What message am I sending today?

Emor 19 Iyar 5781              by Mauricio Quintero

From this portion Emor אֱמֹר, which can be translated as “tell them”, there are so many teachings that we can apply to our lives today. It speaks about how the Cohen HaGadol, the High Priest and the cohanim were to behave, so that they could be pure enough to approach the Bore Olam in the Mishkan. It also instructed us on the Biblical Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, Yom Kippur, Yom Teruah and Sukkot, which make up the annual calendar of pilgrimages and celebrations for the people of Israel. God also gave instructions concerning the oil to light the Menorah in the sanctuary and the presentation of the loaves of bread to the Eternal. At the end, He tells us about an incident about a young man, half Egyptian, and half Israelite, who blasphemed against the Creator, and He set up various norms regarding murder, compensation for physical damage or mutilation and for blasphemy.

In this portion, I grasped the meaning of the power of the words that come out of our mouth and our actions, as well as the saying “in the name of….” and above all, the power that a person who is speaking, holds.  

Why is it that an offensive comment from an illiterate person doesn’t carry the same weight as when it comes from a President? It is because of the influence that his position carries. In this case, God told Moses, the leader of His people, “TELL THEM.” That is, Moses bore the responsibility of being a messenger from the Eternal, and this responsibility gave him a status, and this status placed him in a position of power that implies responsibility. The more responsible, the more influence one has, the more power a leader has, the more is required from that leader. Therefore, the leader must take care of his physical, moral, and spiritual purity and holiness not only before the Creator, but also before society.

Today we are different; we are called a holy people, set apart for a purpose. The cohen, the priest had to avoid being contaminated by a dead body to not fall into a state of impurity, which we might say is publicly visible, but he also needs to take care of his purity in private (for example, the emanation of bodily fluids), and although not everyone knew whether he was pure or not, he had to abstain from eating food what was set apart for God. This is a great lesson in integrity, the cohen should not only seek his outward state of purity, but his inward condition as well.

The Torah also instructs us to tell future generations to keep the flame of Judaism alive through the observance of the Festivals and keeping the Commandments. This pertains equally to the leaders, not only of the community (elders and cohanim) but also to the parents, the heads of the home. If we keep silent and do not communicate the instructions for life to the next generation, the Torah becomes a book of dead letters, and this important book will soon be forgotten in the recesses of a library. That is why we have the responsibility to TELL the next generation to observe the commandments and the holidays, and to pass on to the next generation, the values ​​learned from our parents and from us by our example.

Finally, this portion prompts us on WHAT TO SAY and WHAT NOT TO SAY. We might say that purity represents anything that brings life, everything that makes us a holy people, i.e., a people set apart who not only communicate it with our mouth, but also with our life-giving actions. Following this idea, does God execute (or kill) someone just because He curses His Name? Is God less because someone utters words with his mouth that should not have come out when he speaks against Heaven? The rabbis say that the case of blasphemy is a very particular one and should not be generalized to all generations, so that we do not fall into extremism that exists or existed in many countries where to blaspheme against the statutes of a particular religion (putting human dictates above the Eternal) is a crime punishable by law such as blasphemy, leading to imprisonment, to suffer mutilation and even death. Is this what God wants? Obviously, the answer is NO.

God was indicating that we cannot usurp His Name. As it says in the Third Commandment, we must not use his Name in vain, which means that we cannot SPEAK ABOUT MATTERS THAT HE HAS NOT AUTHORIZED US TO SPEAK, IN HIS NAME. Here are two related yet opposite concepts: Hillul Hashem and Kiddush Hashem, voiding His Divine Name or sanctifying His Divine Name.

But what does it mean then, to elevate or minimize His Divine Name? The answer is simpler than it seems: if my actions or words ELEVATE (or glorify) God, I am SANCTIFYING Him. If my actions or words cause the community, society, family, or others to DISTANCE themselves from God because of ME, I am voiding His Divine Name. For this, the Torah gave us some very practical examples: such as “if you damage an eye, you compensate for the damage caused”, “do not murder” or “if with your words you throw stones (blaspheme), you will have real stones thrown back at you”.  Measure for measure – “midah keneged midah”

According to modern psychology, the origin of actions and words spoken or not, begin with our thoughts; that is why Rav Shaul said in the letter to Philippians 4: 8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Also, in Mishlei 18:21, it says: “The tongue has the power over life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” and in the letter of Ephesians 4:29, Rav Shaul said “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” And as Rav Shaul also said in 2 Corinthians 3: 2 “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.”

So, today, we are on display like in a showcase, and the least that society expects from us, is that we be upright, just, pure, holy and that we seek the Eternal. Being constantly exposed, we must take care of His Divine Name through our words and our actions. We must not be legalistic in the pretence that we cannot help our neighbor because it would defile us like the Levites in the story of the Samaritan told by Rabbi Yeshua, but by our actions and words, we must raise up His Divine Name. As Stan Lee said in his Spiderman comic: “With great power comes great responsibility”, on the other hand, we could say: “With a Great Name comes great responsibility”.  Let us ask ourselves, what are we producing – Life or death – Purity or impurity – Holiness or desecration?

Shabbat Shalom!

Mauricio Quintero