This week’s parasha, Emor (speak of or to), Leviticus 21:1-24:23, continues the directions of the actions of the priests on behalf of the Israelites. It is an excellent postscript to the Holiness Code in the previous parasha as contains specific ways of performing the rites of the Tabernacle as well as the treatment of others in and outside of the Israelite community.
What has caught my attention this year is found in Leviticus 23:15-16: “Seven complete sabbaths shall there be … after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days and you shall offer a new meal-offering to The Almighty.” Moving forward, chapter 23:22 reminds the farmers to leave the corners of their fields unharvested for the poor and the stranger.
As we are in the six weeks between Passover and Shavuot, we traditionally study the six chapters of Pirkei Avot at this time. In this fourth week, we see in Pirkei Avot chapter 4:2 “… sachar mitzvah, mitzvah …” (for one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah).
It was well known that five chapters of Pirkei Avot appear in the Talmud (Tractate N’zikin) and that the sixth was added by the rabbis in order to fill out the six intermediate weeks between Passover and Shavuot so the readers can be reminded of the way we are to act in our daily lives, especially during this time of the Omer, when we count the result of our harvests and prepare for business transactions. The sixth chapter prepares us for the Festival of Shavuot and its emphasis on the Torah.
Parashat Emor is reminding us to be grateful for the produce from the earth by thanking the Almighty and helping others live to be productive members of the community. The Mitzvah of leaving the corners of the field unharvested assists others who are less fortunate or otherwise unable to raise their own sustenance. Today’s nurturing brings us tomorrow’s bounty and ensures many more productive tomorrows. By sharing what we have with those who do not, we are also providing opportunities for productive tomorrows for many other people.
We study to cultivate our minds and souls just as we cultivate the earth to create food for ourselves and others. We cultivate relationships as a way of solidifying support systems and providing companionship and social stimulation. An outcome of these efforts is the opportunity to make tomorrow better by ensuring that today is built on a foundation of positive practices, awareness of the self in relation to the world around us and mindful of the impact we have with every gesture, comment or position in the landscape.
In the past, many people have had their opportunities to make today a platform for a better tomorrow suddenly closed through acts of violence. In pursuit of cultivating relationships, solidifying support systems, building stronger foundations of positive practices by attending houses of worship, study, the arts, or shopping and dining venues, these people of mitzvot (regardless of cultural or religious practices) were targeted for violence just for trying to improve their lives and the lives of those around them.
One of the best ways to ensure that their works are continued is by making a positive impact in their name. This is easier than one thinks. The great Rambam gave us Eight Levels of Charity. In that spirit, consider eight gestures of tikkun olam (repairing the world):
• Say “hello” to a stranger with whom you’ve made eye contact.
• Hold a door open for an overburdened parent or the elderly.
• Let the other driver through the intersection, even if you’re in a hurry.
• Pick up a piece of trash and dispose of it appropriately.
• See a need and fill a need no matter how small.
• Catch a person in a random act of kindness and tell them.
• Leave the last place you visited cleaner than you found it.
• Stop and appreciate a long breath of fresh air.
When you do such things, think of those who can no longer do so and ensure that their pursuits do not die with their physical presence on earth.
Pirkei Avot 4:2 “for one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah” continues with “evil begets evil.”
We can quell evil one mitzvah at a time. The task is long, and you are not obligated to finish it. Just help to make tomorrow a better day than today.
Cantor-Rabbi Ronald D. Eichaker serves United Hebrew Congregation and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the weekly d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.