Torah Talks

We Bring Mt. Sinai with Us

on Thursday, 18 May 2017. Posted in Torah Talks

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Torah Talk On Behar-Bechukotai 5777

his week we read the sedrah of Behar-Bechukotai, the double portion at the end of the book of Leviticus.  In these final sections of the middle book of the Torah there are interesting oddities—and lessons—both at the beginning and the end of each portion. 

Behar begins with the statement that “God spoke to Moses at Mt. Sinai saying”, a seemingly unambiguous phrase. And at the end of the opening covenantal section of Bechukotai the Torah reiterates that God gave all the regulations and laws contained here at Mt. Sinai.  Finally, Bechukotai concludes the book of Vayikra by telling us “these are the commandments that God commanded Moses for the Israelites on Mt. Sinai”. 

All well and good.  These rules of holiness and personal conduct must have been commanded at Mt. Sinai.

Yet earlier in Leviticus it makes it pretty clear that God has given most of these commandments not at Mt. Sinai itself, but in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, the Ohel Mo’eid, the Tent of Meeting, as the people wander around.  In fact, the whole book of Leviticus is apparently given after we have left Sinai and begun our journey to the Promised Land.  Clearly, as Behar begins the Israelites don’t actually seem to still be at Mt. Sinai at all.

What gives?

Speak Low When You Speak Love

on Wednesday, 10 May 2017. Posted in Torah Talks

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Torah Talk On Emor 5777

Emor, our Torah portion this week in Leviticus, begins as so many others do: God gives commands to the people of Israel.  But the language this time is a little different.  Usually, commandments begin with the Hebrew word “Dabeir, speak to the Children of Israel” or occasionally, “Tzav, command the Children of Israel.”  This time the much softer word “Emor, say to the priests, the Children of Aaron” is used.  Why?

There is a clue in the continuation of the first sentence of our portion, Our sedrah actually begins, “Say to the priests…” and then adds “and say to them…”  As the commentators do not believe that the Torah is ever truly redundant, the Talmud (in Talmud Bavli, Yevamot 114a) teaches that there is a subtle message here: be cautious in how we adults speak to children.  Emor means to speak softly and kindly.  Good advice in instructing children at any time.

But why specifically is this word, emor used twice in regard to the priestly commands?  The priests are not children.

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