Judaism: The Theme of the Parsha
Parashat Emor breaks down into four distinct sections:
The first is Leviticus Chapters 21 and 22, which contains instructions to the Kohanim, concluding with the sacrifices.
Following this, Chapter 23 commands the Festivals – Shabbat, Pesach, the seven-week Omer period, Shavuot, Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom ha-Kippurim, Sukkot, and Sh’mini Atzeret.
The third section, 24:1-9, returns to the Kohanim, with the mitzvot of the Menorah (the seven-branched Candelabrum in the Tabernacle, later in the Holy Temple) and the Showbread.
The fourth and final section, 24:10 till the end of the chapter, relates the episode of the blasphemer and a few halakhot which are [tangentially] connected with his sin and his subsequent punishment.
There are two peculiarities in this narrative. The first is that the mitzvot of the Festivals appear to be out of sequence, interrupting the mitzvot for the Kohanim. And the second is that G-d had already given the mitzvah of the Menorah back in Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-21), some ten months earlier, and then repeats it here.
So we have three questions here: Why did G-d interrupt the sequence of the mitzvot of the Kohanim with the mitzvot of the Festivals? And why did He repeat the mitzvah of the Menorah? And why did He repeat it specifically here?
Rashi comments: “This is the section of the actual mitzvah of the Menorah. Parashat Tetzaveh only sets forth the sequence of building the Mishkan, thereby explaining the Menorah’s function; here the actual mitzvah is given, as though You will ultimately command Israel to do this” (Commentary to Leviticus 24:2).
The Ramban cites Rashi’s comment, but rejects it on the grounds that “the section [in Parashat Tetzaveh] does not adjoin the section of the Menorah ; and the Torah already said that ‘he lit the candles before Hashem as Hashem had commanded Moshe’ (Exodus 40:25) – thus both the mitzvah and its fulfilment have already been mentioned”.
And the Ramban then proceeds to give his explanation: in Parashat Tetzaveh, G-d had told Moshe to command the Children of Israel to bring olive oil to illuminate the Menorah (Exodus 27:20), which they indeed did. “And even though it says there ‘an eternal statute throughout their generations’ (verse 21), this refers to the lighting of the lamps. And now, the oil which the princes had brought as their donation was depleted – so He commanded that the Children of Israel take pure beaten olive oil, like the original oil, from public funds”.
The Ohr ha-Chayim (Rabbi Chayim ben Atar, Morocco and Israel, 1696-1743) cites both Rashi and the Ramban, and rejects both their explanations: “Rashi of blessed memory gave his explanation, but it does not suffice; and the Ramban of blessed memory wrote that the oil was depleted, but there is no evidence for what he wrote”.
And the Ohr ha-Chayim then proceeds to give two explanations: “Maybe the Torah juxtaposes all the mitzvot which are connected with seven – Pesach is seven days, Sukkot is seven days, celebrating with the Four Species (lulav, etrog, myrtle, willow) lasts seven days. Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom ha-Kippurim also have a certain aspect of ‘seven’ – they fall in the seventh month [Tishrei]. So the Torah inserts the mitzvah of the Menorah here because it has seven candles; the Table [containing the Show-bread] also has an aspect of ‘seven’ – the Show-bread is ‘placed in two stacks, six in each stack’ (Leviticus 24:6), which with the Table itself completes seven levels. And this Parashah also contains the mitzvah of the Omer which lasts seven weeks, and also the mitzvah of Shabbat [the seventh day]. So you find that this Parashah combines all mitzvot which are connected with seven, to indicate that they all have the same fundamental principle and message”.
(We note that the Four Species to which the Ohr ha-Chayim refers comprise one lulav, one etrog, two willow twigs, and three myrtle twigs, for a total of seven components.)
And he then suggests a second reason for the mitzvah of the Menorah being written here, immediately following the mitzvah of Sukkot. He cites the Midrash (Torat Kohanim) and the Talmud (Menahot 86b): “Does He then need the Menorah’s light [Rabbeinu Tam interprets this to refer to Aaron]? After all, the Israelites walked only by His light all the forty years that they were in the desert! And the Tosafot (Shabbat 22b) explains that they did not walk by the light of the sun, but rather by the light of the Shekhinah [the Divine Presence]… This is what Hashem teaches us by placing the mitzvah of the Menorah adjacent to the mitzvah of Sukkah – ‘because I made the Children of Israel dwell in sukkot when I took them out from the land of Egypt’ (Leviticus 23:43). This teaches that because of the Clouds of Glory, they did not have the light of the sun, and instead they walked by His Light; and this being the case, the mitzvah of the Menorah was solely for ‘the Curtain of the Testimony’ (Leviticus 24:3) – testimony far all who pass through the world”.
Having cited all these, I now – hesitantly – add another possible explanation for G-d’s repeating the mitzvah of the Menorah just here, interrupting the sequence of the mitzvot of the Kohanim. I preface my explanation with another quote from the Ohr ha-Chayim: “Know that permission is given us to explain the meaning of Scripture through our own studying, in ways which satisfy the intellect, even if the earlier Torah authorities explained it in other ways, because ‘the Torah has seventy facets’ (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:16). We are forbidden to disagree with the earlier authorities only in cases which change and affect practical halakhah. Indeed, you find that the Amoraim [the later generations of Talmudic sages] have no authority to disagree with the Tanaim [the earlier generations of Talmudic sages] in halakhic matters, but in commenting on Scripture and explaining its meaning, we often find that they give differing explanations” (Commentary on Genesis 1:1).
And so, with this permission granted, I offer the following observation.
The theme of Parashat Emor is the Kehunah – the Priesthood, the mitzvot which devolve upon the Kohanim. Chapter 23, containing the Festivals which are inserted in the midst of these mitzvot, seems to be a digression; but actually, the Torah is alluding to a Festival which would one day come in the future.
Hanukkah is the festival which the Kohanim would one day bring into our calendar: it was the Kohanim – the Maccabees of Modi’in, the Hashmonaim – who were to fight for Judaism in the Land of Israel, and who were to restore sovereignty to the Jewish monarchy for more than 200 years (Rambam, Laws of Chanukah 3:1; Mishnah Berurah 670:1; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:1).
And though that war was to happen well over a thousand years after G-d commanded us to keep His festivals, the Torah nevertheless contains an oblique reference to it. G-d inserted the command to keep the Festivals in the midst of the mitzvot of the Kohanim; the continuation was to be Hanukkah, which the Torah hints at by continuing with the mitzvah of the Menorah, lit by pure olive oil.
Indeed, the Ba’al ha-Turim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, Germany and Spain, c.1275-1343) comments in a somewhat similar direction: “The Torah places the mitzvah to take pure olive oil immediately after the mitzvah of Sukkot to indicate that we say complete Hallel on all eight days of Chanukah just as we say complete Hallel on all eight days of Sukkot and Sh’mini Atzeret”.
And perhaps it is not entirely coincidence that Parashat Emor almost always falls in the 23-day period between Yom ha-Atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day) and Yom Herut Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Liberation Day): in the 47 years since Jerusalem was liberated, this year 5774 (2014) is only the fourth time that Parashat Emor falls on the Shabbat before Yom ha-Atzma’ut.
Maybe we are to derive an additional lesson from this timing: just as the Kohanim added an additional Festival to the Jewish year more than a thousand years after G-d commanded us to keep His festivals, so too, in our generation of redemption, we have another two Festival days to add to the Jewish calendar at the time when we read Parashat Emor.