Emor: Between Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim

This week's Torah and Haftarah are a most fitting riposte to Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, and an equally fitting introduction to Yom Herut Yerushalayim.

Daniel Pinner ,

Menorah near the Knesset
Menorah near the Knesset
|Uriel Goldstein

Parashat Emor breaks down into four distinct sections:

Leviticus Chapters 21 and 22 contain instructions to the Kohanim [Priests], concluding with the sacrifices.

Chapter 23 commands the Festivals – Shabbat, Pesach, the seven-week Omer period (which we are in the midst of now), Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Sh’mini Atzeret.

24:1-9 returns to the Kohanim, with the mitzvot of the Menorah and the Showbread.

The fourth and final section, 24:10 till the end of the Chapter, relates the episode of the blasphemer.

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 repeats the mitzvah of the Menorah, which He had already given some ten months earlier (Exodus 27:20-21).

So three questions arise here:

  • Why did G-d interrupt the sequence of the mitzvot of the Kohanim with the mitzvot of the Festivals?

  • Why did He repeat the mitzvah of the Menorah?
  • And why did He repeat it specifically here?

Rashi (commentary to Leviticus 24:2) 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”.

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 for the Menorah (Exodus 27:20). 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 is unsatisfactory; 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 lasts seven days. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 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”.

I note here that the Four Species with which we celebrate Sukkot also contain an aspect of seven: One lulav, one etrog, two willow-branches, and three myrtle-branches constitute seven components.

And then the Ohr ha-Chayim suggests a second reason for the mitzvah of the Menorah being written here, immediately following the mitzvah of Sukkot, citing the Midrash (Torat Kohanim) and the Talmud (Menachot 86b):

“Does He then need the Menorah’s light? 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 Shechinah… 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 these four explanations, I now – hesitantly, with some trepidation – add another possible reason for G-d’s repeating the mitzvah of the Menorah just here, interrupting the sequence of the mitzvot of the Kohanim: –

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, may seem to be a digression, but actually, the Torah is alluding to a Festival, intimately connected with the Kohanim, 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 Chashmonaim (Hasmoneans) – 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.

And though that war was to happen well over a thousand years after G-d commanded us to keep His festivals, the Torah nevertheless alludes to it obliquely. 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) also makes the connexion: “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 Hanukkah just as we say complete Hallel on all eight days of Sukkot and Sh’mini Atzeret”.

I suggest that it is no 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, indicating that 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 season when we read Parashat Emor.

The Haftarah for Parashat Emor is Ezekiel 44:15-31:

“And the Levite-Kohanim, descendants of Zadok who kept the charge of My Sanctuary when the Children of Israel strayed away from Me – they will come near to Me to serve Me; they will stand before Me to offer to Me blood and fat, says Hashem G-d”.

Then the prophet continues by vividly describing the Temple Service in the rebuilt Third Temple.

Zadok first appears in 2 Samuel 8:17 as the Kohen Gadol who ministered in the Mishkan during the reign of King David. During the insurrection of Avshalom, Zadok and his fellow-Kohen Eviatar proved their unswerving loyalty to King David (2 Samuel 15); and years later, together with the prophet Nathan, Zadok anointed King David’s son Shlomo as King of Israel (1 Kings 1:32-40).

From then on, throughout the First Temple period and the early Second Temple period, all the Kohanim Gedolim were descendants of Zadok, including Ezra who was instrumental in leading the exiles from Babylon back to Israel and rebuilding the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 7:1-6, 1 Chronicles 5:30-41).

It was only after the Maccabees of the Hasmonean Dynasty defeated the Seleucids, rededicated the Holy Temple, and restored the Temple service that there was a legitimate Kohen Gadol who was not descended from Zadok – Yonatan the son of Matityahu the Maccabee, installed as Kohen Gadol in 141 B.C.E. All subsequent legitimate Kohanim Gedolim of the Second Temple era were of the Hasmonean Dynasty.

This, perhaps, sounded a warning: Those Kohanim of the Hasmonean Dynasty, brave and dedicated fighters for Israel’s freedom, men who gave their very lives for G-d and for Israel, were wildly popular as rulers, both temporal and spiritual.

Yet within a few generations, their descendants degenerated into the very Hellenism which Matityahu and his sons had risked and often given their lives to resist, and eventually instituted a tyranny which oppressed the Jews in Judea as harshly as the Seleucid Empire had done.

Such was the result of a dynasty of Kohanim Gedolim from a line other than Zadok. So Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the restoration of Zadok’s line restored in the Third Temple is especially powerful and inspiring.

It also suggests that the prophet Ezekiel had an inkling of the corruption that would plague the Kehunah three centuries after his death. This prophecy must have been particularly comforting to the Jews of the late Second Temple period.

Rabbi Joseph Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire 1913-1946) introduces this Haftarah:

“The Haftarah...is a Vision of the New Jerusalem and the New Temple that are to arise when the Captivity is over. If, however, the new Temple is to be the embodiment in concrete form of Israel’s ideals of Holiness and Purity, those that shall minister in the House of G-d must not, as in the past, permit any violations of those ideals. Therefore, only descendants of the loyal family of Zadok shall be the priests of the future. In this Haftarah, Ezekiel undertakes to define their duties and ministrations; and thus connects with the Sedrah which regulates the life and work of the priests”.

Rabbi Hertz was indisputably a great man, a great Jew, a great leader, a great rabbi, and a great visionary. But he could not have known, when he penned these words in 5692 (1932), that sixteen years later in 5708 (1948), this Haftarah, this “Vision of the New Jerusalem and the New Temple that are to arise when the Captivity is over”, would be read the day after Israel would become independent.

Neither could he have known that nineteen years after that, in 5727 (1967), a grand coalition of thirteen Arab and Muslim nations would attempt to exterminate Israel – and that Israel, outmanned and outgunned on four fronts, would roundly defeat those genocidal enemies in just six days, returning to Jerusalem four weeks after reading Parashat Emor.

The prophet Ezekiel, describing the third and final Holy Temple, looks forward to a time when the Kohanim will teach and adjudicate justice in the restored Jewish State:

“They will instruct My nation to distinguish between holy and mundane, they will teach them to distinguish between impure and pure; and when it comes to disputes, they will stand in judgement, and according to My judgements they will judge it...” (Ezekiel 44:23-24).

There is a peculiarity here in the text: the word לְמִשְׁפָּט (“in judgement”) is spelt defectively – לשפט instead of למשפט, the letter מ is missing.

Why this peculiarity? Why does the prophet omit a single letter מ in this specific prophecy?

– I suggest:

Some half-a-millennium before the prophet Ezekiel lived, King David had ruled Israel, fought temporal battles to strengthen the country physically and infused the nation with the spirit of sanctity to strengthen them spiritually.

The Tanach records a song of victory which King David composed “on the day that Hashem saved him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul” (2 Samuel 22:1). King David later incorporated this Song, which constitutes all of Chapter 22 of 2 Samuel, into the Book of Psalms (Psalm 18), with a few minor differences which he made with decades of hindsight and additional experience.

Ascribing his victories on the battlefields to G-d, King David lyricised:

“Hashem thundered from Heaven, the Most High gave forth His voice; He sent forth His arrows and scattered them; lightning, and He terrified them” (2 Samuel 22:14-15).

There is a peculiarity here in the text: the word וַיָּהֹם (“He terrified them”) is spelt ויהמם instead of ויהם, with an extra letter מ. The parallel verse in Psalms 18 uses the word וַיְהֻמֵּם (“He drove them into a frenzy”, or “He confused them”).

The inference is that King David originally used the word וַיָּהֹם, as recorded in the Book of Samuel, and much later in life changed the word to וַיְהֻמֵּם when he edited this Song and integrated it into the Book of Psalms.

But the Book of Samuel nevertheless alludes to the change by spelling the word וַיְהֻמֵּם with the extra מ in the written form (כְּתִיב), while retaining the spoken form (קְרִי) of וַיָּהֹם.

The result of this is an extra letter מ in the Tanach. And the prophet Ezekiel balances this by omitting the one letter מ from the word לְמִשְׁפָּט in his prophecy of the third, final, and perfect Holy Temple.

The seeming non-sequitur of the Festivals in Parashat Emor, which appeared to interrupt the laws of the Kohanim, actually alludes to Hanukkah, the Festival which the Kohanim would one day inaugurate.

The Haftarah for Emor gives us hope for the future time to come, the future which has already begun in the last two generations with the restoration of Jewish sovereign national independence in the Land of Israel.

And the prophet Ezekiel, even as he prophesies this glorious future (so far distant in his day, so close to us today!), reminds us of our past in Israel, of King David who founded the Jewish Royal Dynasty which will culminate with the mashiach, and of Zadok, the Kohen Gadol who remained unflinchingly loyal to King David and whose descendants are destined to serve in the rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

This is indeed the most fitting riposte possible to Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, and an equally fitting introduction to Yom Herut Yerushalayim.



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