Not all priests of ancient Israel were created equal. If a priest was born with a defect – or if he (yes, always a “he”) developed a defect through accident or illness – he would not be permitted to function as a priest at the Temple. Note this week’s Torah portion, Emor.
כָּל־אִ֞ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֣וֹ מ֗וּם מִזֶּ֙רַע֙ אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֔ן לֹ֣א יִגַּ֔שׁ לְהַקְרִ֖יב אֶת־אִשֵּׁ֣י יְהוָ֑ה מ֣וּם בּ֔וֹ אֵ֚ת לֶ֣חֶם אֱלֹהָ֔יו לֹ֥א יִגַּ֖שׁ לְהַקְרִֽיב׃
“No man among the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the LORD’s offering by fire; having a defect, he shall not be qualified to offer the food of his God. (Leviticus 21:18)
The portion details the defects (what an insulting word!) that disqualify a priest from officiating sacrifices. No limps, no hunchbacks, no blindness, no crushed testes.
An earlier verse baldly states that the priests are “exalted among [their] fellows” (Leviticus 21:10).
Judaism no longer disqualifies from religious leadership those who have physical disabilities. But we still hold our leaders – rabbis, cantors, educators – to a very high bar of morality. Jewish tradition even suggests that the sages of old were themselves Torah. This means that one may learn Torah not merely by studying the text, but also by observing, even spying on, a rabbi’s conduct. “That too,” we read in Talmud, “is Torah.”
On the evening of Saturday, May 19, at our Tikkun Leil Shavuot, we will learn explore this topic. The lesson, “Teacher as Torah, Rabbi as Revelation” will examine the wild lengths some students went to learn from and emulate their teachers.
We will be privileged, moreover, to view the brand new biography of our rabbi emeritus, Neil Brief. The book, titled “A Rabbi – No More, No Less,” has been written by fellow congregant Dr. Judith-Rae Ross and it will be published immediately prior to Shavuot.
Dr. Ross will talk briefly about the making of the book. Rabbi Brief will take questions about his life in the rabbinate. I will teach and will moderate the Q&A with Rabbi Brief.
Shavuot celebrates revelation of Torah. I look forward to learning with you on Saturday night, May 19, on the revelatory nature of rabbis themselves.
Rabbi Jeffrey Weill