The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is called Emor and is found in Leviticus 21:1-24:23. God instructs Moses to teach the priests the laws that apply to their special status. No kohen (priest) may come into contact with a dead body, the principal source of ritual impurity, other than members of his immediate family – parents, children, or siblings (the rabbis included his wife). They were not to shave their heads or make gashes in their skin as expressions of mourning. A kohen may not marry a harlot or a divorcee. Additional prohibitions apply to the High Priest, who may not come into contact with any dead body, even immediate family, or marry a widow. No kohen with a physical defect may offer sacrifices, but he still is permitted to eat the portions of the sacrifices set aside for the priests. A priest who is ritually impure may not eat from these sacrifices. Only priests and members of their households – excluding hired workers and daughters married to husbands who are not priests – may eat the food offerings given to the priests. Also, animals dedicated as sacrifices may not have any physical defect. An animal and its young may not be slaughtered on the same day. God then instructs Moses to teach the people about Shabbat and the festivals – Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. The priests are to light the lamps in the sanctuary and to prepare twelve loaves of bread to be displayed in the sanctuary each week.
The theme of holiness is evident in this parasha, emphasizing two main areas: (a) ways the priests must live to maintain a standard of purity and be an example of holiness, and (b) ways all Israelites should celebrate the festivals of Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot to remember the holiness of these days. Clearly prescribed activities and rituals such as specific sacrifices or consecration of certain crops, are included in the celebration of these festivals as well as things to set aside (like work obligations) in order to focus attention on the importance of the holy days. Holiness reminds us to challenge ourselves to live to a higher standard and to pay attention to what is important. It is easy in the “hustle and bustle” of everyday life to let the urgent and immediate take our focus. While many of these things may actually be important, sometimes they keep us from focusing on the seemingly less urgent but equally important things–family, friends, times for ourselves, or connecting with spiritual renewal. This parasha reminds us to take time, and specifically, set aside time throughout the year to focus on what is important. During this week, may we be able to refocus our attention on what is truly important.