Skip To Main Content
[Dvar Torah] Emor

This week we read from parashat Emor. The word “Emor” in Hebrew translates to “speak”, because G-d directly instructs Moses to speak to Aaron, the High Priests and the Israelites to inform them of the laws and moral guidelines that they should each follow. Also G-d directs Moses to tell the people about when the festivals begin, when they end, and the rituals performed during the festivals. 

The first part of Emor tells us that Priests, the Cohanim, must be pure and holy: they must not interact with the deceased; profane the name of G-d; and there are special rules with whom they are allowed to marry. Some additional rules that the High Priests need to abide by are to not let their hair grow out too much. Additionally, all animal offerings to God should be completely free from any deficiency. G-d tells Moses that Aaron and any other man that comes to the Holy Shrine to offer sacrifices to G-d should be physically able to fulfill all the duties necessary. 

In the second part of Emor, G-d informs Moses about the Jewish calendar, alerting him to the date of the festivals and what to do during the festivals. For instance, G-d mentions to Moses the start of the 7-day Passover festival starting on the 15th of Nissan. Furthermore, the commencement of the counting of the 49 days of the Omer starts on the second day of the Passover festival and goes into the festival of Shavuot. 

We are now in the period of counting the Omer as commanded in our Parasha. We count both the days and the weeks that have passed since Pesach. This coming Monday will be the 33rd in this counting, this day is also known as Lag B'Omer, where we celebrate and light bonfires. What is so special that we celebrate this day? There are two reasons:

During the Roman Empire there was an important Rabbi named Rabbi Akiva - he is the one who said "'To Love your fellow as yourself' is an essential principle in the Torah." The 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva perished in a plague because, according to the Talmud, "they did not conduct themselves with respect for each other.'' This event is remembered throughout the Omer month; Lag BaOmer is the day when the disease ended and deaths stopped.

The second reason is related to the greatest disciple of Rabbi Akiva - Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who died on Lag Ba'Omer. Throughout the writings of our sages, he is the ultimate case of “Torato umnato” - "one whose study of the Torah is his sole vocation." Bonfires are lit to emphasize the light of the Torah that he spread in the world.

Parshat Emor offers a variety of important insights on how Judaism should be followed and especially how the Kohanim should act. We learn through the following of the rules set in place for the Kohanim; we are to have a higher standard for purity in our lives, and through this we can achieve a much higher level of spiritual holiness. But we also need to remember that this holiness can’t be separated from the attitude or behavior of others. Rabbi Akiva's students, even though they were great, holy and full of Torah knowledge, were punished because they didn’t respect their friends. 

I wish for us all to be more caring for each other. What might this look like in our day to day lives? How can we show respect to one another - to our parents, classmates, teachers, friends? And how can this respect be extended to all of creation? 

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.

Ezra, Grade 9