The Author


In giving us the Torah in the desert, God was freeing us not just from the reality of slavery, but also from the mentality of slavery.

On any given day, the news reports a story of someone being indicted for some kind of white-collar crime. I wait for the name of the alleged perpetrator.  Not Jewish?  I breathe a sigh of relief. Whenever Jews, and especially religious Jews, make the news for dishonest, criminal or other bad behavior, I cringe and feel sullied in the core of my Jewish collective soul.

Maybe it stems from this week’s Torah portion, Emor, where God charges the Jewish people with the task of sanctifying His Name here on earth.  One way of doing that is to act in a way that how causes people to revere God.  This is referred to as a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s Name). By standing for and becoming living embodiments of holiness, we become God’s emissaries, as it were.

Sadly, however, the reverse is also true, and when we act in unsavory and hypocritical ways, so as to garner contempt, it is called a Chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s Name).

This sounds like a very tall order – “sanctifying God’s Name.”  Furthermore, we are told, “God’s honor is at stake.”  How is it even possible that we mere mortals can have any effect on an infinite and perfect Being?

The Jewish people – and the world – had just witnessed the destruction of the most powerful civilization on earth, along with the toppling (literally) of its many gods.  The God that redeemed the Jewish people brought the plagues, turned nature on its head, split the sea, etc.  This has to be a new paradigm for our understanding of the Creator.  How could a Deity such as this need anyone or anything to sanctify His Name?   How could a Deity such as this have any “needs” period?

Furthermore, this command comes at a time when the Jewish People were barely out of Egypt. Had I been there, I could imagine my reaction:  “Seriously? I’m supposed to be Your emissary and make You look good?  I’ve been a slave all my life.  And as you know, God, I have post-traumatic-stress disorder, my self-esteem is in the pits, and my inner child is wounded to the core.  No offense, God, but Your expectations of me are completely unrealistic.”

One answer lies in the first sentence of the Torah portion, “Emor”, which means, “Speak.”   God tells Moses, “Speak to the “Kohanim” (the Priests)….and warn them to educate their children.”  The Hebrew word “to warn” is l’hazheer and it is related to the word “zohar,” which means “light.”

Predating by thousands of years a contemporary idea one would find in any spiritual parenting book, the Torah wants us to understand that the purpose of educating our children is to “light them up from within.”  It is no coincidence that we use the term “to enlighten” to impart knowledge.  True enlightenment is not about acquiring knowledge, however, but about gaining wisdom.  Being enlightened, is not an external process; rather, it’s the revealing of our inner essence and wisdom, our divine truth.

And so Moses was “warning” the Kohanim (priests) that the process of educating children is not just the external downloading of information but the internal cultivation of their character to reveal their inner greatness, because the essence of parenting is to build a child, and in so doing, to fill the child with light.

Similarly, the essence of the Jewish people is to build this world.   All Jews – not just the Kohanim – are charged with being the priests of this world and a light unto the nations.

But where does it start?  It is the responsibility of each person to build him or herself.  When we understand who we are at our core, and when our external behavior is congruent with this inner reality, then we could never act in any way  – except so as to sanctify God’s Name.

Therefore, embodying holiness, so as to honor God’s Name would be effortless and natural.  In a very familiar quote by Marianne Williamson, she says the following: 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. 

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.   

We are all children of God, and so, this all-powerful Deity has a relationship, a personal connection with each and every one of us.  In “Emor”, however, God is redefining the relationship.  Thinking of ourselves as little dependent children who can only “take”, is way too narrow, and it invites us to “play small.”   

In Emor, God is inviting us to step onto the bigger playing field, where we become God’s very partner in Creation.  Unless we become “givers”, as well as “takers”, we cannot not be capable of either sanctifying or desecrating holiness.

In giving us the Torah in the desert, God was freeing us not just from the reality of slavery, but also from the mentality of slavery.

May we all embrace our divine charge to be builders and and to live in the paradigm where everything and everyone is illuminated.

Article by Hanna Perlberger

Hanna Perlberger, a former divorce lawyer who became a relationship and positive psychology coach, supports people in "living the life that they love with the love of their life". As a writer, teacher, and lecturer, her sweet spot is the intersection of Torah and Positive Psychology. For more information, please visit her website at Make The Best Of You or contact her directly at