The portion of Emor describes in detail the rules of purity for the Priests – the Kohanim. These rules appear on their face to be extremely onerous in terms of who they can marry, contact with the dead, their physical appearance and the conditions to making proper sacrifices. We can learn from this that the closer we come to G-d by raising our consciousness, the more personal sacrifice and responsibility we must take upon ourselves. Just like the High Priest – the Kohen Gadol, who has to restrict and make a significant personal sacrifice in order to remain pure, once we grow spiritually and become more in-tune with the laws of cause and effect, we too must restrict from certain actions in order to maintain our consciousness. On the one hand, some could argue that “ignorance is bliss”, implying that if you are not aware of the laws of cause and effect, you could go through life without taking personal responsibility for your actions. However, once you begin to grow spiritually, and awaken your consciousness to understanding that you can play a starring role in the movie of your life – you will gladly take on the added responsibility to maintain that consciousness, similar to the High Priest.
At the end of this week’s portion we read one of the key universal spiritual laws. Specifically, the Torah says “[A]nd anyone who injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, as he has injured the other, so it shall be rendered to him”. Although “an eye for an eye” is often considered a literal penalty set forth in Hummurabi’s Code of Law for an act done to another, it really sets forth the basis for the universal law of cause and effect. According to Kabbalah and other mystical traditions, there can be no act that can be conducted which does not have a karmic repercussion, either good or bad, in this lifetime or another. Accordingly, when we connect to the cosmic law during this week’s reading, it helps to remind us that all of our actions are accounted for and that justice is meted out in the spiritual realm of the universe across one or more lifetimes. This understanding should encourage us to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves”, as opposed to injuring our neighbor and suffering “eye for an eye” consequences.
Emor lists and discusses the various festivals of the Jewish calendar and describes the 49-day counting of the Omer. Since we are in the Omer now, it is important to describe this 7-week period so that we can derive the most value from our understanding. The Omer is a 49-day period of self-reflection and daily counting which extends from the second night of Passover to Shavout – a period that represents the physical emancipation from Egypt through to spiritual emancipation with the receipt of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The Kabbalists explain that when the Israelites were in Egypt, they had fallen to the 49th Gate of Impurity – the lowest level before soul correction becomes impossible. The counting is a day-by-day analysis of various emotional attributes, giving us an opportunity to cleanse our impurity and refine our character. We count in days and weeks with each day and week being associated to the energy and attribute of one of the lower seven sephirot. Each week is represented by a specific emotional attribute and each day an aspect of that attribute. The Omer (with the exception of the 33rd day – Lag B’Omer) is considered a period of semi-mourning during which Jewish law forbids shaving, haircuts, weddings, dancing and other celebrations. The reason for this is to commemorate the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva that died from a plague during the Omer – believed to be a sign of anger from G-d over the student’s lack of human dignity and respect towards each other. The step-by-step character refinement achieved by the daily counting purifies and prepares us to receive the full Light and blessing of the Torah received on the 50th day – Shavuot.