Public Figure – Parshat Emor 5777


When I was growing up, my grandparents were not just congregants, but friends with our synagogue rabbis. One rabbi, Efry Spectre (z”l), was a particularly close friend. He was practically a part of our family. He was at birthday celebrations and major family simchas, and he was there for our family in times of need. He’d even come over for the Miss America broadcast every year and watch as I paraded around as a contestant. I didn’t know any better about what to expect of a rabbi, so this became my model for the rabbinate. We are family, we support one another, we celebrate together, and nothing makes me more excited than dancing the hora at a simcha with you.

But as much a part of your lives as your rabbi might be, of course there are boundaries to this relationship. Naturally, these boundaries are tested when a life in the public eye also means being intimately connected to others. This lesson is never more apparent than in the laws of this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Emor. Emor focuses on the rules and regulations for the priests, along with the obligations of the Israelites. It covers the observation of certain holidays, including mentions of the holiness of Shabbat, the holidays we celebrate throughout the year, and the ways in which we are to treat one another and animals. The majority of these rituals are meant to be done in public, with the entire community a part of them. To this day, we do not say the Barchu or Mourner’s Kaddish while praying alone because of the strength and power in experiencing these moments with a community.

One clear distinction that the Torah makes is when it comes to what the public figures, the kohanim (priests), can do with grief and loss. They’re put in the tough spot of having to reconcile their personal sorrow with their commitment to serving the people and modeling the acceptance of death as part of God’s plan. As we’re all unique individuals, priests included, grief hits us in a variety of ways, and to grieve in public is no easy task. For this reason, the Torah actually sets some limits.

Chapter 21, verse 1 teaches, “The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron and say to them: None shall defile himself for any dead person among his kin, except for the relatives that are closest to him: mother, father, son, daughter, brother or sister.” Traditionally, a priest is unable to be in the presence of a dead body, unless it is a family member, because of this prohibition. This rule stems from the fact that because priestly status is inherited from your family of origin, the rules are waived. In other words, for these most personal and intimate moments, the Torah reminds us that clergy, our spiritual leaders, have an obligation to turn inward and close down to cope with those moments of grief.

As a rabbi, you quickly learn that while the role of steadfast spiritual navigator is important, the best leaders are also relatable because they too are vulnerable. For clergy, the line between public and private can sometimes appear blurred, but the Torah reminds us in Parshat Emor that for both clergy and their congregants, family comes first.

I Got a Name – Parshat Emor 5776

I Got a Name

People ask me why I chose to keep my maiden name when I married Duncan. There are a few reasons. First, I was already making a name for myself as a Jewish educator, and I didn’t want to lose that name recognition. Second, my sister and I are the only grandchildren on my father’s side; thus, with us the Posen name ends. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I wanted to honor my family. My parents and my grandparents are the main reason I fell in love with Judaism. In sharing my passion with the world, I wanted to honor their work as well as their love and commitment to me. Being called “Rabbi Posen” brings me joy when I think about the great legacy of Jewish education and tradition in my family.

Well before I became a rabbi there were times when I was recognized as a Posen and reminded that my actions were a reflection on both me and my family. For better or worse, how we behave and act in the world reflects on the values of our upbringing and broader community. For example, when Bernie Madoff’s crimes were exposed, the Jewish community felt pain not only because Jewish organizations were victims of fraud, but also because it was one of our own committing these atrocities. At the opposite end of the spectrum, when gold medalist Aly Raisman became the most decorated American gymnast at the 2012 London Games, the Jewish community felt tremendous pride at what a member of “our tribe” had accomplished.

This week we read from parshat Emor, which begins with the specific rules and regulations of the priests as well as the laws about what we’re supposed to put into our bodies. The text continues with an in-depth look at the laws of our holidays and special times and concludes with the punishments brought upon those who have broken mitzvot of trust in relationships. With the laws about the priesthood comes one of the defining mitzvot about representing the Jewish community publicly.

Chapter 21, verse 6 states in reference to the priest as leader: “They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God; for they offer the Lord’s gifts, the food of their God, and so must be holy.” This verse teaches that we are obligated to act in a way that reflects well on God, the Jewish people, and our traditions. When we act in this way, in the manner of kiddush HaShem, we are acting in a way that adds goodness and justice into the world. In doing so, this brings pride to our name and to our people. On the other hand, we are also taught to refrain from acting in a way that would bring dishonor to God, our people, and our traditions.

Parshat Emor, like so many other parts of our text, reminds us of the power in our actions. Like the priests in Torah and Temple times, today each of us is an ambassador for our families and our religion. You have the sacred responsibility of putting your best foot forward and bringing only joy, positivity, and good to the name and people you represent.

Ahead of Schedule – Parshat Emor 5775

Ahead of Schedule

Get ready to despise me. Time management has always been my strong suit. In school I was always two weeks ahead in my reading, and I always turned in assignments on time. I live with routine and schedule, and I try to plan out my weeks based on what I have to do and the time it will take to do each task.

Believe me, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows just because I’m a planner. With this ability to plan also comes a bit of a struggle when it comes to spontaneity, altering the plan, or setting aside time to have fun. My planner side has also been known to clash with my parent side. Having a child has put some strain on my time management, and as much as it may frustrate me, I find that sometimes I’m going to be late no matter how well I plan. As a family we try to balance flexibility with our schedule, sometimes staying up late for special occasions and sometimes sticking strictly to our routine, which we have learned is extremely important for our sanity.

My time management and affinity for schedules has served me well as a Jew. We are a people that lives by a calendar, with set times for celebrating, sleeping, mourning, praying, even for acknowledging learning. This point is driven home in the parshah we read this week, parshat Emor. In this section of text, we are reminded about the laws for purification of the priests, the holidays we are to celebrate throughout the year, and the ways in which we are to treat each other and animals.   The majority of these rituals are meant to be done in public, with the entire community a part of them. The time and manner in which each ritual is performed is delineated by the Torah.

In chapter 23, verse 7 the text states, “On the first day you shall celebrate a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.” Specifically, this text is speaking about Passover; however, we receive a similar commandment for all of our Biblically-based holidays. “You shall do no work.” Aside from a rabbi whose occupation requires “work” on holy days (which is a totally different story) the Torah commands us to take a break. Each holiday, Shabbat included of course, requires that we stop. Often this means we are met with a dilemma. Do we end up taking a lot of days off of work for our religion, or do we try to compromise and do the best we can between our religious and secular worlds?

Jewish festivals ask us to challenge our own identity. Do you define yourself primarily by your work? If so, does that mean your career and daily responsibilities trump times of celebration? Or, do you define yourself by your total person, and if so, does that mean celebrations and sanctified time are coming at the expense of a fulfilling career?

I suggest that the time-outs observed in the Torah are meant to reduce stress, not compound it. They’re designed as reflective periods to be spent with family and community, and it’s up to the individual to find the appropriate life balance. This week we’re reminded that even the strictest of planned schedules needs occasional time out. Celebrating together, eating together, sharing in joy together – these are not just commandments, but a necessary part of sustaining who we are as Jews.

Animal, Mineral, Vegetable – Parshat Emor 5773

I have long struggled between my love of animals and, to be blunt, my love of meat.  I cry tears of sadness during the ASPCA commercials and tears of joy when my Uncle Larry ships us a salami from Romanian Kosher Sausage in Chicago.  Of course that’s hyperbole; I am in no way suggesting any similarity between humane food processing and the unthinkable animal cruelty that regrettably still exists in the world.

I do have many vegetarian friends who offer strong cases for their lifestyle choices, but I myself have never been compelled to be a vegetarian.  However, my regard for my food choices and their sources has its roots in the Torah and its requirements that we show respect to animals both as food and as living creatures.

This week’s parshah, parshat Emor, teaches us the value of intention.  We learn specifically about the laws surrounding the role of the priest and the extra steps the priest must take in order to remain eligible for that position. Each of these steps requires heightened sensitivity, first to what is ingested in the body, then to special times of the year such as holidays.  These laws require a keen awareness of how our days and weeks are spent, and theparshah ends by enumerating the punishments for those who do not adhere to this way of life.

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