was the son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man, and whose status was questionable. Nonetheless, God declares that the man’s cursing is on par with the cursing of an Israelite, and thus he should be shut out of the camp and stoned. When the Torah says that we should have one law for all, it is explicitly talking about those who are considered in-group and those who are considered resident aliens. However, I think it could also be interpreted that when the Torah teaches that we should have one law for everyone, in the same parasha that teaches that the community is responsible for the holiness of the priests, it is telling us that we must also apply law equally across tiers of structural hierarchies. Those in higher positions of power must still be beholden to those whom they serve, and the civilians below must take up their civic duties to ensure holiness is enacted at every level of the community.

            I’m sure this didn’t always happen in practicality in the Israelite camp. It certainly doesn’t always happen now. People in power often get away with corruption and the civilians below often allow it because they feel too disconnected from their civic duties to properly enforce them. Different treatments for in-groups, strangers, and leadership, are all unfortunately common practice. However, with the Torah reminding us of our responsibilities to each other, our duties to ensure each other’s holiness as well as our own, and the importance of equality and fair law enforcement for all people, we can hopefully continue to work toward bettering these systems and ousting the corruption in leadership. May we remember to see the holiness in others, may we encourage the holiness in others, and may we strive toward doing our own best in sharing the responsibilities of our communities. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

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