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Parshat Emor

05/04/2023 02:40:04 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

Is it ever possible to feel “let down” or “disappointed” in our Torah? Is it permissible for us to be bewildered by rules and stories found within our sacred texts? One could argue if one’s not disturbed by the story of the binding of Isaac then one’s not paying attention. One could argue the narrative of the rape of Dinah, or the retribution for it, is something that gives us pause and a sense of lacking. The sadness and hurt are necessary to truly have a relationship with the Divine, and with the Torah God gave us. In order to truly be in a relationship, one must not ignore what makes us uncomfortable but rather one must be in dialogue, and struggle, with the hardest parts of our sacred tradition and text.
This week, we arrive at one of the most perplexing of all texts in the Torah. In Parshat Emor, we’re told only “perfect” Kohenim could serve in the Temple and partake of the sacred foods. That a Kohen with blemishes was to be invalidated. Those blemishes could have been because of who he chose to marry: a previously married woman, a non-virgin or a convert were all invalidating brides for the Kohen. Those blemishes could have been physical: blindness, lameness and other things a person could be born with, or even broken bones deem him unfit for a period of time. The text goes further to describe that sacrifices had to be made from unblemished animals. In the eyes of the text, the only acceptable state of being for this high and essential service is to be “perfect.” What a disappointing and damaging image. How can this be sacred?
To be in a relationship with our text, and with God, means to not merely accept but to question and struggle and perhaps to even reject. How could God reject Kohenim who had birth defects or who had become “blemished” over their lives? How could our tradition hold perfection as the ideal state of being when it’s so readily clear perfection is an entirely useless pursuit? The man who served as the intermediary in the giving of the Torah, Moses, he stuttered… he was hard of speech… Wouldn’t that make him blemished… imperfect…? Can any of us really assert we live perfect lives? Can any of us truly testify we’re intact and not lacking anything?
I would argue a broken person appreciates the world more than the person who has yet to taste the pain of breaking. I would argue a person living with blemishes is closer to God because they’ve cried from the pain and weight of the adversity they’ve experienced. I reject the basic idea that God sought to accept only people who were “perfect” and only accept sacrifices that were “100%.” Instead, I see a world where we’re commanded to struggle and find depth in spite of our pain. Tonight, Thursday night, the Jewish people will observe a strange ritual called
פסח שני/Second Passover. Later in the Torah, we learn there will inevitably be people who were ritually impure for the Paschal offering and people who were traveling and thus unable to make it to the Temple to participate in the Passover ritual. God thus created this “second Passover” to enable people to have a second opportunity to fulfil this essential aspect of our people and our religion.
Think about all the times in your life you were blessed with another chance. In school when you misunderstood the instructions. In driving when the cop gave you a “warning.” In marriage when your spouse forgave you for forgetting something essential. These are easy examples almost all of us can relate to. We can all recall times in our lives when we were blessed with a second chance. Some of us didn’t stop at second chances and instead needed third, fourth, fifth, sixth etc. That’s the idea behind the second Passover. We’re never to be written off and instead are given a way to be made whole again. The God who gave us this gift of second chances cannot be 100% reconciled with the God who is so black and white in rejecting a Kohen who’s imperfect or a sacrifice that’s blemished. I see these words as being a nudge, or a push by God, to get us to work a bit harder and get a little closer to “perfection.” The pursuit of perfection is the goal, not the perfection itself. God is pushing us to do and be better. When we fail, as we all will, God is there with an opportunity for us to get a second chance, or however many chances we need until we get it right (if we ever will).​​​​​

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784