Haftarah Parshat Emor
May 7, 2011
3 Iyar 5771
Parshat Emor (Ezekiel 44:15-31)
The tradition of rabbinic learning teaches its students to be attuned to the minutest details in a text in order to cull its meaning. No detail is too small, no lacunae insignificant and no seeming redundancy superfluous to infuse the text with meaning or to divulge its relevance. This attachment of meaning to every detail still forms the basis of classical Jewish study to this day. This week’s haftarah focuses on the details of the service of the Temple priests when the Temple is reestablished. It recounts the details of their clothing, whom they should marry, how they might become ritually impure and how they might purify themselves. It also says something of their manner of service and their service on festive days. Among the details of their service in the Temple, it states: “They (the priests) shall enter into My Sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table.” (16) Regarding their service on festive occasions, Ezekiel states: “and they shall keep My laws and My statutes in all My festive seasons and they shall maintain the sanctity of My Sabbaths.” (24)
Rabbi Zadok HaKohain from Lublin, a Hassidic master from the beginning of the 20th century, noted what for him seemed odd about the formulation of these two sentences. Why, he asked, does Ezekiel focus exclusively on the “table” when there all sorts of other service in the Temple (incense, for instance). Similarly, he thought it peculiar that Ezekiel would need to mention the Sabbath since Sabbath observance was incumbent upon every Jew, not just the Cohanim (priests). I make no claim that Reb Zadok’s answers to the questions that he has posed come close to Ezekiel’s intended meaning. Still, he builds a fascinating and significant message from what he sees as textual idiosyncrasies.
Reb Zadok finds a link between these two verses which he uses to answer the questions he has posed. He asserts that it was a special task of the priests to sanctify Shabbat. They did this, in part, by baking twelve special breads (lechem hapanim – shewbreads) which remained on a special table in the Temple for a whole week until they were consumed on Shabbat. Through this joyful act, the priests consecrated Shabbat.
Each of the loaves represented one of the tribes so that when the priests were carrying out their actions, they were symbolically involving the whole Jewish people. Since there is no Temple in our day, the Shabbat table becomes our “altar”. When we joyously celebrate Shabbat with food, drink, song and Torah study, we parallel through our actions the deeds of the priests of old sanctify both Shabbat and our lives. (based on Pri Zadik Emor)