EmorLeviticus - Vayikramain posts

Parashat Emor Aliyah by Aliyah


אֱמֹ֥ר אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים בְּנֵ֣י אַהֲרֹ֑ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם (אמר כא, א)

“…Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them” (Leviticus 21:1)

First Reading: Educating Others and Ourselves

Elders and Minors

The first verse of our Torah portion reads, “Havayah said to Moses: ‘Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them….’” To explain the reason for the seemingly unnecessary repetition, “say to them” (וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם), Rashi writes that its purpose is “to warn the elders regarding the minors.” The essence of education is embedded in this expression, which has been interpreted extensively in the service of God in general, and in relation to education in particular. The various interpretations that have been offered can be categorized into the three fundamental stages of transformation taught by the Ba’al Shem Tov and known as: submission, separation, and sweetening.

Some[1] have interpreted this directive as teaching the elders that despite their status and standing in society, sometimes they need to see belittle themselves and make themselves smaller. The interpretations that follow this path are emphasizing the need that the educator have a sense of inner submission, attained by lessening his self-esteem. A fundamental aspect of the Chasidic approach is that the role of an educator and influencer requires self-diminishment and humility to empathize and identify with the small-minded or less experienced individual. Only then can the teacher elevate the younger disciple from his current, lower state.

Other commentaries[2] have interpreted this directive in the opposite manner, as a warning to those who are of greater stature to not fall into the trap of small-mindedness. One who has a wider perspective should prevent himself from the risks of narrowing his mindset and perspective. Interpretations in this category emphasize the need to distinguish and elevate the greater mindset and perspective from the smaller, thereby maintaining this separation between the two. This requirement pertains both to the personal development of the elders and their ability to act as efficient guides and influencers for the younger generation, without being affected by them and their small-mindedness.

A third approach,[3] close to the simple interpretation, teaches that this is a directive for the elders, those who have higher status in society, to influence the younger people, or those with lesser stature, and enlighten them. The word for “to warn” (לְהַזְהִיר) can also mean to illuminate or to enlighten. In this interpretation, it means to shine the brightness and light of the elders upon the younger. Here, the emphasis is on the need to sweeten the condition of the younger by virtue of the enlightenment the elders can provide. At first glance, this category of interpretations seems to apply mainly to the education of the younger individuals in society, however, as it turns out, the development of those who are entrusted with educating the young also depends upon it. Normally, the educator receives equal if not greater amounts of benefit by engaging in illuminating the younger generation. Hence, the warning, or entrusting of the younger in the hands of the older is an act in and of itself here.


Now that we have seen the three general categories for interpreting Rashi’s statement and describing the relationship they entail between the educator and the student, between the elders and the younger, let us turn to apply these categories to the educational or self-development work we each need to do with ourselves. Our applications will be based on the interpretation of “elders” as alluding to high-minded states of consciousness and “younger” as alluding to states of small-minded consciousness. Both small-mindedness and high-mindedness are states of mind found within the individual. Every individual needs to learn how to properly react to both states of mind.

The great person, whose role is to lead, educate, and rectify the generation, is prone to being ensnared in the sins of the generation. From the point of view of his inner being, the great person must be wary lest he be caught in the sin of the generation,[4] not because of fear of punishment, but because of the damage caused by the sin itself. The great person must be careful not to fall and become one of the younger people (whom he is entrusted with educating). Thus, he must separate himself from the possibility of falling to the level of the younger people, reflecting a fall to pettiness, which would cause the greater individual who usually sees a wide perspective and acts in a wider context to turn a blind eye to what is happening around him. The great person is warned not to fall into pettiness by ignoring what is happening around him, but to fulfill the directive of always taking responsibility: “in a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.”[5] In other words, the truly “great” individual is expected to be the one standing, correcting, and leading the people into a wider perspective offered by his high-mindedness.

We began with separation. Moving on to submission, we find an opposite interpretation: the great individuals are cautioned that sometimes they need to adopt a narrow view of reality and act without striving for overarching greatness. A prominent example can be found in the continuation of the first portion: priests are prohibited from accompanying the deceased to their burial, actions that would render them spiritually impure. Burying the dead is considered “a true and unrepayable act of loving-kindness” and would therefore seem to be the perfect behavior of high-mindedness that cares even for what does not personally concern them. Here, however, the priests are commanded to limit their responsibility towards others in an act of submission to the Divine command, which instructs them that they are not great enough to engage in this without becoming defiled.

Sweetening is interpreted[6] to mean that within a person, states of greatness should also illuminate the states of smallness. Every individual has times of greatness and success and times of lowliness and failure. Thus, the verse, “A righteous man falls seven times and gets back up” is relevant to us all. Even when we feel close to God, by aggrandizing our sense of worth, we are prone to fall and distance ourselves from God. The sweetening of self-education is the preparation of a stable foundation that prevents, even in a fall to smallness, a total breakdown and capitulation to sin because of our despair. Our teacher, the Baal Shem Tov, innovated the teaching that the essence of education is the mental preparation for the future fall, a preparation that should be carried out during times of greatness. This allows one to hold steady in times of smallness through the memory of our previous nearness to God.


(excerpted from Ma’ayan Ganim, Vayikra, Emor)



כִּ֥י כָל־אִ֛ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֥וֹ מ֖וּם לֹ֣א יִקְרָ֑ב אִ֤ישׁ עִוֵּר֙ א֣וֹ פִסֵּ֔חַ א֥וֹ חָרֻ֖ם א֥וֹ שָׂרֽוּעַ (אמר כא, יח)

“No one who has a defect shall come near; no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long.” (Leviticus 21:18)

Second Reading: Standing Defective and Being Healed


Something extremely precious to the Lubavitcher Rebbe were the verses recited before the Hakafot on Simchat Torah. In addition to the verses appearing in the liturgy, the Rebbe added the verse U’fartzta[7] and after the start of the immigration of Russian Jewry to the Land of Israel, the Rebbe added the verse, “Behold, I will bring them from the northland, gather them from the ends of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor together; a vast throng shall return here.”[8]

The beginning and end of this verse is more or less understood, but in the middle, we find a perplexing phrase, one that is studied by the sages, “among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor together” (בָּם עִוֵּר וּפִסֵּחַ הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת יַחְדָּו). The sage, Reish Lakish, interprets the words “among them the blind and the lame” as referring to the resurrection of the dead, explaining that the resurrected will “stand [come back to life] with their defect and will then be immediately healed.”[9] At the initial moment of resurrection, a person will arise with their affliction—be it blindness or lameness, etc.—and will be healed immediately. This "immediately healed" reminds us of Maimonides' words after a thousand years that "the end of Israel is to repent at the end of their exile and immediately they are redeemed." The sign of redemption is that a person stands with their affliction and is immediately healed.

We can abstract this idea and say that it not only pertains to the Resurrection of the Dead, since the straightforward interpretation of the verse speaks of redemption and not just Resurrection. This means there is a concept of national revival—similar to Ezekiel's vision, which is both a resurrection of the dead and a revival of the people—and in each instance, there is this aspect of “they stand with their defect and are immediately healed.” In other words, there is a positive aspect where the beginning of revival is not about denying the defect, whether psychological or emotional. However, while the person stands with their defect and the entire people stands with its defects, they are immediately healed.

Why is this necessary? Because it strongly emphasizes that it is the hand of God. These are not human actions, they are Divine. My defects are certainly caused by my issues, affairs, and sins. And it is God that heals them.

We often discuss how a defect (מוּם) is considered a holy name in Kabbalah—the last name derived from the three consecutive verses in parashat Beshalach that have 72 letters each—indicating that the defect itself holds a form of sanctity. It takes complete self-abnegation to stand with one’s defect and await a miracle from Heaven that will heal it instantaneously. Such a miracle reveals God’s essence; it is an action solely of “the Healer of all flesh, who does wondrous deeds.” It is a wonder of wonders.

This interpretation is characteristic of a ba’al teshuvah mentality, exactly the viewpoint held by Reish Lakish. He often speaks from the perspective of a ba’al teshuvah, a relatively “lights of chaos” perspective. “They stand with their defect and are immediately healed” applies both to the redemption of all of Israel and to the redemption of each individual—one must stand with their defect and be healed instantly, through wondrous miracles.

(from a class given on 23 Adar 5767)


וּסְפַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִמׇּחֳרַ֣ת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת (אמר כג, טו)

“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:15)

Fourth Reading: The Higher Sabbath


The verse reads, “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath.”[10] Why is the first day of Passover referred to as, “the Sabbath”? Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains[11] that, “it was only at the Exodus from Egypt that the Creation of the world was completed, and the purpose of Creation revealed, because then the love of God for Israel was revealed.” Just as the day of the Sabbath that followed the six days of Creation represents the physical completion of Creation, so the first day of Passover represents the conceptual completion of Creation. It was when the Israelites left Egypt that the conceptual intent of Creation was revealed. To quote Rashi on the first verse of the Torah, “In the beginning,” i.e. Creation, was all for the sake of Israel, who are called “a beginning.”

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explains that the Sabbath that followed the physical Creation of reality is known as the Lower Sabbath (שַׁבָּת תַּחְתּוֹן), while the conceptual Sabbath, referred to by the first day of Passover, is deemed the Higher Sabbath (שַׁבָּת עֶלְיוֹן). It is specifically regarding the Higher Sabbath that the sages said, “If the Jewish people were to keep two Sabbaths, they would immediately be redeemed.”[12] In fact, these two Sabbaths are included in every single Sabbath: the Lower Sabbath is Friday night, when the rest and cessation from the week's labor is felt and the Higher Sabbath refers to the daylight hours of Saturday, which is the time for ascending from strength to strength (starting from the transition from Sabbath morning to the delight of the afternoon), as alluded to in the verse, “the righteous have no rest”[13] on “the day that is all Sabbath and rest”[14]; they attain this dynamic rest through the observance of the commandments, which increasingly reveal the purpose of creation.

Retroactive Revelation of Miracles

Rebbe Levi Yitzchak proceeds to explain a special phenomenon regarding the days of Passover using the Atbash letter transformation, where the first letter of the aleph-bet is replaced with the last letter, the second letter with the second-to-last letter, and so on. The first five letter pairs in Atbash are thus: aleph-tav, bet-shin, gimmel-reish, dalet-kuf, and hei-tzaddik. The aleph stands for the first day of Passover, the bet, for the second day, and so on. The second letter in each pair is an initial or acronym for another holiday during the year that will fall on the same day of the week as that particular day of Passover.

In detail, the letter tav stands for Tishah Be’Av and it will always be on the same day of the week as the first day of Passover. The letter shin stands for Shavu’ot and it will always be on the same day of the week as the second day of Passover. Reish stands for Rosh HaShanah, which will always be on the same weekday as the third day of Passover. Kuf stands for kri’ah (קְרִיאָה) alluding to the day of reading, or Simchat Torah, which will always be on the same weekday as the fourth day of Passover. The letter tzaddik stands for tzom, or “fast day alluding to Yom Kippur, which always falls on the same day of the week as the fifth day of Passover.

However, the next pair, vav-pei, is somewhat different. The pei refers to Purim, but instead of being the upcoming Purim that will be 11 (or 12) months after Passover, it refers to the Purim that already was that year, a month before Passover. Why does Passover retroactively refer to the previous Purim?

The miracles of Passover—the Ten Plagues, the Parting of the Red Sea—were overt miracles that annulled Nature, while the miracles of Purim were concealed within the natural course of events. As long as the world seems to go about its business-as-usual routine, Nature conceals the fact that everything is by Divine Providence, and that everything that is and happens is actually a miracle veiled by the mask of Nature. But when God disrupts Nature with overt miracles and His Providence becomes evident to all, we retroactively realize that even those events we thought were natural were miraculous. The past is revealed to be no less the handiwork of God than the present.

This retroactive revelation of God’s stewardship of reality governs the relationship Passover and Purim. By extension, it also governs the relationship between how God affected Nature during the Exodus and the way in which Nature seemed to reign independently from Creation until the Exodus. The miracles that preceded the Exodus, before the love for Israel was revealed, were relatively hidden miracles (even if they completely deviated from nature), because the purpose of Creation that lay beyond the clockwork functioning of Nature had not yet been revealed. But from the moment the purpose of Creation was revealed with the Exodus from Egypt, it became clear, in retrospect, that all prior events, all of God’s Providence over Creation was all intended for Israel.

Let us add a beautiful numerical allusion that relates to this teaching from Rebbe Levi Yitzchak. The sum of the first pairs five pairs of letters— א"ת ב"ש ג"ר ד"ק ה"צ—is 1105, the value of the first five words of the Shema, “Hear O’ Israel, Havayah is our God, Havayah [is one]” (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל י־הוה אֱ־לֹהֵינוּ י־הוה). The idea is that only after these five pairs of letters can the “One” (אֶחָד) within Nature, God who works through Nature be revealed; retroactively, God’s oneness is revealed as the Providence behind Nature as well.[15]

The value of the sixth combination—ו"פ—is 86, the value of “Nature” (הַטֶּבַע) and God’s Name, Elokim (אֱ־לֹהִים), alluding to the revelation of God’s “One”ness that is above Nature. Indeed, the product of “Elokim” (אֱ־לֹהִים) and “One” (אֶחָד) is 1118, the value of the complete Shema (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל י־הוה אֱ־לֹהֵינוּ י־הוה אֶחָד). Again, a retroactive revelation that everything is a miracle, and all is for Israel.




[1]. No’am Elimelech on the verse (2nd interpretation).

[2]. Ma’or Einayim on the verse (2nd interpretation).

[3]. Ibid. on Shir HaShirim s.v. Ki HaShem Yiten Chochmah.

[4]. Shabbat 54b.

[5]. Avot 2:5.

[6]. No’am Elimelech on the verse (third interpretation).

[7]. Genesis 28:14.

[8]. Jeremiah 31:8.

[9]. Sanhedrin 91b.

[10]. Leviticus 23:15.

[11]. Kedushat Levi, Emor, s.v. Usfartem Lachem.

[12]. Shabbat 118b.

[13]. Berachot 64a.

[14]. Mishnah Tamid 7:4.

[15]. Similarly, it is explained in the Tikkunei Zohar 21 (62a) that the first five words of the Shema are symbolized by the five river-stones David collected into his shepherd’s bag—symbolizing the “hard stop” (פְּסִיק טַעְמָא) that follows the first five words—which then became “one” (אֶחָד), a united single stone that David shot at Goliath’s forehead.

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