Parashat Emor deals with the laws of the Kohanim and Chagim. These aspects of the Parashah represent Kedushah in our agents, the Kohanim, and Kedushah in time, the Chagim. These two ideas are two of the many facets of Kedushah we encounter throughout Sefer VaYikra and are two that help us return to the original Kedushah that we experienced at Ma’amad Har Sinai.
The Meforashim teach us that the Mishkan was given as a Kaparah for the sin of the Golden Calf in order to help us perfect the “Mishkan” within each one of us. Sefer VaYikra continues Sefer Shemot’s conclusion, which deals with the physical fabrication of the Mishkan, and discusses the Korbanot that would be offered in the Mishkan. The Torah then proceeds to discuss the dedication and Kedushah of the Mishkan, leading up to last week’s Parashah where the core Mitzvot of the Torah are stated. In a sense, the previous Parshiyot discussing the Avodah can be understood as a means of leading us to perfect the Kedushah within each of us.
In Parashat Emor, we see yet another transition—the Kedushah of Am Yisrael as a People rather than as individuals, which continues to build throughout Sefer VaYikra: in BeHar, Kedushah of a Place (Halachot Eretz Yisrael); in BeChukotai, Kedushah of the covenant for Am Yisrael as a people. Emor starts with the laws of the Kohanim, who are the agents of Am Yisrael. Certain Mitzvot are particular to them, but the Torah also repeats other Mitzvot that apply to all males, such as not cutting our Pe’ot. The Torah teaches that while Kohanim are our agents and are consequently subject to Mitzvot exclusively engineered for them, they are also our role models and we must consequently strive to follow their positive example ─ to be a nation of Kohanim (Shemot 19:6).
Conversely, not striving for Kedushah may lead to complacency. The Torah warns Kohanim not to eat Terumah while they are Tamei. However, this prohibition applies to all of us. The Seforno (VaYikra 22:2 s.v. VeYinazeru MiKodshei Bnei Yisrael) explains that the Kohein, as our agent, might be tempted to think that the Kedushah of his Avodah exempts him from the restrictions on eating Kodshim, which applies to ordinary people. The Kohein, as our role model, is teaching us that our involvement in Torah learning or other important Mitzvot does not exempt us from other restrictions.
The Parashah then shifts to the Chagim, which represent time-bound Kedushah. For the Omer, the Pasuk states we must start counting, “MiMacharat HaShabbat,” “from the morrow of the day of rest,“ (VaYikra 23:15) which Chazal explain refers to the first day of Pesach, and not literally as Shabbat, the way the Sadducees understood it. Why would the Torah use the less obvious term, “Shabbat,” to refer to Pesach? The Akeidat Yitzchak suggests that it refers to the misconception about agricultural success. We think that the agricultural bountifulness is due to the natural cycle of Shabbat, the natural order of the week and the world. In reality, though, it is due to Pesach, the divine intervention of Hashem. Just as the word “Shabbat” must not be interpreted literally, we must look beyond the superficial trappings of “natural” material success and recognize the Hashgachah, providence, of Hashem.
Alternatively, the word Shabbat is used to show the particular holiness of Pesach. Though Shabbat is established by Hashem while each Chag depends on the calendar established by the Beit Din, Pesach, like Shabbat, can still be seen as a gift from Hashem. During the seven weeks of the Omer, we must rebuild ourselves toward the Kedushah of Shavu’ot. Sefer VaYikra teaches us the importance of using different types of Kedushah to get to this new spiritual level.