8/9 May: Emor :Shabbat comes in 8:21 pm, ends 9:33 pm
Parashat Emor – Harvesters and Gleaners
‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am the Eternal your God.’ – Leviticus 23:22
If this statement feels eerily familiar to you, it might be because we read this last week. Parashat Emor gives us the second version of the command to leave the corners of our fields for the needy, in almost identical wording to Parashat Kedoshim. In fact, the first version of the commandment has slightly more information about our obligation – so why state it again?
The major difference between the two cases of this law is the context in which it appears. Parashat Kedoshim, last week’s Torah reading, is largely a blueprint for an ethical society. It is a parashah interested in interpersonal relations and our obligations toward one another. It is, in a sense, the natural place to find such a rule. The second appearance of the obligation to leave the corners of the field for the needy – the version from this week’s Torah portion – comes as an interlude in a long passage regarding holy days and their associated sacrifices. This is not the natural place to find such a ruling!
The major connection between this obligation and the holy days is that many of the festivals are harvest festivals. These are times of the year that we are especially interested in what is happening in the fields. Furthermore, they are periods of time that are specifically intended to be joyous occasions. The context of this repetition can, therefore, serve to remind us that when we are busy and jorous, we are at high risk of overlooking the needs of the poor and the stranger.
Of course, for many of us, being busy and joyous currently feels like a distant memory. And in this strange period of time, we are seeing great acts of kindness between neighbours. Perhaps, then, this strange text can serve to remind us that this capacity for kindness still exists when life is ‘normal’, and when being busy and joyous draws our time and attention. Perhaps there is a great deal to be learnt from feeling like a gleaner instead of a harvester.
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman