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Parshat Emor (5762)

This week's section begins "G-d told Moshe; SAY (Emor) to the Priests and SAY to them; don't defile yourselves" etc.

Strangely the word "SAY" is repeated the second time seemingly for no reason.

But Rash’I, the foremost clarifier of the Torah, explains that G-d is telling Moses something very important; "The ‘big’ must teach the ‘small’". In this case: Moses must SAY to the priests to SAY to their children not to defile themselves for every dead body etc.

But this is not very clear.

The entire Torah is filled with laws that can be derived only if the "big teach the small". What is so special here about not defiling for the dead?

To understand this, here is a personal story.

I once spent three days vacation in Amsterdam with my wife who wanted to see the art museums there. We also visited some friends, I spoke at an Israeli Synagogue and we returned.

All the Israelis I met there told me the same thing "There are thirty thousand Israelis here in Amsterdam."

I don’t know if this is true but they all said it with the same monotone, empty look in their eyes and half smirk on their lips as though to say, "It's disgusting, but I'm here to stay with the other 29,999!!"

It was not a happy place and I was glad to leave. The flight back was in the daytime so I decided to use the opportunity to put ‘Tefillin’ on the Jews who happened to be flying with me. (Tefillin or Phylacteries, is a commandment that according to the Lubavitcher Rebbe every male Jew wants to do. But not many do it because they are not asked. It consists of wearing two leather boxes that contain certain scriptures.)

I took out my Tefillin and stood up, a bit apprehensive about figuring out who was Jewish, only to discover that my worries were for naught.

I discovered that people from Holland do not move. I don't know if it was because of the plane flight or if they are always like that, but except for occasionally rattling their newspapers or saying a few words to the person next to them, they just sat in semi-suspended animation. Even their faces were sort of frozen.

The Jews on the other hand, especially the Israelis, could not sit still for a moment. They were constantly talking, making endless facial and hand gestures, getting up or just squirming around. So just approached anyone that moved.

At first several refused, then one agreed, then a few more, then one said that he had already put on and so on. I proceeded down the aisle until I came to three young fellows, obviously Israelis, sitting next to each other. They looked like they had gotten a lot out of Amsterdam; their brows, nostrils and lobes were well pierced with rings and studs, small tattoos decorated their arms and all had hair dyed unnatural colors.

"Nu? What do you say Yhudim (Jews)?" I approached them "Want to do something really wild? Here, put on Tefillin! It takes one minute on the clock and doesn't cost money! What do you say?"

From experience I know that you can never know what is going to happen. Several times people hugged and kissed me and once I actually had to protect myself, so I was ready for anything.

The one sitting nearest the aisle contorted his face as though I was offering him a dead cat and shrugged his shoulders as high as possible which is Israeli for "drop dead".

I got the message and, not disheartened, turned my attention to his neighbor who wasn't looking at me, "What about you, my friend?" I asked.

Immediately he closed his eyes, tilted his head to a side and let out a snore, feigning deep sleep.

Only one was left. Sitting near the window reading a magazine enveloped in the drone of the plane he was unaware of what had just happened, I raised my voice in his direction, "Would you like to put on Tefillin?" He looked up at me suddenly and said "What!? What did you say?"

The first fellow, the one that refused, was following the whole thing with relish awaiting my total defeat, the one in the middle was still "asleep", but I could see he was peeking. I repeated the question as I held up the Tefillin. "Want to put on Tefillin?"

"Tefillin?" He said incredulously, "You want ME to put on Tefillin?! He stood, bent over a bit because of the overhead bin, rolled up his sleeve and exclaimed with a smile, "Of course I'll put on Tefillin!!"

The first fellow was shocked! His best friend! Was one of.....them! The "sleeper" in the middle even opened one eye to see if he had heard correctly. Meanwhile my customer joyously let me help him put on the Tefillin, then sat down and began reading in a loud voice the the "Shma Yisroel" from the card I gave him.

But I didn't notice that we were being watched. A well dressed non-Jew, perhaps in his fifties sitting in the row before us had turned around and was watching the entire thing.

As soon as I noticed him I said hello and asked him if he had any idea what we were doing. He was a distinguished looking fellow traveling with what I assumed to be his wife and some friend, who just kept reading their papers and didn't even look up, and he shook his head "no".

He waited and watched intently as the Israeli finished and I removed his Tefillin, and then I began to explain.

"These", I told him holding up the Tefillin, "are made of leather and are a commandment of G-d to the Jews. G-d wants every male Jew to put them on like that man did, once a day every weekday." Then I explained to him that because most Jews are not observant, the Lubavitcher Rebbe told his followers to go out and remind and help them, and I'm one of his followers.

I saw that he was obviously impressed. He looked at the Israeli then back at me and said with astonishment, "You mean that that young man is not religious, and he put on those boxes just because you asked him?! If I didn't see it with my own eyes I would not believe it!"

His excitement was contagious. "I asked him his name, he told me it was Peter and I continued. "Do you know what is inside of these leather boxes? Parchments containing the four paragraphs from the Bible that mention this commandment. And the most important of them says Shma Yisroel, Listen Jews G-d is ONE."

He was listening intently above the noise of the plane as I continued. "It means that G-d alone creates everything constantly! Do you know what that means, Peter?" His eyes were wide with amazement his traveling partners even looked up to see what was going on, but I wasn't finished.

"It means G-d, who can do anything, creates YOU every second brand-new! And He does it for free! So if G-d creates you for free, then do something for Him for free!" And I told him briefly about the Seven Noahide commandments.

We shook hands and I figured that that was the end of it, but it wasn't.

Suddenly he unfastened his safety belt, stood up, straightened his jacket and tie, pointed at me and yelled at the top of his lungs. "This Rabbi is correct!!" Then he majestically pointed up and announced: "And I want to apologize. To publicly apologize to him for what we have done to his people! We have taken a man and made him god, and we have denied THE HOLY COMMANDMENTS!!"

The last three words he really belted out so that several rows around us were staring. Then he very warmly and officially shook my hand again, sat back down and returned to the book he was reading.

Now we can answer our question; why here regarding defilement, does the commandment of teaching others have to be repeated.

There are three types of commandments, Mishpatim, Adut, and Chukim.

Mishpatim are logical commandments, like the Ten Commandments.

Aidut are religious commandments like keeping the Sabbath or the holidays, which are also understandable.

But Chukim are commandments that make no sense at all, and one of the outstanding examples is Priests avoiding defilement. This law completely defies understanding.

First of all "defilement" itself is a Torah law that has no scientific or logical basis whatsoever. Defilement (Tuma) cannot be measured or detected. It can be contracted by just being in the same building as a corpse and can be cured only by treatment with the ashes of a totally Red Cow.

Furthermore, the law is that Priests can and even must defile themselves to bury immediate relatives as explained in the first sentences of this weeks reading!

All of this makes no sense

Therefore one might think that it's pointless to spend much time teaching such strange laws; you can't really expect everyone to accept the absurd. Better to spend time on logical ideas.

But our story shows that it's not so.

Just as the non-observant Israeli on the plane irrationally put on Tefillin when asked and Peter became so unexplainably impressed when it was explained; sometimes the not-understandable things in Judaism are the most teachable of all.

This is also the message of Pesach Sheni which was last Thursday (Those who didn't bring the Paschal sacrifice to the Temple on Passover got another chance exactly one month later).

Namely that it is NEVER TOO LATE. No matter how defiled a person has become and no matter how far one is from the Torah it is NEVER too late to return.

And if you are "BIG" then it is never to late to teach the "small".

As the Maimonides says in the end of his Yad HaChazaka "The Moshiach will teach the entire world to walk in G-d's ways."

But it all depends on us. Just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring……

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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