Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin
This week’s Torah portion is Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23). And boy is it “action packed!” It begins with the laws specific to the Kohanim (the priestly tribe) and ends off with the story of the blasphemer and possibly the first execution in Biblical history. But somewhere in the middle of our Torah portion, Leviticus chapter 23, to be exact, we have a review of all the Jewish holidays: Shabbat, Passover, Shavuot (next holiday in line!), Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
The commentators note, however, that there is something odd in Chapter 23. Seemingly out of nowhere, in the middle of its discussion of the holidays, there is a verse that appears to be completely out of place. The verse says: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not completely remove the corners of your field and you shall not gather any of the gleanings of your harvest, for the poor and the proselyte shall you leave them, I am Hashem, your G-d.”
What? Agricultural laws in the middle of a discussion of the Jewish holidays? Hey, if the Torah wanted to go off-topic during a discussion of the Jewish holidays, one would think that maybe we’d get a gefilte fish recipe! Or perhaps a recipe for Challa bread. But this? What’s going on over here?
The famous commentator, Rashi, tells us that this verse is coming to teach us that whoever properly observes the Torah’s agricultural commandments is considered to have built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and offered a sacrifice! According to Rashi, therefore, this verse isn’t completely out of context because as we know, all kinds of sacrifices had to be offered in the Holy Temple on Jewish holidays. Therefore, in the middle of its presentation of the Jewish holidays, the Torah tells us, as it were, that in the event that one is unable to offer the required sacrifices on the holidays, as is the case today since we have no Holy Temple, one should meticulously observe the Torah’s agricultural laws. In this way it will be considered as if one offered a sacrifice.
Another famous commentator, known as the Meshech Chochma, notes that this “off topic” discussion on agricultural laws comes immediately after the Jewish holiday of Shavuot is cited (which, as mentioned, is on its way!). Shavuot is the day when we were given the Torah on Mount Sinai. The Meshech Chochma offers a beautiful interpretation and connection between Shavuot and these agricultural laws.
As mentioned in last week’s UWI Torah portion, too many people unfortunately associate the Torah and its commandments only with ritual obligations. But really, the Torah is focused on interpersonal issues as much as ritual ones. A person who is a pious ritualist, but unbecoming in his interpersonal conduct, really isn’t too pious, to say the least.
The agricultural laws are all laws of the “interpersonal nature” not to mention charitable, and all acts of kindness. This is because the portion of one’s field that must remain uncultivated goes to the poor. The gleanings that one drops are also to be left for the poor, and so on. Perhaps the Torah commands us with the agricultural laws at this time in order to remind us that even though our holidays are important, and ritual law is important, we can not forget our interpersonal relationships, an entire area of Jewish law known as “bein adam l’chaveiro,” between man and his friend.
Bottom line: As we prepare for the holiday of the giving of the Torah, which will be here in about 2 weeks’ time along with all its yummy cheesecake, we must recall that part of living with the Torah is knowing how to live with others. We need to observe Living Torah in the our fields! And maybe by treating others properly, along with caring for the poor and less fortunate, we will merit the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and be given the opportunity to offer sacrifices once more.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
Rabbi Ari Enkin