The shock of the pandemic has worn off but the effects continue. How are we supposed to respond?
The Torah is called Toras Chaim, the Torah of Life, meaning it applies to all times, places and situations. What are some of the lessons we can learn from the Torah portion of Emor?
Briefly, the Torah portion of Emor describes certain standards of conduct for Aharon and his descendants (Cohanim) who served in the Mishkan (Holy Tabernacle) and Holy Temples. Emor also lists chagim and moadim (holidays and festivals) observed by the Jewish people throughout the year.
As we know all too well, the coronavirus hit before Passover and continues to influence us as we approach Shavuos, the holiday that recalls the giving of the Ten Commandments. Other than timing, there doesn’t appear to be a direct link, much less an indirect link, to a pandemic. The Torah, however, is very subtle. If we look closely, we can identify several lessons that are very relevant to the situation we find ourselves in today.
Passover is a time of friends, family and community. Yet for the first time, many of us spent Passover devoid of beloved family members and friends. Shuls were closed and communities urged to avoid unnecessary travel. It was Hashem’s will. Yet that is exactly the point. Hashem determines how we are to serve Him. Years ago, for example, communities in Europe were unable to get wine for Passover. The rabbis told people to use the non-grape drink mead for the four cups. When circumstances change, the specific ways may have to change. Our desire to serve Hashem properly, however, must remain constant.
At the same time, we must understand that we are not missing anything, nor are we guilty of compromising our performance of a mitzvah. Hashem desires that we serve him in this way now, just as we served Him in another way before. How do we know?
By Divine Providence, Pesach Sheni occurs this week on May 8. One year after the Exodus, G-d commanded the Jewish people to bring the Passover offering in the desert. Just as they had done in Egypt, the Jews slaughtered a lamb on the 14th of Nissan, roasted and ate it at night with matzah and bitter herbs. The Torah (Numbers 9:6-7) then states: “There were, however, certain persons who had become ritually impure through contact with a dead body, and could not, therefore, prepare the Passover offering on that day. They approached Moshe and Aharon… and said, …. ‘Why should we be deprived, and not be able to present G-d’s offering in its time, among the children of Israel?’” Moshe brought their case before G-d. In response, G-d set the 14th of Iyar as a “Second Passover” (Pesach Sheni) for anyone who was unable to bring an offering the previous month.
It should be noted that there were differences in what the Jews did on the first Pesach in the desert and what they did for Pesach Sheni. Nevertheless, in Hashem’s “eyes,” the effect was the same. So too in our case. We may not have been able to attend a community seder or shul, but we did celebrate the holiday as Hashem wanted — similar to those who observed Pesach Sheni. To put it in a slightly different manner, in terms of our personal service to Hashem, nothing is ever lost. He either accepts our efforts under the circumstances or gives us a chance to make up for missed opportunities.
The Torah portion of Emor discusses various rules for Cohanim. Here, too, we can find a lesson for today. The Torah commands priests to maintain a lofty type of holiness and purity to serve in the Holy Temple. This required special precautions. For example, they had to avoid contact with the dead. They also had to avoid situations where they could be made impure by various means. Maintaining this level of purity required a high degree of mindfulness. Like the Cohanim serving in the Temple, we too have to be mindful to avoid causing harm to ourselves and others. The Torah was given 3,232 years ago, yet it remains as relevant today as ever. PJC
Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum is head of school Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh and rabbi of Kether Torah Congregation. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.