This week’s Torah portion is called ‘Emor’, which means “speak” — and the portion deals with three general areas: First, G-d tells Moses to instruct Aaron and the rest of the priests on levels of priesthood, separation, and ritual defilement; Second, Shabbat and the other the holy days of the year and how we are to observe them are enumerated; Finally, a miscellany of topics is covered, which includes the process for lighting the menorah, displaying the twelve loaves of “show bread” at the altar, and dealing with a blasphemer.
And at first blush, parsha Emor seems to be a miscellany — random topics lumped together with no connection, as if G-d was an important executive taking a summer Friday, leaving the office early to go off to the Hamptons and dictating a laundry list of random tasks to a hard-pressed personal assistant.
But the essence of a living Torah is to to “live with it” — to find relevance, meaning, and applicability to everyday life, and so I need to find the uniting theme, which i can express as this week’s kavanah.
To me, the theme of the disparate sections is “differentiation” and “separation”; that we have boundaries and limitations ourselves as individuals, as does time — the marker of our existence. For example, the light of the menorah is described as creating a continuous light, but the process was a daily activity of cleaning and refilling each individual cup before re-lighting it. There is nothing that exists that does not have parts, and those parts themselves have parts. By naming something, by defining its borders, we come to grips with what a thing is and what it is not. And with this border in place, we can define larger aggregations to establish the concept of belonging, allowing us to become bigger than our physical limitation, and to out-live our lifespan: what is the week without a day? Where is the forest without a tree? Where is the JMC without its meditators?
We sit this week — a self-selected group, in this place, at this time, in this manner, for this specific purpose — to sit quietly in meditation; like priests, having prepared ourselves for this task, having each separated ourselves from our daily concerns and having made time in our schedule, and later, when getting up, holding on with reverence to the insights of the sit and lighting up the world around us with that insight.
My kavanah for this week is to celebrate our differences, to exult at the limitations that make us larger, and in the infiniteness of the passing moment: that by acknowledging our separateness we find completeness.