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   by Jacob Solomon

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'Speak to the Israelites and tell them… these are My Festivals.' (Lev. 23:2)

Parashat Emor is in the third book of the Torah - what the Midrash calls 'Torat Kohanim' - the laws of the Priests, the Tabernacle, and the offerings. Indeed, Parashat Emor opens with the details of the laws applicable to the Priesthood only, and returns to that theme towards the end with the priestly laws in connection with the candelabrum and the table in the Tabernacle.

But the middle part of the Parasha seems to leave the Priests in the cold, as it were. It brings the details of the dates and ways of observance of the Sabbaths and Festivals. But there is no elaboration on the festive offerings, or even the practice of going three times a year to the Temple. The public additional offerings are left vague - with the 'you shall bring a fire offering to G-d' (23:8,25,27,36), and there is no reference at all to the thrice annual pilgrimage to the Temple. These are detailed elsewhere in the Torah (Num. 28-29; Deut. 16 respectively). On balance, the Priests and the Temple get a 'poorer showing' than might be expected. What may be learnt from their not being detailed here?

Perhaps one of the lessons from those omissions is for the Priests themselves - and by extension, anyone in a paid religious public position. It is true that the Priests and Temple 'did well' out of the 'festive season', from their Torah-ordained 'cut' from the 'table of G-d'. So for that matter, do people today who 'officiate' - such as synagogue personnel…

But people should associate the Festivals with their true messages - not opportunities for personnel to make an income. The line between serving oneself and serving others is a very fine one.

This is exemplified with Enoch: 'Enoch walked with G-d'. (Gen. 5:24). The Midrash brings the tradition that he was a shoemaker, by profession. As he worked, he 'made unities with G-d'. That is understood to mean the following. Of course, he made shoes to earn a living. But that was not the way he saw it. He did not think: 'Let's see how much money we can get out of him'. Rather: 'I am making the very best pair of shoes I can for this customer, according to the style he likes. I do hope he will get good wear from them'.

That is how Enoch 'walked with G-d'. His physical actions were making a living as a shoemaker. But his attitude was one of positive spirituality - serving humanity. Like a Jerusalem dentist I know who says: 'I work to improve the world - tooth by tooth'. He didn't think how much he could take. He thought of how much he could give. He thought of serving G-d through his specialized skills, as a means of supplying the best goods to Humanity - His Creations. [And I dare say that his reputation endeared him to his customers and enabled him to do good business in the long run - and leave a good name behind.]

That may be a hidden message in the Torah's presenting the Festivals with the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) in the background. It is hint to the Priests and Levites - how they should interact with the crowds of people who assemble in their precincts. Their attitude should likewise be 'making unities with G-d'. They should not be using it as means of turning the Temple into a profitable business (as subsequently became the case during the first century CE, under the Sadducees), or even giving that impression to the public. Rather, their attitude should be orientated to the Festivals only, and to the Israelites and others who make the pilgrimage: along the lines of 'These people have put themselves to great trouble and personal expense to put together items for offerings, and to make the arduous journey up to Jerusalem'. What can we, as 'holy personnel' do to make their visit worthwhile, and leave them with good memories?'

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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