Emor; Commanding Softly

Moshe Kempinski

The Torah portion of “Emor”begins with an unusual double use of derivatives of that word “Emor” “And Hashem said ( VaYomer) to Moshe: Speak (Emor) to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them:”( Leviticus 21:1).

The repetitive use of the derivatives of the word “Emor” is deeply instructive. Maimonides maintains that this double use is a method of placing emphasis on the declaration. Yet, the Talmud explains that this was to teach that the priests should maintain this higher level of ritual purity for themselves and also to ensure that they teach their children the same.

It is important to understand why the word Emor was used rather than the more common word “Daber”, even though both connote a declaration of speech. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that “whereas “daber” is the concise direct expression of a thought, “emor” is the softer conveying of the same message into the mind and feeling of another person, the complete explanation of development of a thought.”

The K’tav VeHaKabbalah adds another dimension to the root of “Emor;”. He teaches that it denotes a “raising to a higher level”. As we see in these verses from Deuteronomy; “. And Hashem has elevated you( He-Emeercha) this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments,( Deuteronomy 26:18).

Clearly the commandment to elevate oneself into higher service which would entail greater responsibility and restrictions must be delivered softly and gently. That would be the reason for the use of the verb “Emor”. This would be true regarding the higher expectations of the Kohanim ( the priests) but it is true of the people of Israel as well.
As we see G-d further declares in the Torah portion the following;

“And you shall not desecrate My holy name; but I will be sanctified among the children of Israel: I am Hashem who sanctifies you, that brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your G-d: I am Hashem.” (Leviticus 22:32-33)”

There is no greater sin in this world as the desecration of Hashem’s name. The purpose of Man has been, to reveal G-d in the world and reveal his intimate connection with his creations. To do the opposite ,denies the ultimate purpose of creation.

About this the Rambam writes;

“This is the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem (Sanctifying G-d’s Name) about which all the House of Israel were commanded. That is to say that we should be prepared to die at the hands of the tyrant over our love of God and our faith in His unity – just as Chananya, Misha’el and Azarya did in the days of the evil Nebuchadnezzar, when he forced them to prostrate themselves before an idol; and every person, including the Jews, prostrated themselves (before the idol).”

We have ended the very painful and heart wrenching Holocaust Remembrance Day and are about to enter into the equally difficult Memorial Day. This is immediately followed by the festivities of Yom Haatzmaut ( Israel’s Independence day).

This year I heard an elderly religious Holocaust survivor describe her connection to faith throughout her ordeal in Auschwitz. At one point she briefly spoke of seeing men who were huddled out in the snow in sub-zero weather in an effort by the Nazis to dehumanize and torture them. The men were sent out without any clothes and gathered together and simply broke into prayer. What she remembered them crying out were the words from the Kedusha prayer which were taken from the book of Isaiah.” And one called to the other and said, “Holy, holy, holy is Hashem Tzvakot; the whole earth is full of His glory.”(Isaiah 6:3).

The Nazi tyrants could not succeed in breaking their spirit.

We will subsequently enter into a day of painful memories of young men who gave their lives and their future for the sake of the people of Israel. Stories like that of Major Roi Klein who jumped unto an enemy grenade with a cry of Shma Yisrael in order to save his fellow soldiers. The enemies around us again could not still or break the spirit of this people.
It is after all this emotional turmoil that we are meant to enter into festivities and rejoicing of our national and spiritual renewal in the new born State of Israel. It is not an easy task. Yet that is the essence of the long voyage of the people of Israel. As Maimonides continues to write ;

“And G-d already promised, through Isaiah that Israel’s shame will not be complete at that time, but some young men will appear at that difficult time who will not fear death, and they will disregard their own blood and publicize the faith, and they will sanctify God in public.” (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 9)

Perhaps that is why the portion that “commands” the sanctification of G-d’s name must begin with a repeated and emphasized declaration of “Emor”. Hashem is commanding with a gentle voice because He alone knows what sacrifices must be endured to fulfil His will.

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