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B'nai Mitzvah of the Week

Jonah Kaye & Julia Metzendorf

May 18, 2019

Parashat Emor - Leviticus 21:1-24:23

Laws regulating the lives and sacrifices of the priests are presented. (21:1-22:33)
The set times of the Jewish calendar are named and described: the Sabbath, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Pilgrimage Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. (23:1-44)
God commands the Israelites to bring clear olive oil for lighting the sanctuary menorah. The ingredients and placement of the displayed loaves of sanctuary bread are explained. (24:1-9)
Laws dealing with profanity, murder, and the maiming of others are outlined. (24:10-23)

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Jonah's Interpretation 

The Torah portion this Shabbat is Emor in the Book of Leviticus. Emor means “to speak.” There are a few main concepts that are addressed in Emor. In Emor, God gives Moses a whole series of instructions. These include:

? The very specific Laws talking about the lives and sacrifices of the priests of the Temple.
? The details of the Jewish calendar are described including Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.
? There are also instructions for the Israelites about the offerings they can bring to the Temple.
? And the laws about murder and profanity.


In particular I am going to focus on a specific line in the section where God instructs Moses about the Hebrew calendar. In verse 23:22 we read “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Eternal am your God”.

I find this line very interesting because it makes me think about the world in which we live in today. In 2019 most of us are not farmers. We live in cities and suburbs, and even if you live in rural areas you still don’t farm as your job very often. Most people don’t earn a living growing wheat and vegetables. This is a great example of something that was written thousands of years ago but it still applies to our lives today. Maybe more than ever!!!!!!!!


In his commentary on Parshat Emor, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch writes that “ at the very moment when we are overcome with a sense of entitlement, we should bear the plight of others less fortunate in mind. No matter how hard we labored and worried to bring in this harvest, it does not belong wholly to us. Our personal blessing carries a measure of social responsibility”. Rabbi Schorsch goes on to write that “Compliance is a matter of personal choice. There is no provision for a horde of bureaucrats to sweep through the fields to exercise oversight. Much of what is expected is in fact beyond measure because it is utterly subjective.”

I very much agree with this social obligation interpretation of Leviticus 23:22. What this means is that no matter who you are, you have to help people less fortunate. Even if you work very hard for what you own, we still need to remember to give a little away. No one can force you to do this. You have to do it on your own from your heart. LIke I said earlier, we don’t live in Biblical times anymore. We have to approach this commandment differently. It is obviously not the actual method. It is the principle. We all have a little extra to give and it does not just need to be money. There are other ways we give “corners of our field.” We can give time, skills, and our knowledge to those who are less fortunate than us. In summary, this line from Leviticus reminds me that our social obligations as Jews and as all people are equally or even a little more important than our religious obligations. I am not saying that our religious obligations are not important. I believe that helping people that are less fortunate is as important as following or observing every law in the Torah exactly how it was written, such as observing every Jewish Holiday exactly as described in the Torah.

Jonah's Mitzvah Project

For my mitzvah project I decided to work at Feeding Westchester in Elmsford, New York. Originally I thought I was going to volunteer at the Special Olympics. At the last minute I changed my mind. Without knowing it at that time, Feeding Westchester had a lot to do with my Parshat Emor and specifically Verse 23:22. Feeding Westchester is an organization whose mission is to end hunger in Westchester County. I learned a crazy statistic while I was volunteering. I learned that 200,000 people in Westchester don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. The whole population of Westchester is about a million people. So that means 1 out of every 5 people are food insecure in our own county - one of the wealthiest counties in the country! At Feeding Westchester I would help pack produce bags for seniors, or sort donated food for soup kitchens. I really enjoyed volunteering and meeting new people.

This mitzvah project relates to my Torah portion’s commandment to give tzedakah to people who are less fortunate. I believe that a modern day interpretation is Feeding Westchester. We don’t have farmland to do what they used to do. But we do have places like Feeding Westchester to make sure that those that are less fortunate than us can get access to good food.

Julia's Interpretation

This week's portion is Emor. It is about the laws G-d gives to Moses and the priests. Specifically, the priests cannot shave smoothe any parts of their heads, cut the side growth of their beard, or make gashes in their flesh. The high priests may not come into contact with a dead body unless it is a close relative. But most importantly a priest with a physical deformity cannot perform in the holy temple.

I am going to focus on the fact G-d sidelined the priests with physical deformities. I find this very unfair because G-d seems to be punishing people for stuff out of their control. This led me to wondering: If G-d is supposed to be holy, which is treating everyone fairly, why is G-d punishing people who would be priests for having physical deformities? And today how should we be thinking about differences and imperfections?

Many rabbis and teachers have written about this topic. Rambam taught: “It was necessary that the priests be unblemished to ensure that The Temple would be honored. Since this is the nature of the public opinion, people judge a man by the perfection of his appearance and the beauty of his outer garb, regardless of inner worth…” I disagree with this, because people shouldn’t judge someone by their outer appearance. People’s inner worth does matter. Your opinions on someone should be made on their words and actions, not how they look and what they wear. This is true even if they are not a priest.

A more modern teacher Rabbi Rachel Cowan discussed the priestly role as one of community leaders: “We seek leaders who have learned to find meaning in the domain of broken places, who find pieces and fit them together to make us all more whole...” I agree with this, because she is saying the priests shouldn’t be people who are perfect. They should be the people who take something broken and make them whole again.

As you can see, I personally disagree with G-d’s action that punish the priests with physical deformities. However Rabbi Bradley Shavit-Artson finally helped me to see the other point of view. He writes, “Just as you wouldn’t use a broken hammer to build a house, so not a broken priest or animal to build a temple…” I understand what he is saying in that you need to surround yourself with the right people who can get the job done. But I still disagree with sidelining people for being imperfect. That’s not what matters. What does matter is how you treat people: you should treat everyone with honor regardless of their differences or deformities, and you should acknowledge and remember that those differences are there. These differences can be real additions and give us different points of view.

Julia's Mitzvah Project

For my mitzvah project I volunteered at special olympics. While doing it, I realized that lots of the kids there were just like me. If G-d treated them the same way G-d treated the priests, these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to do activities and sports just like me. And despite these imperfections, they really are kids just like me. Overall, my main message of my drash and mitzvah project is that inner worth is more valuable than outer appearance.