Torah Insights for Shabbat Emor
May 9, 1998 - Israel
May 16, 1998 - Diaspora
The sons of Aharon, the kohanim, are ordered to not defile their priestly sanctity by coming into contact with a corpse. They may only contaminate themselves for seven close relatives: a wife, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, and unmarried sister. But the kohain gadol, the high priest, may not attend the funeral of even these immediate relatives.
After detailing the regulations concerning some possible occasions, this very same parshah, with only one chapter intervening, suddenly speaks of the most joyous, inspiring and uplifting holidays on the Jewish calendar. In addition to Shabbos, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, we are also treated to a review of the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuos and Succos.
How are we to understand the positioning of these two widely contrasting sections in the Torah portion?
Rabbi Mordechai Hakohain, in Al Hatorah, suggests the following answer. "These two sections were placed in close proximity," he explains, "to teach us not to give in to despair and hopelessness when misfortune occurs."
Just as there are sad and depressing moments, by the same token there are also joyous and uplifting occasions as represented by the Jewish festivals which we celebrate each year. Therefore, even in those moments when the sun sets and the thick darkness of gloom envelopes us, we must make an effort to look forward with faith and hope to the dawning of a brighter and glorious new day. King David phrased it best when he declared in Tehillim, "You have changed for me my lament into dancing; you undid my sackcloth and girded me with gladness."
That this message of hope is expressed by the cycle of joyous festivals expresses the idea that the antidote to despair is a greater devotion to Jewish observance. The festivals recall the miracles that Hashem performed for our ancestors when they called out to Him. Likewise, we are reminded that "the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps."
The Jewish festivals teach the eternal lesson that it is not Jewish to despair . We are not allowed to submit to any feelings of helplessness because this indicates a lack of faith. Our history tells us this, our survival affirms it, our faith demands it.
Rabbi Maynard Hyman
Rabbi Hyman is rabbi of the Beth Sholom Synagogue Chattanooga, Tennessee.
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