Emor: From Exile to Renewal

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Emor

The Hudson Valley is blossoming all over, and along with the glories of the
springtime come the Torah readings at the end of the book of Vayikra, or
Leviticus- so named for the tribe of Levi, set apart for religious service in
the ancient Temple. Only one family out of the tribe of Levi were the actual
priests- those were the direct descendants of Aharon, Moshe’s brother and the
first Kohen Gadol, or High Priest.

Yet this week’s haftarah, from the 44th chapter of Yechezkel [Ezekiel], opens up
with a prophesy that not all the descendant of Aharon will serve in the ancient
Temple to be rebuilt after the exile to Babylon:

“But the levitical priests descended from Zadok, who maintained the service of
My Sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from Me — they shall approach
Me to minister to Me; they shall stand before Me , , , They alone may enter My
Sanctuary and they alone shall approach My table , , , ” {Yechezkel/Ezekiel
44:14-16]

Zadok was priest in the time of Shlomo [Solomon- see 2 Samuel 15 and 1 Kings 1],
and he and his descendants were regarded by the ancient rabbis as exceptionally
loyal, pious and praiseworthy. So when Yechezkel says that the restored
priesthood will be only the line of Zadok, he seems to be saying to the
community in exile that when they return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple,
those who serve in it will be even greater than the priests of previous
generations.

This reading is reinforced by the details that follow, which seem to apply rules
formerly only for the High Priest to all the priests, perhaps implying that
after the exile, even ordinary priests will be on a more elevated or exalted
spiritual level.

We’ll leave those details for another time; for today, it’s enough to note that
Yechezkel’s main message: that out of the tragedy of exile can come a renewal
which brings the people to an even higher level than before. Out of suffering or
brokenness can come healing which makes a person, family, or community even more
whole than before- this does not mean that suffering is good, but that a period
of brokenness, alienation, or pain doesn’t have to be permanent, nor a bar to
future growth and service.

There’s a famous saying in the Talmud that in the place where a ba’al tshuva
[one who has repented or returned] stands, even the completely righteous cannot
stand. I take this to mean that human beings have an extraordinary capacity for
spiritual renewal, and this capacity is known and appreciated greatly in one who
has experienced such a return and recentering. That, to me, is the central
message of our haftarah: you may be in exile now, but upon return to your roots,
you can serve with even greater reverence than before. It’s an great message of
hope, of possibility and grace, for all peoples, in the prophet’s age and in
ours.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: