Summary: Emor is the 8th parasha in the Book of Leviticus comprising Chapters 21:1 – 24:23, the middle part which is also read on each of the 3 festivals – Pesah, Shavuoth and Sukkot.
Emor begins with a description of laws relating to Kohanim; whom they can marry and for whom they must mourn. It includes an explanation of physical defects in a Kohen which proscribe their service in the Mishkan, the prohibition of serving while spiritually impure (Ta’mei) or even partaking of any sanctified gifts that belong to the Kohanim when Ta’mei.
Emor then lists laws pertaining to offerings brought to the Mishkan, the need for them to be unblemished, of a certain age and to be consumed within a limited time.
Shabbat and the 5 major festivals (Pesah, Shavuoth, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur & Sukkot) are spelled out. Then the Torah describes the daily Menorah lighting and weekly Showbread Table (Shulhan) perpetual services conducted in the Mishkan.
Emor concludes with the incident of the blasphemer who was incarcerated; and after G-d’s warning of the punishments for various harmful acts, was stoned to death.
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Comment: At a superficial level the chronology of the parasha seems difficult to reconcile. After explaining laws related to Kohanim serving in the Mishkan, the Torah describe the Jewish festivals (Mikra’ei Kodesh) before returning to the perpetual service of the Menorah & Shulhan.
It would appear that the Festivals, which apply to all members of the Jewish people, are a digression from the type of work that only pertains to Kohanim.
One alternative in looking at Emor is to understand it within the wider context of the Book of Vayikra. The last 4 parashot (Tazria, Metsorah, Aharei Mot & Kedoshim) concentrated on spiritual purity and being sanctified (Kadosh) via our relationships. They applied to Kohen and non-Kohen alike.
Emor begins to show the distinction between Kohanim and the people. Whereas Bnei Yisrael had an option to come before G-d in the Mishkan on specific occasions, the Kohanim had a perpetual obligation to keep themselves in a state of readiness to serve.
The festival laws remind us that despite the mundane activities characterising our lives, through the use of calendrical time we are given special opportunities to be in G-d’s presence. While the Menorah & Shulhan service in the Mishkan, help us to recognise that G-d’s presence is never absent in the world. It simply depends upon us to tune in on a daily basis.
Post-Script: The Book of Leviticus spans the 4-6 weeks in which Bnei Yisrael were encamped at the base of Mt Sinai learning from Moshe that which G-d commanded him atop the mountain. It was a time for inaugurating the Mishkan and inducting the Kohanim before the nation began its journey toward Canaan.
The third of the 5 Books of Moses, Leviticus, is also known as Torat Kohanim (Law of the Priests) because it contains a detailed explanation of the daily, weekly and annual Mishkan ritual cycle. It also contains well-known codes for Jewish behaviour still relevant today – Kashrut, Family Relationships, Shabbat and Festivals. Many of these mitsvot enabled Bnei Yisrael to remain in a state of ritual purity and become a Sanctified Nation. Ultimately, beyond the laws governing submission to the Divine, there were social justice laws intended for interacting with a wider world.