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Haftarah Parshat Emor

Haftarah Parshat Emor (Ezekiel 44:15-31)
May 2, 2015 / 13 Iyar 5775  (in Israel)
May 9, 2015 / 20 Iyar 5775 (outside of Israel)

The Jewish tradition is a stickler for details. Nowhere is this truer than in the meticulously described garments of the Kohen Gadol – the High Priest. The Mishnah prescribes the costume of both the regular priests (kohen hediot) and the High Priest: “The High Priest performs the service in eight pieces of garments and the common priest in four: in tunic, pants, miter and belt. The High Priest adds to this the breastplate, the apron, the robe and the frontlet. (Yoma 7:5) The Talmud quotes a baraita (a source contemporary to the Mishnah) that is even more detailed, measuring  even the thickness of the threads used to weave each of the priestly garments: “Our Rabbis taught: [All] things, in connection with which the word ‘shesh’ [‘fine linen’] is said [in the Torah], their threads are sixfold: ‘mushzar’ [twined] – eightfold [threads]; the robe – [its threads] are twelvefold; the curtain – [its threads] are twenty-four-fold; the breastplate and apron – [their threads] are twenty-eight-fold.

After quoting these descriptions, the Talmud searches out Scriptural references to authenticate these details.  Some of the details are based on midrashic readings of verses from the Torah. For instance: “Where do we know that they were made from six fold threads? Scripture said: And they made the tunics of fine linen (shesh), the miter of fine linen and the headdress of fine linen, and the linen breeches of fine twined linen.” (See Exodus 39:27-8) Here the word for “fine linen” also can mean “six, hence the threads for making the tunic were six fold. At this point the Talmud asks an even more fundamental question: “How do we know that the word ‘shesh’ means flax (linen)? Rabbi Yose ben Hanina responds: Scripture says: “Bad [linen]”, namely, something that comes out of the soil one by one.  [The Talmud challenges:] But say, this refers to wool? [To which the Talmud fends off:] Wool splits off, [namely, wool does sprout one by one.] But flax also splits [and does not grow one by one, rather it splits into fibers]? [To which the Talmud retorts:] Flax [only] splits into branches through beating (processing). Ravina said: [I infer that “shesh” is linen] from this verse: “They shall have linen miters upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins.” (Ezekiel 44:18) Said Rav Ashi to [challenge] him: But whence did they know that before Ezekiel came? [If we follow the logic of your challenge], then, according to your argument, what should we do with Rav Hisda’s statement: This matter (that an uncircumcised priest cannot serve in the Temple) was not learned from the Torah of Moses, but rather from the words of [prophet] Ezekiel ben Buzi: “No alien, uncircumcised in spirit or flesh, shall enter into My sanctuary” (Ezekiel 44:9)? Who taught this teaching before Ezekiel came? Rather must you say that it was traditionally handed down and when Ezekiel came he strengthened it by attaching it to Scripture; in our case [here], too, it was a traditional teaching and Ezekiel strengthened it by attaching it to Scripture.” (adapted from Yoma 71b)

In this detailed rabbinic discussion, a striking idea becomes apparent. The Sages manifest an abiding urge to authenticate their tradition. In order to do this, two tools are in evidence: revelation and reason. Revelation from the Torah immediately validates their practices. But what happens when a practice is not obvious in the Torah? That is where reason steps in. The above discussion illustrates how authenticity can be born of the interaction between revelation and reason. This serves as an abiding model for all generations.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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