Weekly Reading Insights:
Emor 5779

Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Emor (Outside of Israel the Weekly Reading is Kedoshim) - 6 Iyar 5779 /May 11

Torah: Lev. 21:1-24:23; Haftorah: Ezekiel 44:15-31(Kohanim in Temple)

Pirkei Avot: Chapter Two

Emor is the 7th Reading out of 10 in Leviticus and it contains 6106 letters, in 1614 words, in 124 verses

Parshat Emor opens with laws concerning priests and the high priest: which blemishes or states of impurity disqualify them from serving, with whom they may marry, for which deceased person may they become impure, and more. The next topic discussed is which animals are eligible for sacrifices. The following section speaks about Shabbos and lists some of the dates and laws of the holidays. Then comes instructions about the menorah’s ‘eternal lamp’ and the showbread in the Tabernacle. The  concluding section relays how a Jew blasphemed and what his punishment was.

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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These are the days of the counting of the Omer, the countdown between Passover and Shavuos, when each of us again, each year on a higher level, is able to leave our "slavery" situations and limiting characteristics as we go forward to receive the Torah, freeing ourselves to become G-d's chosen people. Part of the tradition of the counting of the Omer is to work on improving our faulty personal character traits that slipped in over the year. It is actually part of the liturgy of the counting that you meditate on one of the 49 different emotional traits and think about how to fix it.

The question is always, how do we do it? What is the most effective way to work on ourselves? Rabbi Aharon Yosef Luria shared a beautiful idea from the Bais Avraham (chassidut Slonim).

The Bais Avraham writes: How do we purify our negative character traits? Instead of allowing our desires to control us, we force ourselves to go against our desires. This is what I heard from my Rebbe (on Vayikrah 1:1) "When a person brings from themselves an offering." The word "themselves", (in Hebrew) mechem seems to be superfluous. What does "from themselves" add? The Slonimer Rebbe explained that "from themselves" can also be read as an acronym, mida k'neged mida. One trait in relation to another trait. Usually we understand this in human terms that we respond to people the way they treat us. If a person is happy towards us, we are happy to them. If a person is angry, we also respond in kind. The Torah teaches that G-d also responds in kind to our positive and negative attributes. Here the Bais Avraham is explaining this in a different way. Mechem can also be understood on a personal level. When I am faced with a negative desire I can respond with a positive desire - forcing myself to behave in a positive way. Now we can really understand the verse. What is the greatest offering that we can make to G-d? Mechem, forcing myself to behave in a positive way rather than being controlled by my habits and desires!

We can also see this same idea in this week's Torah portion, Emor. The verse says (23:16), "And you made a new offering for G-d." The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) teaches that our evil inclination is not lazy. Each day it completely renews its efforts to control us, to bring us into its web with one thing or another. When a person is able to go against his negative desires, replacing them with something positive for G-d's sake, to honor the Holy One Blessed be He, this is the "new offering" that we bring to G-d.
During this auspicious period may G-d give us the "siyata d'Shmaya (Divine assistance) to transform our negative inclinations into desires for the positive and G-dly.


In the year 5773 (1973), a certain G-d fearing, honorable good Jew, who lived in Jerusalem, was imprisoned for some reason. As Lag b'Omer approached, this prisoner was very upset that he couldn't be in Meron for the festive occasion. Each year he had made it a point not to miss going to Meron to celebrate the yahrzeit of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. He asked his son to go to pray for him, and he expressed his sorrow that he can't go there as well. "I go every year, and now I am behind bars and unable to attend."

The son replied, "Since you go to Rabbi Shimon every year but this year you can't for a reason beyond your control, I am certain that Rabbi Shimon will this year come to you instead!" His father smiled. He appreciated his son's effort to cheer him up, but of course it was just wishful thinking.

That year, on Lag b'Omer, a fire broke out in the jail. The Jewish inmates took advantage of the fire to dance around it and sing joyously the three classic Lag b'Omer songs over and over. Thus, they had a genuine Lag b'Omer bonfire celebration right there in prison! Nor was that all. The fire caused so much damage, the jail needed repairs. As a result, there wasn't room for all the prisoners, so the next morning, on Lag b'Omer day, the ones with the lightest sentences were freed.

So it seems that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai did go to the remorseful Jew, just as his son had said. He, and many others of the prisoners, were able to celebrate on Lag b'Omer, and then to be set free as well.

(Rabbi Elimelech Biderman, "Torah Wellsprings", Emor 5776. Adapted by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles from the translation of Rabbi Baruch Twersky.)
Shabbat shalom, Shaul.

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Emor

one sample:

The Zohar
Secret Unification of the Species

From the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai; translation and commentary by Shmuel-Simcha Treister, based on Metok MiDevash

Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai taught the secret of the mitzvah of the Four Species on Sukkot is thus: just as the Holy One Blessed Be He takes Israel as his own on these days and rejoices in them, so Israel also takes Him as their portion and rejoices in Him.
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