Emor ~ Rituals of Repair ~ Written for Sisterhood Weekend 2010

Here we are, counting the days until we receive the Torah, but we are studying it! How wonderful. We are still in Leviticus, the book of rules. This week’s portion is EMOR what one commentator called the section of sacrifice!
There are two primary themes in this week’s Torah portion. The first is the rules for the Cohen, the priests, to keep themselves pure and loving and not “defiled”. The second is the festivals. As always, it intrigues me to try to find a connection between the themes. As always, I read a lot of what others write. I shamelessly steal ideas if they are appealing and because they force me to think more critically myself.
The first theme seems to me to follow the general demeanor of Leviticus as a whole, for me it is the book of rules and rituals. There has been much more erudite writing about rules and society than I can hope to achieve. But … the rules are intended to define our behavior as a group, as a society. Every group of two or more human beings has politics, some more obvious than others. Without some set of defining rules not only would we not know how to act, we would “act out”, as children do who do not yet know the rules. Sometimes rules need to be broken. But in order to thoughtfully and intentionally break the rules for some other political purpose, you have to know what they are first. As I explained the protests of the sixties, and Mahatma Ghandi’s non-violent protests to my son, you have to know how you are expected to behave in order to use your behavior to make a statement. But this is a digression. As another digression, I did like in this portion, as in lots of Leviticus, that the rules are for men when so many rules in the Torah are directed at women! Not so much that of course, all the Cohen are men! What matters most is that G-d’s rules are intended to help us in living correctly, kindly and with reverence toward each other, our world and G-d.
The second theme is the festivals. It talks about booths, and living in booths that are temporary during the festivals. It is intended, one commentator wrote, to remind us that we are “guests in the world”. Although this leads to a discussion of literally tikkun olam (recycling, energy, etc.) that is too great a digression and we will leave that for another time. As guests in the world we are expected to accomplish as much good as we can in the time we have, as opposed to our general obsession with having and getting more, better, more. In the Pirkei Avot, the Mishna says in part that “it is better to have one moment of repentance and good deeds in this world than all of the world to come.” This is a partial quote, I’m sure I’ll be forgiven. What this says to me is that the opportunity to do G-d’s will is in the here and now, not in the world to come. Here and now, right now, is the only opportunity we have to fulfill the mitzvoth, to better ourselves and our world.
The URJ Torah Commentary today has an amazing D’var by Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport that talks about our relationship to G-d. It talks about one sentence in the portion that implies that it is us, we, that make G-d holy, that we are partners more than we are the children of our Avinu Malkeinu (as comforting as that concept and those words often are). That in our part of the relationship, we can perfect the broken and, in effect, make G-d holy; make G-d, G-d. Rabbi Peter Kessler responds by saying that poetry, however beautiful, and prayer, don’t make G-d holy. That it is our deeds that create holiness. It is his idea that Reform Judaism is about the practical rituals of “repair” and not the spiritual rituals of creative prayer that perfect our relationship with G-d.
I believe that both are true. I believe that we need practical rituals of repair. In these I include the rules, for they inform us of the practical rituals of repair, how to act, how to go about in our relations with the world G-d created, with other humans and with our selves, our bodies. But I believe that we also need what Kessler calls the spiritual rituals of creative prayer. In order to repair ourselves we need poetry and we need to pray in our own and creative ways to rejuvenate our spirits, to bring us to a spiritual fitness that enables us to go on with the practical rituals of repair. Someone wrote, more than we keep the Torah, it keeps us. The rules keep our behavior and the cycle of the festivals keeps our spirit. The task is so great, the repair that is needed is vast. The natural world, and the world we have created are filled with pain and sorrow. Some we can fix, some we can’t. Our relationships are filled with missteps and mistakes, some we can fix, some we can’t. Our homes are filled joys and tragedies, some we celebrate, some we just have to accept. The practical rules tell us how to fix what can be fixed, the spiritual rules tell us how to live in G-d’s will, to accept what can’t be fixed and move on. This creative prayer, this spiritual bonding, is part of what creates holiness, the deeds we do, as individuals, as a congregation, as a sisterhood, is the other. When these two things come together, I believe we have created a moment of holiness. Shabbat Shalom.

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Author: Trienah Meyers

I am a musician, writer, poet, mother, teacher. I am learning to live life differently at this new stage of life. Travel, food, music, books, friends, religion. Everything is interesting. Everything old is new again. I am also available to ghost write blog posts for you, newsletters, speeches. Proofreading/copy editing/editing also available. Or if you just want to take me travelling...

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