Parashat Emor begins with the words:
"And G‑d said to Moses, speak to the priests, the children of Aaron and say to them, do not defile yourselves by contact with the dead among his people." (Lev. 21:1)

Why does the verse use two different Hebrew words for talking: "speak" and then "say"? The two words imply different degrees of emphasis. "Speak" is a more aggressive, commanding term. "Say" is gentler.

The Seer of Lublin explains that the Torah is reminding the priests that they are the children of Aaron. Just as Aaron was aggressive about helping others, so should all the priests. But, as the verse continues, "…and say to them, do not defile yourselves", the Seer cautioned us that when dealing with the world, even to helping others, we must be careful not to endanger our own souls by overdoing it.

"Great is Torah study that it brings us to positive action…."

Rashi explains that the first "speak" is to tell the big, i.e. adult, priests not to become defiled; "say" is to remind them to warn the small, i.e. young, priests. The Lubavitcher Rebbe parallels the terms "big" and "small" to two aspects in the Jewish soul. The "bigger" aspect is the strength of our intellect; the "smaller" is our ability to act. The Torah is telling us that our intellect must warn and affect our ability to act. Our minds must be steeped in Torah, which, in turn, will cause us to perform mitzvot. The Talmud says, "Great is Torah study that it brings us to positive action." (Kiddushin 40)

Rebbe Eliezer of Munkatch points out that the two places the Torah discusses Shabbat and all the holidays are this week's portion and in the portion Pinchas. Both portions have in common that they are always read during sad times; Pinchas is read during the 3-week mourning period connected to the Temple's destruction, and this week's Torah reading, Emor, is always read during the counting of the Omer, when we mourn for the passing of Rabbi Akiva's students. Mourning is when a person is focused on loss. This is considered a spiritually constricted time, referred to in Kabbalistic terms as "small mindedness", or "Mochin d'Katnut".

Shabbat and holidays are always a time of added spiritual consciousness ("big mindedness", or "Mochin d'Gadlut") because we are stopping our day-to-day activities and focusing on G‑d's presence in the world and fulfilling His commandments. This is the reason Shabbat and the holidays are mentioned in these portions.

Remember that G‑d is in charge…

They remind us that even when we are in a period of "small mindedness", we should not let it overwhelm us. This also relates to Rashi's explanation above about the "big" and "small" priests. The "big mindedness" warns the "small mindedness" not to defile us. This should always be our direction in holiness: not to let the daily events of the world overtake us, but to remember that G‑d is in charge.

From the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, our dinner table is symbolically in place of the altar. So too, what and how we eat is considered an offering. The son of Rebbe Michel of Zlotchov, Rabbi Zev of Zabritch, would take a few moments before beginning any meal and contemplate the holiness of the occasion. He would make a conscious decision about how he was going to act while eating. In this week's portion is the verse "…and the bread was a reminder." (Lev. 24:7) If Rabbi Zev's mind would wander even for an instant from his decided course, the bread would be a reminder to get back on track.

"And I will be sanctified among the Jewish people" (Lev. 22:32)

The Rambam explains that this verse means that a person is commanded to reveal G‑d's sanctity in this world and must even be prepared to give up his or her life if need be. Humankind was created solely to serve the Creator. The bottom line is not to be afraid of anything or anybody when it comes to serving G‑d. However, if this is such an important concept, why is it expressed as a statement rather than in direct command form: "You should...."? The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that a Jew's willingness to sacrifice his or her life comes from a level of hidden, but innate, love for G‑d that each of us possesses in our soul. This love not only transcends intellect and conscious reason, but even the perceived dictates of the world's reality. Since Torah itself and its commands exist (for the most part) within the realm of the intellect, it is impossible for it to make an explicit demand for self-sacrifice. Nevertheless, this power to break all the boundaries for the sake of G‑d is innate in us.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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