D’var Torah: Parshat Emor – Dealing with difficult Torah
The Torah can be both a source of enlightenment and wisdom as well as quite maddening. I am deeply troubled that in this week’s parsha, Emor, the Kohanim (priests) who have defects are prohibited from offering sacrifices. These defects include blindness, being lame, short limbs, a hunchback, boils, growths, and so forth. I believe it is critical to address these glaring problems in a straightforward and honest way.
There is no reason why someone with a disability should not be allowed to offer sacrifices like any other Kohen. Do we throw out all the positive lessons of the Torah because of this discrimination? How do we reach our own understanding and teach our children about statements in the Torah that we find wrong?
Thinking about the Torah philosophically, I would suggest that the overwhelming message is one of widening the circle of inclusiveness and of empowering and protecting those who are at risk. This is clear from our Exodus foundation story; it is also clear from the number of times the Torah explicitly states that we should protect the widow, orphan, poor and so on. In fact, at the end of this week’s parsha, the Torah states, “You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike: for I the Lord am your God.” We need to protect the legal rights of strangers and treat them equally.
Judaism developed over many centuries and under many internal and external influences. By valuing everyone as equally important, Judaism was revolutionary. Our world continues to struggle with this concept. It is probably unfair to hold the Torah and early rabbis to all of today’s standards. Rather, I believe that it is important to apply the underlying principle of elevating the worth of every person. We should teach our children that our Torah is a living document that has the capacity to grow over time. We need to balance the respect for tradition with the need to evolve. This may lead to tough decisions and conversations that won’t always be completely satisfying, but taking an open and honest approach to the Torah is the best way to ensure it remains relevant in our and our children’s lives. Shabbat Shalom.