The sidra for this week is Emor (say) Leviticus 21:1 to 24:23. Moses is commanded to speak to Aaron and his sons, the priests about their duties and the standards of reverence and holiness to be adhered to in undertaking the functions of their office.
The Kohanim (priests) were not to defile themselves with any dead body. The exceptions to this rule were a close relative such as mother, father, brother or unmarried sister still dependent on him.
They were not to marry anyone who had been divorced or sexually immoral. They were the ones making the food offerings to the LORD, so they had to be a holy people.
The bar for the person anointed High Priest was higher still. He could not even make himself impure when his father or mother died and was not to become unkempt even while mourning. He could only marry a virgin from his own people.
Of Aaron’s descendants only the physically whole could become priests. Anyone who was deformed or had a disability could not come and perform the offerings.
Moses passed these instructions from God on to Aaron
The priests also were not allowed to eat the sacrifices if they were in any way ceremonially unclean from disease, touching an unclean creature or from a bodily emission. He had to bathe in water after any such event before he could eat any sacrifice.
It wasn’t just the priests who ate the sacrifices who were to be pure. The sacrifices themselves were to be without any blemish.
God was holy so the people He chose to bear his name had to be holy as well.
The festivals of the LORD are now laid out.
- Shabbat (23 verse 3) Six days are for working and the seventh for rest.
- Pesach (verses 4-8) The Feast of Unleavened bread starts at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The first day and the seventh day of the feast are holy.
- First fruits (verses 9-14) When our ancestors were to enter the land, they were to present a wave offering of the first grain harvested. The wave offering is accompanied by a lamb as a burnt offering. They came into the land at Pesach the anniversary of the departure from Egypt so First Fruits is marked by the start of the counting of the Omer on the second day of Pesach
- Shavuot (verses 15-21) The feast of Weeks. The Omer is counted for seven weeks, and the fiftieth day is Shavuot. Goats rams and bulls were presented as a burnt offering and a sin offering.
- Rosh Hashanah (verses 23-25)The Feast of Trumpets. The first day of the seventh month is to be observed as a sabbath. A food offering is to be presented to the LORD.
- Yom Kippur (verses 26-32 ) The Day of Atonement. This is a day of rest and self-denial.
- Succoth (verses 33-36) Tabernacles This is to be celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The first day and the eighth day are to be celebrated as sabbaths. Leaves from trees are to be gathered for celebration and our ancestors were to live in temporary shelters. The full crop is now harvested, and we are to rejoice before the LORD for seven days.
Then a man commits blasphemy and curses God. Moses waits on instruction from God who decrees that all Israel is to stone the blasphemer.
Haftarat Emor הפתרת אמר
The Haftarah associated with the Parsha this week is Ezekiel 44: 15-31. The Temple described by Ezekiel has never yet been built. It is larger and grander than either the Temple built by Solomon or the one that replaced it built under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. Yet the functions and the standards of holiness, of the Kohanim remain as laid out in the Parsha, together with their garments their marriages and responsibilities, are all as commanded by Moses
The Jewish priests as described in the Parsha this week were by nature diametrically the opposite of the priests of the pagan nations around. The pagan priests would deify their ancestors and shave their heads, singe their beards, and make marks in their flesh as memorials to the dead. The command for the Kohanim not to shave their heads or cut the corners of their beards were intended to mark them out as different from the priests of this world.
One of the functions of a priest of the nations surrounding Israel would have been to oversee fertility rituals which their daughters would be expected to take part in. By contrast the Jewish Kohen was to marry a virgin of his own people and any daughter of his engaging in the practices of the Canaanites would be stoned.
The priests of this present age, the Hollywood icons and millionaire influencers are still with us, living lifestyles that the Canaanitess would have been familiar with. Many destroy their own good names by their behaviour, but then try to the defend their reputations through lawsuits involving amounts of money that the rest of us can’t even envision.
The believer who only has the ambition to serve God in whatever capacity he is called to do so knowing he has a mansion and inheritance in Heaven, highlights the same contrast between the Israelite Kohanim and the Canaanite priests.
The unblemished priest and unblemished sacrifices remind us of our great High Priest who obtained eternal redemption for us by becoming both priest and sacrifice at the same time.
He was a lamb without defect or spot (1 Peter 1:19)
In order to navigate our way through this world we need an example to follow. Whether we are conscious of it or not the opinions and ideas of the world around us make a deep impression on our lives. Thank God we have the example of Yeshua to follow. We learn by studying his life through the scriptures and being renewed in our thinking day by day by his Spirit, to be transformed into his likeness
Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2)
The responsibility of the Kohanim makes it clear to us what holiness is. ‘New Testament’ Christians miss out on a real understanding of that subject, Some call it replacement theology. It would be better named displacement theology where the main root system of our faith is displaced to a place of secondary importance.
Rav Shaul (Paul) reminds us
Rather, the function of the Torah was that without it, I would not have known what sin is. For example, I would not have become conscious of what greed is if the Torah had not: said, “Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7 CJB)
Without the stability given to scripture by the Torah and Tanakh the body of the Messiah will take its influence from the world not that of the Kohanim and in particular our Great High Kohen Yeshua.
We are surrounded each day by people who do not read their bibles. They do however read us. May the fruit of our lives point them to the one in whose likeness we have all been made.
This article originally appeared on the BMJA website and is reposted with permission.