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Parshas Emor - Living in our Own World          14 Iyyar 5780

05/08/2020 05:20:23 PM


During the lockdown we encourage each other to make the best of the situation that we are going through now. Whether it has been using our time wisely for a better davening, speaking and connecting more deeply to our parents, children, and spouses, learning some area of Torah or following a secular pursuit upon which we don’t typically focus, are all important and invaluable. Speaking for myself (and I am sure others as well), I try to maintain the ordinary daily schedule of events while working within this new framework. Current studies and emerging theories are coming out regarding the negative impact and toll the quarantine continues to take on our brains and bodies. At the very beginning of the mandatory stay-at-home order, I suggested among many ideas, the importance of exercise. Exercise keeps our minds sharp and our bodies in shape and has an overall positive effect on our mood and attitude.

In general, I try to use my time wisely by planning and scheduling similar events together and go to places that are close to each other. The best is combining two tasks or chores at the same time. In keeping up with and maintaining a regular schedule, I usually drive around the neighborhood and check the Eruv on Thursdays. When the Eruv was established, it was recommended that at least once a year an inspection should be done on foot. I decided to combine the routine of checking the Eruv and exercising in one united task. If anyone is curious, the Eruv is four and a half miles in circumference; it normally takes fifteen to twenty minutes to check the Eruv, based upon traffic conditions. It takes a little longer by foot. But, often in life there is an additional benefit to the tasks being fulfilled. Besides the exercise and Eruv being inspected, I was the opportunity to actually see and greet people who typically whiz by and notice certain things about the area that typically go unnoticed. I would like to share just two of my observations.

The first is the social courtesy and closeness that exists from the people who are running, jogging or only plain walking. Many but not all pedestrians are wearing masks. Therefore, as a courtesy when passing someone, there is an automatic distancing to separate one from the other, but this distance-separating comes along with a little wave or greeting to express the idea of “don’t take it personally”. The second and more profound observation is the array of foliage that exists. As I slowed down and walked along Collwood Boulevard, I began to take notice of how many kinds of grasses, plants, shrubs, small trees, and the like grow on the mountain side of Collwood. There are plants that are clearly dead or dormant and others that are just beginning to come to life. I wondered to myself while viewing the assortment of different sizes, colors, and peculiarities how they exist in such close quarters. They remain together in the day and the night, in the cold and in the heat and when it is dry or even wet. When a car whizzes by, they all feel the wind, and all move together in the same direction. Although each variety of vegetation is created uniquely and differently, they nevertheless can co-exist as if it were among its own kind.

To me this is reminiscent of an entire universe from different parts remaining together under all kinds of conditions. True, these species do not necessarily grow in every part and place in the world, but in every place, there are specific plants and vegetation unique to that region. This is a microcosm of humans living on Earth; groups of certain people tend to congregate and live in specific areas. Originally, people remained in the locale where they were born, but over the last two centuries migration has peaked, and the world is a mix of different cultures, religions, and the like. Our challenge is to take the time to consider the vegetation, which, at least to my eyes, exist in peace and harmony. This remarkable setting is found none other than in the Torah HaKedosha!

In this week’s Parshas Emor the Torah speaks of the Moadim, the festivals of the Jewish calendar year. The Moadim have a double reference, a seasonal one and an historical one. With regards to the first, the festivals are connected with the season of the year as well with the state of development of the products of the soil. On a philosophical level, the meaning of Moadim is the “Times for Meeting” of the Bnei Yisrael to Hashem; they should be fixed and sanctified. More specifically, the cycle begins with Shabbos and Pesach and concludes with Sukkos. The Mitzvos of Sukkos are listed at the end of the Parsha. The Torah states in Vayikra 23:40 "ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ עבות וערבי נחל..." “On the first day, you must take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree, an unopened palm frond, myrtle branches, and willows [that grow near] the brook”. The last of the four species that represent all the different kinds of Jews (combination of Torah and Mitzvos or lack thereof) is the willow. The Arava/willow has neither taste nor smell, contrasting to no Torah or Mitzvos, the least desirable of Jewish character. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch quotes the Yalkut Shimoni saying: God says, none may be lost on account of their failing, but additionally God teaches to join them together in one combined union so that the failings of one are balanced by the perfection of the other.

Rav Hirsch, in his masterful way of seeing the world, adds that according to their geographical dispersion the four Lulav-plants could also be representative of the plant world. The date palm belongs exclusively to the torrid zone, citrus plants to countries of lesser heat, myrtle is a plant of the temperate zone, and willows grow in colder climates. With all of them and with each one of them, we nevertheless must rejoice, find joy in the Presence of God.

We, today, find ourselves - the Jewish people and the world at large - collectively representatives of God’s world to come together just as the plant and fruit life around us. We bear witness to the unfortunate passing away of thousands of people from this virus and yet children are also being born. The isolation of individuals is countered by the chessed and kindness offered and accepted, bringing people closer to each other. On a whole, I feel a stronger sense of humanity permeating through the streets of the world, creating a tangible calm and peace or Shalom among mankind. Hashem always offers us a choice: to change for the better on our own, or to have our hand forced. Unfortunately, this experience has come through the latter.

We wish comfort to those who lost loved ones and wish health to those suffering physical and mental illness. May it be our will to learn from these deep, harsh, and difficult circumstances to bring a complete peace to the world and experience the ultimate redemption.

Sun, June 20 2021 10 Tammuz 5781