At Sinai, when the first occasion of Feast of Weeks occurred, Israel received the high calling to strive to become holy. We read this 15 weeks ago in Parashat Yitro: “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”(Shemot/Exodus 19:6). This has been repeated in last week’s Parasha, Kedoshim: “You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-d” (Wajikra/Leviticus 19:1). The service of the Kohanim has already been instructed in Parashat Shemini (Vayikra/Leviticus chapter 9-11). Now, in this week’s portion called Emor, the text develops into instructions for Kohanim and how especially holy they need to be. Special laws pertaining to the Kohen Gadol are also given.
Also the instruction for the people of how to behave toward them. For instance offerings and prescribed portions of crops dedicated and given to Kohanim should not become contaminated. Kohanim should not have blemishes on their bodies in order to have a perfect appearance outside as well as in. Animals for offerings should be unblemished as well. The whole picture is that of a perfect situation in a perfect environment. This is what prepares Israel for how Hashem, heaven and Messiah look like.
In chapter 23 the Shabbat and the appointed festivals are commanded to be celebrated. These descriptions go with content, although brief, and with date. Anybody interested in the Bible “from cover to cover” should take these instructions to heart. Do not change dates or contents and leave the Bible as is, sometimes called “sola scriptura”. Our Creator has given specifications which are healthy for our bodies and souls. In this time of 50 days of Omer counting (verses 15-21) our eyes are focusing on Shavuot, Feast of Weeks (Greek: “Pentecost”). All these actions are directing our hearts toward holy living. They bring revival because they create space for G-d’s Spirit to cleanse, restore, and rebuild.
Is all this also for non-Jews? The answer is yes and specifically stated in Leviticus 23:42, “You shall dwell in booths for a period of seven days. Every native in Israel shall dwell in booths.” Rashi of blessed memory has explained that natives do not necessarily have to be Jewish, they are simply born in Israel. And so he uses that as an argument to prove that also non-Jews have to live in the succa. Read in the following verse why they have to do this: “So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt; I am Hashem your G-d.”
Rashi teaches that although non-Jews did not leave Egypt because they were not there, yet G-d wants equality for them with the rest of their adopted nation. And since we also build our succa abroad, outside of Israel, as originally natives of the Land, the non-Jews who declare to be united with us are allowed to and should be involved in Torah observance as well. And yes, it’s fun.
Lion S. Erwteman, Rosh Kehillah of Beth Yeshua