Emor 5781 – Are we Blimished

By: Alan Bach

It is wonderful that our Kehillah has taken the step toward Shabbat morning normalcy by returning to an in-person minyan. Today marks the sixth service in a row we have had an in-person minyan. Thank-you to the core group, Becca, Joel, Mike, Rachelle, Bill, Barry, and Daniel, who continued to show up each week to make sure our Kehillah survived the pandemic. Thank you also to those that tuned in on Zoom each week. I made the decision to not attend in person or on Zoom unless there was an in-person minyan. Thank you to all for understanding. Our Kehillah has been built on the acceptance and support of individual beliefs.

I have a confession. During my absence from the weekly minyan, I did not miss praying. I could not find that personal connection to G-d that prayer brings. I tried individual Shabbat morning prayer, but the connection was not there. I did, however, enjoy staying in my sweats, eating a leisurely breakfast, and relaxing while reading the morning paper and a book. I thought it would be difficult to change my twenty plus year Shabbat morning routine, but I must admit I enjoyed my new Saturday morning ritual.

So what does this have to do with parahah Emor? Being of Kohanim descent, this is the perfect parahsah to allow me to reflect on the laws for the rituals and obligations of the Kohanim. The commentary in the Etz Chaim reads, “As the Israelites are to represent the G-d oriented lifestyle to the nations of the world, the Kohanim are to represent a maximal level of devotion to G-d for their fellow Israelites.” The commentary goes on to quote Jacob Issac of Lublin, “Tell the Kohanim to be sons of Aaron indeed and not only in descent…”. Wow. Had I read this commentary pre-Covid would I have made different decisions about my absence from attending Shabbat morning services?

In Emor, we learn about the restrictions placed on the Kohanim to maintain ritual purity in society. Chapter 21, verses 18-22, states that nobody that has a defect, a deformity or any handicap may offer the ritual sacrifice to G-d. And likewise, no animal with a blemish or deformity may be offered up as part of this sacrifice. There is obviously no concern here about being politically correct. The Sefer Ha-Chinnuch ( ספר החינוך), a rabbinic text detailing the 613 mitzvot published in the thirteenth century, explains the reasoning of this requirement for perfection is to increase one’s focus on the value of striving for perfection. Am I to interpret this commentary to mean that if an item or a person is not perfect, their value is diminished?

How does this relate to us today in a time when the Kohanim are not necessarily our spiritual leaders, and we no longer offer animal sacrifices to G-d? We replace these rituals with offerings of our time, our financial resources, our support of tzedakah and our presence in person or in shul to offer our prayers. Our acts and our lives may not be perfect, but they do shape those in our family, in our community and the Jewish people. If we only accept that which is perfect, we have nothing to strive for. Here in our Kehillah, we have learned that Torah reading by new lainers may not be perfect, davening by those who may have never davened before may not be perfect, d’vrei Torot such as this one certainly have their blemishes, but we all learn and grow from these personal offerings. We learn and grow by coming together as a community to support each other to increase our personal spirituality. Perhaps not seen as ideal or perfect by some, but hopefully accepted by all.

Not until March 20, when I returned to the first in-person minyan with our community, with the familiar and uplifting voices of song and prayer, did I realize how much I missed praying. May we all continue to be together, to pray together, and grow together for many years to come.

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