The Problem of Embodied Perfection

The Problem of Embodied Perfection

May 4, 2023 By Lauren Tuchman | Commentary | Emor

Parashat Emor (Leviticus 21–24) opens with a passage describing limitations placed on individuals whom a kohen (priest) may mourn or marry, as well as limiting sacrificial service in the Mishkan to those who are able-bodied. We learn in Leviticus 21:17 that any kohen who has a mum—blemish or defect—is explicitly forbidden from “offering the food of his God” (21:17). Kohanim thus disqualified include those who are blind, lame, have a limb length discrepancy, are hunchbacked, have a broken limb, and many others. They are forbidden from ritual leadership throughout the ages; though not stripped of their priestly status and are permitted to eat sacrificial meat. They are not permitted to come behind the curtain or approach the altar. They mustn’t profane these places which God has sanctified (21:22–23).

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Making God Holy

Making God Holy

Apr 28, 2023 By Amram Altzman | Commentary | Aharei Mot | Kedoshim

Parashat Kedoshim, the second of the two parashiyot that we read this week, ends just as it begins: with an imperative for us, the Children of Israel, to be holy. Our parashah opens with, “קדשים תהיו/You shall be holy,” and the penultimate verse tells us that, “והייתם לי קדשים/You shall be holy to Me, for I God am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine” (Lev. 20:26). Although almost identical, our parashahends with the idea that we are not just holy in general, but are specifically designed as holy to God. How, then, are we supposed to not just be holy, but holy to God?

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It Passes and We Stay

It Passes and We Stay

Apr 21, 2023 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Metzora | Shabbat Rosh Hodesh | Tazria

The double parashiyot of Tazria and Metzora are devoted in their entireties to the Biblical notion of tumah, usually translated as “impurity.” In them, we learn three of the major sources of tumah: childbirth (Lev. 12); a condition known as tzara’at, which can manifest on skin, clothing, or the walls of one’s house (Lev. 13–14); and bodily secretions (Lev. 15). The two other primary sources of tumah are touching or carrying the carcasses of certain animals (Lev. 11) and contact with a human corpse (Num. 19).

But what is the essential nature of tumah, and what does it have to do with Emily Dickinson’s poem?

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A Love That Transforms

A Love That Transforms

Apr 14, 2023 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Shemini

Commentaries through the ages have focused on the actions of Aaron’s eldest sons, asking whether being slain by God’s holy fire was, in fact, a punishment—and if so, what exactly it was that they being punished for. Most commentators conclude that the deaths of Nadav and Avihu were indeed punishment, but disagree as to the nature of their transgression: they were drunk when they entered the sanctuary; they were improperly clothed; they had not washed their hands and feet; they were unmarried; they had entered the holy place without authorization; or they had expounded the law before Moses, their teacher. What we can conclude from this plethora of possible explanations is that no one knows for sure why they were killed. Commentators are equally intrigued and perplexed by Moses’s statement to Aaron, and Aaron’s subsequent silence, in the face of this horrific tragedy.

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Leaving Egypt with Compassion and Justice

Leaving Egypt with Compassion and Justice

Apr 8, 2023 By Ben Levy | Commentary | Pesah

The Torah reading for Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesah (Exodus 33:12–34:26) describes the aftermath of the Golden Calf. How do we make sense of this choice?

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The Primacy of Questions

The Primacy of Questions

Mar 31, 2023 By Joel Seltzer | Commentary | Shabbat Hagadol | Tzav | Pesah

The truth is, of all the Jewish holidays of the year, Pesah, requires the most forethought, the most planning, the most cleaning, and yes, the most questions! The Jewish tradition understands deeply that ritual does not simply “occur,” instead it is the result of painstaking preparation and “beginning with the end in mind.”

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What Does It Mean to Be Called?

What Does It Mean to Be Called?

Mar 24, 2023 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Vayikra

This week we begin reading the middle book of the Five Books of Moses, Leviticus. Its position in the Torah scroll is not just coincidental; the laws of Leviticus are central to the earliest rabbis’ understanding of Judaism. The rules in the book are indicated by its name in English (Latin, actually): Leviticus. These are the detailed regulations for the tribe of Levi, particularly that branch of the clan known as the kohanim, the priesthood.

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Making Space for God’s Presence

Making Space for God’s Presence

Mar 17, 2023 By Kara Tav | Commentary | Pekudei | Shabbat Hahodesh | Vayak-hel

Our rededication of the hospital’s ICU echoed for me the original Jewish sacred space described in the Book of Exodus. The double Torah reading for Vayak-hel and Pekudei provides God’s blueprint for a traveling sacred space that the Israelites would build during their journey through the wilderness. As they travelled, they would carry a place for the presence of God and for revelatory encounters between God and the high priests on behalf of the people. It would be a space for doing sacred work and for being with God.

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