Parashat Emor 5775
Editor’s Note: On 9 May 2015, Shomrei member Naomi Lester addressed the Shomrei community with the following on the week’s Torah portion.
Shabbat shalom everyone.
Today I am going to speak about to three aspects from this week’s parashat: Emor. First I am going to speak about the law “an eye for an eye.” And then I am going to speak about the types of offerings you are and are not allowed to give. And lastly I am going to talk about blasphemy.
The three subjects are connected by one thought I have, which is that sometimes we must not take everything too literally. If we do, we run the risk of missing the meaning. First of all, verse 20: [eye for eye}. Rashi says that an eye for an eye can’t mean that if you blind someone they can blind you back. But what can they demand of you? What is it that you must do to balance out the bad thing you have already done? You have to compensate the person you have injured for the damage you have done to him or her. How you calculate the damage can be very difficult. You might need a good lawyer. Let’s say you had a talented artist and you broke his or her hand so that he or she could no longer earn their living by painting pictures. You would have to work out how much they could have earned if they had been able to carry on painting. If they were a bad artist, and hadn’t sold many pictures, you’d have to pay them less. So not every hand (or eye) is worth the same. It gets very complicated. But “complicated” is good.
Now for the second subject. God is very specific about what kind of offering you are allowed to give to him. He says that there must be no markings, no blemishes, on the animal. The offering needs to have split hooves. It has to be perfect. We don’t have a temple anymore – so what is the point of studying this part of the parsha? If we don’t take it literally, we can think about it as telling us that there’s a right way of praising somebody, or apologising to somebody. (So we can see the connection with the first subject). It’s not enough to make any old offering – just like it’s not enough to thank someone or apologise to someone just how you like, without being careful about what you say. Sometimes, if you apologise in the wrong way, you can make things worse. And if you praise someone the wrong way, you can get into deep trouble. Remember what happened to Aaron’s sons. Even though they were trying to do something good they were killed because they should have known better.
The third theme is blasphemy. We learnt today about the story of the blaspheming man, who was stoned to death. It’s a shocking story. The timing couldn’t be more interesting. Last week in Texas people were making blasphemous cartoons about the Muslim prophet and that to ended badly. And now today, we read about blasphemy inside our own religion. It makes us think that the problems of religious violence today are problems that we all have to address. This is a very hard question and I do not know the answer to it. But I’m glad that I read this parashat again. It has encouraged me to think about the problem more.
Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.