03 May 2018 Parshas Emor: Rebuilding with Love
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Emor, the Torah delineates our Mo’adim – appointed festivals (Vayikra, Chapter 23).
Beginning with a general introduction to the Jewish calendar year, the pasuk (verse) says: דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, מוֹעֲדֵי ה’ אֲשֶׁר-תִּקְרְאוּ אֹתָם מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁ–אֵלֶּה הֵם, מוֹעֲדָי – And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: Hashem’s appointed festivals which you shall designate as callings of holiness, these are My appointed festivals (Vayikra 23:1-2).
The Torah moves from Shabbos to Rosh Chodesh (23:4 with Rashi); from Pesach, through Sefiras ha’Omer to Shavuos; from Rosh HaShana – our Yom Teruah – to Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement; ending with Succos and the command to rejoice before G-d.
The pasuk that seems the most out of place in this perek (Chapter 23) is v.22 – וּבְקֻצְרְכֶם אֶת-קְצִיר אַרְצְכֶם, לֹא-תְכַלֶּה פְּאַת שָׂדְךָ בְּקֻצְרֶךָ, וְלֶקֶט קְצִירְךָ, לֹא תְלַקֵּט; לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם, And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not remove completely the corner of your field as you reap and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest; for the poor and the convert you shall leave them; I am Hashem, your G-d.
The pasuk is commanding us to leave over a portion of our harvest and field for the poor and convert amongst us. Just when we go to harvest our crops, and reap the bounty of the land, and marvel at what “our” fields have produced, the Torah commands us to stop and reconsider! This land is not ours, after all. It belongs to the One Who created the world and all that is in it. He has loaned it to us for our use, and we must share our bounty with those who have less.
This is certainly a beautiful and important mitzvah and lesson. However, this command was already commanded to us in last week’s parsha, Parshas Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:9-10). Why repeat it again here, especially amongst the list of our Mo’adim, where it seems so out of place and non-relevant to the topic of the rest of the chapter?
Rashi (23:22) tells us: ובקצרכם… מָה רָאָה הַכָּתוּב לִתְּנָהּ בְאֶמְצַע הָרְגָלִים — פֶּסַח וַעֲצֶרֶת מִכַּאן וְרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה וְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים וְחַג מִכַּאן — ? לְלַמֶּדְךָ שֶׁכָּל הַנּוֹתֵן לֶקֶט שִׁכְחָה וּפֵאָה לֶעָנִי כָּרָאוּי, מַעֲלִין עָלָיו כְּאִלּוּ בָּנָה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ וְהִקְרִיב קָרְבְּנוֹתָיו בְּתוֹכוֹ – Why did the Torah put these commandments (to leave a portion of our field and gleanings for the poor and convert) in the middle of the (listing) of the festivals – with Pesach and Shavuos (listed) before, and Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Succos (listed) after? To teach you that whoever gives gleanings, gifts to the poor, and leaves a corner of the harvested field to the poor person, it is considered as if he built the Beis HaMikdash (Temple) and brought korbanos (offerings) inside of it.
In Temple times, it was on our Mo’adim that we would ascend to the holy city of Yerushalayim, and bring our offerings in the Beis Ha’Mikdash. It was on Yom Kippur that the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would perform the holy Temple service. It was in those times, during our festival days, that the people would experience giluy Shechina (revelation of the Divine Presence, so to speak) in a way not possible in other places and in other times. And now…woe unto us, for our Temple lays in ruins and there is no more service or rejoicing therein.
And yet! The Torah is teaching us that though today we do not have the Beis Ha’Mikdash, nor do we have festival offerings, with giving gifts to the poor and those less fortunate, the Torah views these actions: כְּאִלּוּ בָּנָה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ וְהִקְרִיב קָרְבְּנוֹתָיו בְּתוֹכוֹ – as if (!!) the giver built the Beis Ha’Mikdash and brought korbanos within.
When we give of ourselves to others, we must give of our fields and our food. But in addition to that, to those less fortunate, we must also give: of our time, our emotions, a lending hand, caring heart, and most of all, love. וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ – You shall love for your fellow what you love for yourself. Says the great sage R’ Akiva: this is a great principle of Torah (Vayikra 19:18 w/ Rashi).
Of Shabbos in the Machlis home, and of the legendary, saintly, pious Rebbetzin Henny Machlis a’h (d.2015, J’lem) Sara Yoheved Rigler writes, “The first course on Shabbos was always gefilte fish and an array of salads. At one Friday night seuda, a Sephardic Jew who, as R’ Machlis describes, ‘had never experienced the Ashkenazic cuisine of gefilte fish,’ got up and demanded in Hebrew, ‘Who made this?’
“Henny simply replied, ‘I made the fish.’ ‘This is not fish!’ the man exclaimed derisively. ‘This is not the way to make fish! With sugar? With matzah meal? You don’t know how to make fish!’
“By that time, Henny had been cooking for a couple of decades and had served (literally) thousands of guests (over the course of each week of the year). Nevertheless, she replied humbly, ‘That’s true. I don’t know how to make fish. Would you like to teach me?’ ‘Yes,’ the disgruntled guest agreed. ‘I’ll teach you.’ ‘When are you going to teach me?’ ‘Thursday morning.’
“The man showed up the following Thursday morning. As he taught her how to make ‘Moroccan fish,’ Henny was the perfect student, humbly asking at every step, ‘What do I do now?’
“That Shabbos night, the Machlis’ served both gefilte fish and Moroccan fish. During the first course, the man got up and announced to the guests, ‘Do you know why there’s fish tonight? Because I taught her’” (Emunah with Love and Chicken Soup, p.50-51).
Halavay (would that it be) that we merit to see the Temple rebuilt and our ruins turned to redemption. But until that time, with our giving towards others, it is considered as if we built the Beis Ha’Mikdash and brought korbanos within.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,