05/11/2012 10:38 am ET Updated Jul 11, 2012

Parshat Emor: Weekly Torah Portion Summary, Questions, Resources

Editor's note: The HuffTorah is an overview of the Torah reading of the week, which is found in the Book of Leviticus 21:1-24:23, and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Emor with interlinear Hebrew/English.

God tells Moses to speak to the priests, Aaron's sons, to tell them about the laws of priesthood:

No priest may come in contact with a dead person if there are others around who can take care of the burial. There are exceptions, of course: He may touch the dead body of his mother, father, son, daughter, brother or virgin sister. Though he will become impure this way, he must do this to bury his close relative.

A priest who is a husband to a woman whom he was not fit to marry, should not bury her if she has relatives around who can do so.

Priests should not induce baldness as a sign of mourning. They should not shave their beards' edges. They should not cut or scratch their flesh.

A court may force them to do the above against their will so that they will remain holy.

Priests may not marry immoral women, a divorced woman or a woman who is the result of a forbidden or non-priestly relationship. If one wants to marry a divorcee, he should be forced not to, so that he will remain holy.

A priest should be honored first in all matters.

If the daughter of a priest commits adultery, violating her father's sacred character, she should be burned in fire.

The High Priest, in a state of mourning, should not go 30 days without cutting his hair and he should not tear his clothes. He should not be in the same space as a dead body. He should not even bury his mother or father if there are others around who can do so. He shouldn't even follow the funeral procession. God is God. He should marry a virgin. He may not marry a divorcee, a widow, an immoral woman or a woman who came from a from an improper union. God is God, who sanctifies the priest.

God tells Moses to tell Aaron:

Any descendant of a priest who has a blemish -- a blind, lame, sunken-nosed, disproportionately limbed, imperfectly irised, dry-lesioned, broke-legged, weeping-sored or testicularly crushed or otherwise blemished man -- should not come before God to make an offering. If the blemish passes, he may come before God. Even if the blemish does not pass, he may still eat of the priestly food. But he may not sprinkle blood or approach the altar.

Moses tells this to Aaron, to Aaron's sons and to all of the Children of Israel. He also tells Aaron and his sons the following, per God's command:

Do not make sacrifices in a state of ritual impurity. Do so, and your soul will be cut off. God is God. Do not eat from the sacrifices if you have tzara'at, some unhealthy discharge or seminal emission, have been in contact with a dead body or creeping creature -- that is, until you have immersed in the ritual bath and it is evening. Do not eat from a kosher carcass that was torn. Observe these precautions so that you will not die.

Non-priests may not eat from the sacrifice. A slave of a priest who refused to be freed, as well as a Jewish slave, may not eat this. Non-Jewish slaves may eat from the sacrifice. A priest's daughter who marries a non-priest may no longer eat from the sacrifice (though if she becomes divorced or widowed and has no offspring, she may return into the priestly fold and eat the holy food). Priests in mourning may eat from the sacrifice. A non-priest who accidentally eats this food must give fruit to the priest valuing one-fifth more than what he ate. Priests should not violate the sanctity of this holy food.

Questions: Why may a priest not marry a divorced woman? Who is a woman who comes from an improper union? Why may blemished men not come before God?

God tells Moses to tell Aaron and his sons and all the Children:

If anyone brings an offering to fulfill a vow to God or man, or brings a peace-offering, it should be an unblemished male cow, sheep or goat. Blemished animals should not be sacrificed. Blemishes include blindness, broken limb, split lip or eyelid, warts, dry lesions, weeping sores or crushed testicals. Oxen or sheep with disproportionate limbs or uncloven hooves may be brought as a pledge, but will not be accepted as a vow.

Do not castrate any animal in your land, kosher or otherwise.

God tells Moses: When an animal is born -- ox, goat or sheep -- it should be left with its mother for seven days. After the seventh day, it can be offered to God. Do not slaughter a mother and its calf in the same day. Thanksgiving offerings should be made with the intention that they will be eaten on that day, with nothing leftover. Study my commandments. Observe them. God is God.

You should be willing to die rather than transgress these commandments in the presence of other Children of Israel. God is God, who sanctifies you and brings you out of Egypt. God is God.

God tells Moses to tell the Children of Israel: Always try to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the festivals of the Sabbath, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. If you are delayed, don't worry. The High Court will declare a leap year and you will make it! These are holy celebrations for God.

The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, when no work may be done.

On the 14th of the first month, bring a Passover-offering. The 15th is a festival, when you should begin eating unleavened bread for seven days. On this day, perform no manual work. Bring an additional offering for seven days. Do not perform any manual work on the seventh day.

When you come to the promised land, bring an omer's worth of your first fruits of the harvest to the priest. He should wave it before God on your behalf. This should be done on the second day of Passover. Along with the omer-offering, bring an unblemished lamb in its first year and a meal offering and a wine libation. Do not eat bread, parched grain flour or parched kernels until you bring this offering. This is an eternal statute.

From the second day of Passover, the day of the omer offering, count seven perfect weeks. Count 49 days. On the 50th day, bring a meal-offering from your new crop. Bring two loaves of bread (made from fine flour, baked, leavened). Offer seven perfect lambs in their first year. One young bull. Two rams. These are burnt-offerings. Bring a male goat as a sin-offering. Bring two lambs in their first year as a peace-offering. The priest will wave the two lambs (still alive) and the meal-offering before God. These peace-offerings, unlike other peace-offerings, will belong to the priest. Proclaim this day a holy celebration. Do not perform manual work. This is eternal.

Do not remove the corners of your field during harvesting. Do not gather fallen produce. This belongs to the poor and the convert. God is God, your God.

The first day of the seventh month will be a Sabbath, during which you should recite verses about the binding of Isaac and the blowing of the shofar. It is a holy celebration. Do not perform manual work. Bring a fire-offering to God.

The 10th of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement for those who return to God. It is a holy celebration. Afflict yourselves from evening to evening (or be cut off). Bring a fire-offering to God. Do not perform work. This is eternal.

The 15th of the seventh month begins Sukkot, a seven-day festival for God. Do no work on the first day, and take the citron fruit, palm fronds, myrtle and willow branches. Bring a fire-offering for seven days. Rejoice before God for seven days. Live in temporary booths for seven days as a reminder that the Children of Israel lived in the Clouds of Glory when God brought them out of Egypt. Do no work on the eighth day.

These are holy celebrations with required offerings. Do not bring offerings on the Sabbath.

God tells Moses to command the Children to bring clear, crushed olive oil to light a lamp continually. The gold Menorah should burn from evening to morning. This is eternal.

Take fine flour and bake it into 12 loaves. Place two stacks of loaves on the pure gold table before God. Put pure frankincense on each stack. The spice (but not the bread) will be offered up to God. This should be done on each Sabbath. The bread belongs to the priests, who should eat it in a holy place. This is eternal.

Questions: What's the difference between a pledge and a vow? Why is the description of the festivals begun with an explanation of the Sabbath? What does it mean to count seven perfect weeks? How does one "count the Omer" today? Why are the poor and the convert lumped together? What does it mean to "afflict yourself," and how can this be celebratory? We know that Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah, but this is not mentioned here. Why?

The son of a Jewish woman and an Egyptian man wants to pitch his tent in the camp of Dan. There, he argues with a Jewish man, who opposes his claim. The son of the Jewish woman loses his case in the court, and exiting, he pronounces the name of God, cursing. They bring him to Moses and guard him until God clarifies his sentence.

God tells Moses: Take the man outside of the camp. All who witnessed his blasphemy should place their hands on his head. They should stone him on behalf of everyone else. God tells Moses to tell the Children:

Anyone who blasphemes, but was not warned beforehand, will be cut off from his people.

Anyone who blasphemes and was warned not to will be put to death.

Anyone who strikes another person, causing them to die, should be put to death.

Anyone who strikes an animal, causing it to die, should pay for the animal. If the animal does not die, he should pay for the injury.

Anyone who injures another person should be penalized accordingly: a fracture for a fracture, and eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Anyone who strikes his mother or father, causing them to bruise, should be put to death.

Converts and natives have the same law.

Moses tells all of this to the Children. The judges and the witnesses take the blasphemer outside of the camp and stone him. The Children do the rest.

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:

  • An 'Eye For An Eye' and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: It's Not What You Think -- "Sadly, many of us here in America reproduce this conflict's us-and-them ethos from 7,000 miles away, and so have thrown ourselves in on the side of escalation rather than resolution." (ON Scripture - The Torah)
  • Haftorah Emor -- In the supplemental haftorah, found in Ezekiel 44:15-31, the prophet explains the role of priests in the as-yet-unbuilt Third Temple. (My Jewish Learning)
  • Rashi on Parshat Emor -- The classic commentator in all his interpretive glory. (Chabad)
  • The Animated Parshat Emor -- "Sometimes, you've just gotta speak up. Texting, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking - they don't count. It's hard for a lot of us, and it was REALLY hard for Moses. So this week, Temim Fruchter steps out in front of the drum kit to give us some advice on how to do it well." (G-dcast)
  • Our Relationship to Other Creatures -- "Though most of us are used to a Torah that calls certain categories of animals "not kosher" or "impure," we see from this that, surprisingly, the Torah outlook is actually one of respect and recognition for all creatures. The consequences of such an outlook have important ramifications for biodiversity issues today." (Canfei Nesharim)
  • Protecting Our Sacred Space -- "By keeping themselves apart and transcendent from death, they were ensconced in a space of sacredness and separateness. From this place they were able to bless, guide and heal the congregation without interference from the chaos and noise of daily struggle." (IYYUN)