I first chanted Torah (leyned) from the scroll when I was 17, on the second day of Passover. This was the first time a woman did so at my synagogue. That was not my goal. A friend’s uncle had suggested I learn how after hearing me chant a haftarah elsewhere, and I was very suggestible. My mother convinced the rabbi to allow me to learn, so I did, along with maybe 4 12-year-old boys. The instructor was very cute, which was both a plus (obviously) and a minus (distraction). At the time, not only did I not own a tikkun, I didn’t know what one was. (It’s a book for preparing Hebrew readings (mainly Torah) to be chanted from a scroll. One side of each page has the text with the cantillation marks, vowels, and punctuation, while the other has the text as it appears in the scroll, with none of that.) I did have a miniature Torah scroll, really a toy, with part of the text and very small print. Luckily, it included Lev. 23:33 – 44, part of my assignment, which is included in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Emor.
Leviticus 22:26 – 23:44 contains instructions for observing the “fixed times” of the year, the Sabbath and holidays. Besides the normal weekly reading, it is read on the second day of Passover and the first two days of Sukkot, so it’s a good text for a prospective Torah reader to start with. Our son’s Bar Mitzvah was on the first day of Sukkot, but I don’t recall if he has read his portion since then. For my class, the second day of Passover was also good because we had until spring to learn our parts. Also, that day has famously low synagogue attendance, being right after the first seder’s four cups of wine, so few people were present to be annoyed by any newbie mistakes or offended by my presence.
There are other texts in the Torah concerning the holiday and Sabbath observance, but Emor fleshes out (ha ha) the sacrificial offerings with additional commands for special times, like blowing the shofar, afflicting your soul, living in booths, etc.
Parashat Emor is in the middle of the Holiness Code (roughly Chapters 17-26 of Leviticus), so we’re still dealing with priests and ritual impurity. Recall that
“purity” concerns boundaries and wholeness. A priest is not allowed to contract ritual impurity through contact with a corpse, except his parent, child, brother or virgin sister, and cannot marry a harlot or divorcee. The High Priest is not allowed to come into contact with any corpse, even close family, and must marry a virgin. To offer the sacrifices, a priest must also be “perfect,” that is, physically undamaged (see 21:18-23). There are also offerings that only the priests and their households get to eat, so that too is strictly watched.
Emor ends with directions for kindling the lamps with pure olive oil and an incident of blasphemy. The blasphemer is stoned to death, so this leads into laws concerning capital punishment for blasphemy and for murder and restitution for assault, another statement of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (24:20).
I like numbers, so here’s this from 2017: “How can the different parts of Emor be linked together? The overall theme of holiness is highlighted by the number 7. We are to eat matzah for 7 days and the 7th day of Pesach is designated a special day. We live in huts during Sukkot for 7 days. Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, occurs 7 weeks, each of which is 7 days, after a designated day of Pesach. The day for blowing the shofar is the first day of the 7th month. Shabbat is the 7th day of each week. And the animal must be with its mother for 7 days, just as a boy must have lived at week before circumcision on the 8th day. Maimonides explains 7 days as the time before viability is established, in other words, completion. And (Lev. 8:33-35) the priests recently had a seven-day ordination. Even the oil is linked to a 7 since there are 7 lamps to be lit. Then the blasphemer is presented as the antithesis of being holy. So, all of Emor, through sevens, is part of a plan for wholeness and completion, in short, for holiness, something both priests and all the people are to strive for.”
Quotes about Perfection
- Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence. Vince Lombardi
- Every particular in nature, a leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. Ralph Waldo Emerson
- You are loved just for being who you are, just for existing. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. Your shortcomings, your lack of self-esteem, physical perfection, or social and economic success – none of that matters. No one can take this love away from you, and it will always be here. Ram Dass
A different take on 7.
Here’s Why Your Favorite Number Is Probably 7 (abridged)
You are a rugged individualist—and so is everyone else.
Author and mathematician Alex Bellos set out to find the world’s favorite number in a massive, public vote on his website. Bellos’ survey swiftly received more than 44,000 votes from numberphiles around the world.
In third place, number eight was rewarded for its lovely symmetry and associations with the Chinese character for prosperity. In second place, three took the prize for its many appearances in culture and nature. And, with nearly ten percent of the total vote, the world’s favorite number is… seven.
It turns out that seven’s triumph only reaffirms a human fascination that goes back thousands of years. Bellos points out that ancient Babylonian tablets were riddled with sevens. There are seven dwarfs, seven samurai, seven sins, seven seas. In nature, seven days of the week, seven continents, seven planets visible in the sky with the naked eye. But all of this, Bellos suspects, is the effect, not the cause of our sevenfold obsession.
The real reason people love seven: Seven is a stone-cold rebel that follows no rules but its own. Seven is the only number between two and ten that is neither a multiple nor a factor of the others. In this way, “lucky number seven” stands alone—and we grasp this implicitly.
“It’s unique, a loner, the outsider. And humans interpret this arithmetical property in cultural ways,” Bellos says. “By associating seven with a group of things, you kind of make them special too. The point here is that we’re always sensitive to arithmetical patterns, and this influences our behavior—even if we’re not conscious of it.”
(4 of) 17 Light Bulb Jokes That Make You Sound Smart
- How many polite New Yorkers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Both of them
- How many fatalists does it take to screw in a light bulb? What does it matter? It’s just going to go out again anyway.
- How many archaeologists does it take to screw in a light bulb? One team, but they’ll label every piece of the old one, mark its location in the room, and write a detailed description before determining that it was used to store cornmeal.
- How many Chinese Red Guards does it take to screw in a light bulb? 100,000 – to give the bulb a cultural revolution.
MATT ISEMAN: DEATH PENALTY
There is nothing funny about the death penalty — except the name. Folks, death is not a penalty; 10 yards is a penalty.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) – The Stoning Scene (or you can watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffwFXGPRDu4 ) [lightly abridged]
Mother: Ah, how I hate wearing these beards.
Brian: Why aren’t women allowed to go to stonings, mum?
Mother: It’s written, that’s why….
Beard and stone seller: Stone, sir?
Mother: No, they’ve got a lot there, lying around on the ground.
Beard and stone seller: Oh, not like these, sir. Look at this! Feel the quality of that, that’s craftmanship, sir.
Mother: Hmm…all right, we’ll have two with points and…a big flat one.
Brian: Could I have a flat one, mum?
Brian: Sorry! Dad!
Mother: Ehm…all right, two points, ahm…two flats and a packet of gravel.
Beard and stone seller: Packet of gravel. Should be a good one this afternoon.
Mother: Oh, good.
Beard and stone seller: Enjoy yourselves!…
Priest: Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath…
Matthias: Do I say yes?
Priest: …you have been found guilty by the elders of the town of uttering the name of our Lord, and so as a blasphemer…
Women disguised as bearded men: Ooh…
Priest: …you are to be stoned to death!
Women disguised as bearded men: Aah!
Matthias: Look, I’d had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was: “That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehova!”.
Women disguised as bearded men: Oooh!
Priest: Blasphemy! He said it again!
Women disguised as bearded men: Yeah! Yes! Yes!…
Priest: Very well. By virtue of the authority vested in me…
Rock thrown at Matthias: [Bladonk]…
Matthias: Oh, lay off! We haven’t started yet!
Priest: Come on! Who threw that? Who threw that stone? Come on!
Women disguised as bearded men: She did! She did! He did! He did! He did!
Woman: Sorry, I thought we’d started.
Priest: Go to the back!
Woman: Oh, dear…
Priest: Always one, isn’t there? Now, where were we?
Matthias: Look, I don’t think it ought to be blasphemy, just saying “Jehova”!
Women disguised as bearded men: Aiiih! He did!
Priest: You’re only making it worse for yourself!
Matthias: Making it worse? How could it be worse? Jehova, Jehova, Jehova!
Women disguised as bearded men: Aiiih!
Priest: I’m warning you! If you say Jehova once more…
Rock thrown at Priest: [Bladonk]
Priest: Right! Who threw that?
Priest: Come on! Who threw that?
Women disguised as bearded men: She did! She did! She did! Him! Him! Him!
Priest: Was it you?
Woman II: Yes.
Woman II: Well, you did say Jehova!
Women disguised as bearded men: Aiiih!
Rocks thrown at Woman II: [Multiple Bladonks]
Priest: Stop! Stop! Will you stop that! Stop it! Now, look! No one is to stone anyone until I blow this whistle! Do you understand? Even, and I want to make this absolutely clear, even if they do say Jehova!
Women disguised as bearded men: Aiiih!
Rocks thrown at Priest: [Multiple Bladonks]
Large boulder crushing Priest: [Bladonk]
Woman III: Good shot!
Women disguised as bearded men: [Applause]