Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Torah Portion Emor - Distinctions in Time and Space

I'm sure it's only because this week's portion is my Bar Mitzvah portion that such a profound teaching should appear within it. At least that's what I'm going with for now. Judaism has concern for drawing separations in order to highlight importance and concern. In order to better develop our skills at building relationships. Relationships between ourselves and the world around us, the people around us, and of course with God. Parshat Emor, the Torah reading this weekend, deals with two of the most fundamental systems by which Judaism draws such distinctions. The first system, which is dealt with in the various topics addressed in the beginning of the portion, deals with a person's inner ability to relate to world around him or her. That is the system of tumah and tahorah, of "purity" and "impurity". The second system, dealt with in the second half of the portion, deals with how we relate to time, time that is kodesh, "holy", and time that is chol, "secular" or "profane" or maybe just "not-holy." Both sets of terms can be challenging to understand and accept, particularly when we discuss them in English. "Impure", "profane" and even "not-holy" don't carry the best connotations in English. But by comparing them to each other, as this portion does, I think we learn better how to relate to them, and how they help us relate. We can perhaps better understand the second one relating to time. We all can imagine the special feeling that comes about on a holiday. The opportunities for a different way of being when we are with family, when we disconnect a little from the outside world. It's not that the outside world is bad (or that Shabbat or a holiday might be all good or that it's "easy" to make such days holy). In fact, I'm always inspired at Havdalah, the ceremony marking the end of a holiday and the beginning of "secular" time again, to try to take some of the experience of holy time with me into the rest of the week. Holy time and "Regular" time are necessary to each other and improve each other. The same, I think, is true with "purity" and "impurity". The terms in Hebrew don't imply anything about being good or bad, moral or immoral. One is expected to transition between both states many times. I think they are meant to refer to a state of preparedness or readiness for certain types of relationships or actions. And just as holidays and regular days help sharpen and improve each other (and elements of each may be found in the other) so too, do the states of "purity" and "impurity" function the same way in terms of our relationships with each. All the states of time and of being provide their own opportunities to connection to God and to connect to other people. And they also acknowledge the ups and downs that are natural to life as we live it. By having these two systems, and all of Judaism, to guide us, we are able to appreciate God's gifts, the value of our relationships, the potential in each of our days. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Benson

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