The weekly Torah portion and its lessons for all people

Emor, Leviticus 21:1-24:23
World Class Events

by Avraham ben Yaakov

Certain major sports events are reportedly watched live on TV every week by hundreds of millions of viewers across the world. A handful of performances by celebrity entertainers are said to have been watched by over a billion, while in 1997 the funeral of a British royal princess killed in a car crash is said to have commanded an audience of 2 billion people.

The fascination that royalty has for people all over the world may attest to a deep-seated yearning in humanity for a truly noble, pure, thoroughbred elite devoted to lives of special service for the benefit of the world.

Much of the book of Leviticus is devoted to the various Temple services and the Cohen priests who conducted them. Our present portion of EMOR sets forth the exceptionally high standards of morality, personal and ritual purity and even physical appearance required of this "royal" elite of Cohen priests. The portion then goes on to detail their special Temple services on each of the great festivals of the annual cycle (Leviticus 23:1-44) - services conducted under the scrutiny of millions of pilgrims assembled in Jerusalem. With the rebuilding of the Temple in time to come, these services will also be seen to have the status of world class events, and will perhaps be viewed live by billions across the globe!

The festivals and the ecology

The three main festivals of the year - Pesach ("Passover"), Shavuot ("Feast of Weeks") and Succot ("Festival of Booths", "Tabernacles") - are celebrated by Jews wherever in the world they may be. But in Temple times the central focus of the festival observances is in Jerusalem in the main Temple courtyard, where each of the three festivals is to be marked in its own unique way as laid down in our portion.

The Rabbis taught that there are specified times during the year when the world is judged in the Heavenly Court (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:2). The judgment on Pesach determines the success of our staple grain crops; the judgment on Shavuot determines the success of the fruits, while the judgment on Succot determines the rainfall, which is the key to the entire water ecology.

It is evident from the section of our portion dealing with the annual cycle of the festivals that the specific observances on each of the three pilgrim festivals relate intimately to the respective subject of the judgment on that festival. In the land of Israel, Pesach coincides with the beginning of the grain harvesting season, which was ceremonially inaugurated in the Temple with the Omer offering of barley - Israel's earliest-ripening grain species - on the second day of the festival (Lev. 23:9-14).

Fifty days later, at the height of the wheat-harvesting, Shavuot was celebrated with the presentation at the Temple Altar of two loaves of wheat bread, a ceremonial offering of the "first fruits" of the nation's agricultural endeavors (Lev. 23:17-21).

In Israel Succot coincides with the end of the dry summer harvesting season, when people are starting to think of the need for rains for the success of next year's crops. On each of the days of the Succot festival, the Temple services included solemn processions around the Altar with branches and fruit from four species of trees that particularly exemplify our complete dependency upon God's merciful gift of water: the palm tree, myrtle bush, willow tree and citron (Lev. 23:39-41).

Economic health

Today's news media give the impression that the health of the economy depends on wise decisions by governments and financial leaders (rare indeed) together with such factors as consumer and investor optimism (severely damaged). At the same time the world reels from one ecological disaster to another, with widespread drought, chronic water shortage, crop failures, animal diseases and more.

The Torah is teaching us that ecological balance, harmony, blessing and prosperity depend upon God's mercy, which is all the more forthcoming when humanity humbly acknowledges and respects His great kindness in providing us with all our needs through the sunshine, rains, winds, vegetation, animals and birds and other creations that feed and sustain us.

The prophet teaches that after the cataclysms of the end of days, all the nations that survive will observe the Succot festival, which will then be a "world-class" annual event. It will be clear to everyone that the very rainfall depends upon this:

"And it shall come to pass that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, HaShem of hosts, and to keep the feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that if any of the families of the earth does not up to Jerusalem to worship the King, HaShem of hosts, upon them there shall be no rain" (Zechariah 14:16-17).

The solemn observance of the festivals by the Cohen priests in the Temple in Jerusalem is of vital concern to all humanity since the world's sustainability and prosperity depend upon them.


Those who scoff at this idea are in the category of the Blasphemer of God's Name as described in the episode at the end of our portion (Leviticus 10-23). So serious is the prohibition of the willful, blatant cursing and disparagement of God's Name that it is the second of the Seven Noahide Commandments. The scoffer lives on God's earth, benefiting from all the gifts of His creation, yet arrogantly refuses to admit our fragile dependency on His tender mercies. Instead he shamelessly spews forth denigration and atheism in front of everyone, as has now become fashionable on the part of certain prominent secular philosophers turned media celebrities.

Let a single one of them see if he can have any influence on the rainfall when needed!




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