In Parashat Emor, the verses in Leviticus 23:1-44 name and describe the sacred times of the Jewish calendar: Shabbat, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and the Pilgrimage Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Time becomes a holy thing, and the "normalcy" of time — of one day being no different than any other — is forever differentiated by the weekly Sabbath and by these special festive days.
Count off seven sabbath years — seven times seven years — so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. (Leviticus 25:8-10)
In this week's portion, the Jubilee year is established. Called yovel, our parashah explains how every forty-nine years — seven weeks of seven years — in the seventh month, on Yom Kippur, the shofar of freedom is to be sounded throughout the land for all its inhabitants. This iconic verse to proclaim freedom throughout the land is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
Another name for this week's Torah portion is Parashat HaToch'chah — the portion of reproach. It contains a list of curses so terrible that traditionally the Torah reader chants them quickly and in a hushed tone so as not to call attention to them. And no one wants that aliyah! The curses are the punishment for disobedience, and they must have truly struck fear in the hearts of our ancestors.
The curses come just after the promise of blessing — if we follow God's ways. Rain in abundance, good crops, peace, victory, and fertility are all ours if, as the portion begins, ". . . you walk in my statutes and guard my commandments and do them" (Leviticus 26:3). We might mistakenly feel the parashah is about the classic "reward and punishment." But I see it differently. I see it as an apt closing for the Book of Leviticus, which began with a call to relationship — Vayikra — and ends again with a call to relationship. God's message can be interpreted as, "If you are a true partner with Me then our relationship will be healthy, but if you ignore Me, spite Me, hurt Me, and leave Me, how can we possibly go on together?"
Were they people? Not to the Principal. Not even employees? They were more like digits, widgets, sprockets, more cogs on the command chain. (Joshua Cohen, The Book of Numbers, Oxford, 2014, p. 1.87)
Incredulous. That's how I felt, after requesting and then learning my Uber passenger rating. You see, drivers get to rate and rank you too.
"4.8! That's it?" I thought. "I've never been impolite or unfriendly. I never cancel a request after submitting one. What reason could there be for denying me a full five stars?"
Once again, here was one small example of the many ways each of us is reduced to numbers as we go about our post-modern lives.
Joseph, then viceroy of Egypt, decides to hold Benjamin to pressure his brothers to bring their father Jacob to Egypt. His true identity is still hidden from his brothers. But Judah steps forward to intervene (Gen. 44:1-14). As Vayigash opens, in an impassioned plea, Judah offers himself in place of Benjamin (Gen. 44:18-34). Where does Judah, who once lacked strength to protect Joseph, finally find the courage?
These concepts have played—and continue to play—their part in history, but they are based on readings of the text that, I believe, do not ring true today.
The drama of Parashat Bo is mostly terrifying. The mounting confrontation between the Israelites – represented by Moses and Aaron (but really God) – and the Egyptians – represented by an unnamed Pharaoh – reaches its crescendo with the last three of the ten plagues. We should strive to remember all of the innocent victims on both sides of every conflict.
I am a rabbi because of a game of catch I played at camp with a rabbi more than three times my age. ... Others people who have changed my direction are like supporting actors in my life. ... In Parashat Vayeishev, Joseph goes out searching for his brothers who are supposed to be in the field tending the flock. ... Along the way he meets a man whose name we never know: The Torah refers to him simply as ha-ish, ”the man” who saw Joseph wandering in the field (Gen. 37:15).