The fourth to sixth aliyot of Emor are basically a list of the festivals that the Jewish people would celebrate after leaving Egypt. The list is interrupted with additions which need considering as there are no wasted words in the Torah.
The list of festivals begins with Pesach however before that we are commanded to keep Shabbat.
As part of this week's Sedra (4th Aliya) we are given details of the various Festivals through the year. The section starts with a reminder to keep Shabbat, then discusses keeping Pesach and counting the Omer. In the middle of this list of festivals there is a verse with the Mitzvah of leaving a corner (Pe'ah) of the field unharvested as food for the needy and poor. (The word Pe'ah - many of us might associate more with sidelocks).
In this week’s parsha God gives Moses the laws specific to Aaron and the priests. These laws include the prohibition against a priest marrying a divorced person.
Purity is the reason often cited for the laws surrounding priests and their marriages (the other people they are not allowed to marry are prostitutes, ‘profane women’ (who have had sex outside of marriage), and widows (in the case of high priests).
Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: These are the appointed times of G-d, callings of holiness" (23.2). The "appointed times" and "callings of holiness” are subsequently listed as the festivals of the Jewish calendar. The chasidic masters say the festivals are “callings of holiness” (mikra’ei kodesh) in the sense that each is a landmark in time at which we are empowered to ‘call forth’ the particular holiness or spiritual quality embedded within it. The Hebrew word for festival, chag, shares the same root with chug, which means circle.
The first few sections of the Sidra contain the various laws which apply specifically to the Kohanim. The Kohanim have to observe a higher degree of sanctity than ordinary Israelites but they also enjoy certain privileges. Kohanim are only allowed to defile themselves, and are indeed duty-bound to come into contact with the dead body of their closest relatives, i.e. wife, parents, children and siblings. They are barred from marrying a divorcee or a convert to Judaism. The High Priest had to observe the highest level of sanctity.
In this week’s Sidra of Emor, we read the following: “and you shall observe My commandments and do them……and you shall not desecrate My holy Name and I will be sanctified among the children of Israel”. These verses essentially teach us that a Jew should learn Torah, keep mitzvoth and as a result of this will consequently act in a way which will sanctify G-d’s name, rather than desecrate it.
The first seven Sidrot in the book of Vayikra concentrate on the laws relating to the purity and holiness of the whole nation of Israel. The Sidra of Emor focuses on the holiness of the priests who were obliged to adhere to a higher standard of sanctity than others. The first verse in the Sidra is difficult because of its unusual syntax, in which the verb AMAR, which means ‘to say’, is repeated twice. The mediaeval commentators offer a number of explanations for this.
This week’s Sidrah instructs us with the importance of Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying G-d’s name and conversely the requirement not to do anything which would result in a Chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name). Whether we are in the work place, university, the supermarket or the doctor’s surgery, our behaviour will impact on the views that other people have of Jews.