Drash on Parashat Emor 2018
Mashpiah / Spiritual Director
Wellington, New Zealand
The name of our portion is Emor: Say. Emor/Say sounds softer and more gentle than Dabber/Speak. Emor/Say is like a gentle, soft whisper. “Say to the Priests … none shall defile himself…” (21:1) I love this interpretation from Aviva Zornberg in The Murmuring Deep: “Say to them in a whisper not to pollute themselves with bitterness”.
What is it that is being whispered to us in Emor?
Chapter 21, verse 9 in our portion reads: “When the daughter of a priest will become desecrated, she is desecrating her father, she shall be burned in fire”. The Zohar interprets the daughter in our verse as our soul. If we combine the interpretation of Aviva Zornberg with the teaching of the Zohar we have:
Whisper to the Priests, do not pollute your soul with bitterness.
We begin each day with the prayer: Elohai neshema she nata bi, tehora he. Oh God, the soul you have given me, she is pure. We wake up and are reminded that we are pure, unblemished. Then the day starts. I have a toothache. I have a weird rash. I put on weight. The texts, emails, meetings and phone calls begin. Sometimes I respond unskillfully. When my tooth hurts and then I get a difficult phone call, I don’t always respond with kindness and compassion. Sometimes I respond out of pain, anger, or fear. When this happens, I begin to “pollute my soul with bitterness”.
We are to be a nation of Priests. Emor whispers to us that we must not defile ourselves. The Priest must be unblemished. We must be unblemished. Unblemished by bitterness, fear, anger, jealousy, greed.
This is really hard! Our stories, from the stories of our ancestors to all the movies I have seen recently: Star Wars, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Three Billboards, The Florida Project, Black Panther… contain actions that come about from pain and suffering, jealousy and greed.
When our words and actions arise from pain and anger, there is a sense or a feeling of separation from our pure soul. The Hasidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev teaches that when we act out of these negative emotions and then recognize the damage we are doing by our words or actions, this can energize us to do teshuvah. This is what is meant in our verse: ‘she shall be burned in fire’ (Lev 21:9) According to R. Levi Yitzhak the healing comes by means of a burning enthusiasm that enflames us to do teshuvah.
Our challenge as a nation of priests, (and this challenge is constant and very difficult) is to try to listen for that whisper that helps us become aware of this sense of separation, the feeling of “pollution” that we have brought upon ourselves, and then consider the source of our actions.
Levi Yitzhak asks us to try to become aware when we speak or act without kindness or compassion; and to notice that perhaps it was our own pain, or fear, or jealousy, or suffering that was behind the hurtful response. Then we can take that energy from the negative action and redirect it “with burning enthusiam!” to respond with compassion for ourselves. In this way we care for our pure soul, and begin to return to our natural holiness and connection to God that we woke up with!
Sources: A Partner in Holiness, Rabbi Jonathan Slater; The Murmuring Deep, Aviva Zornberg