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Torah Commentary
Emor (May 12, 2012)

Missy Bell,
of Youth Learning and Engagement

A LOT IS HAPPENING in this week’s Torah portion, Emor. Moses is on Mount Sinai, receiving many of the commandments to be followed by the Israelite community. First, Moses is given a list of rules for the kohanim, the priests. This is followed by a list of commandments regarding the animal sacrifices that the Israelites may offer to God and what is acceptable versus what is not.

Then, in the section that we may find most relevant to our lives as Jews today, we are given many of the Jewish holidays and festivals. We learn that we must observe Shabbat on the seventh day of each week. We are given the holiday of Passover and instructed to eat only matzah for a week. We are told to bring the sacrifice of the omer to the Temple daily for the weeks after Passover, practiced by counting the omer in modern times. We are told to commemorate Shavuot, the 50th day after Passover. The Israelites also are told to commemorate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Finally, at the end of the Torah portion, the famous edict “an eye for an eye…” is issued.

One of the many commandments we are given in Emor is, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not cut completely the corner of your field when you reap. You shall not gather the gleaning of your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and the proselyte.”

This text is one of the many that we study in the Seventh Grade Mitzvah Corps program. In Mitzvah Corps, students learn about seven different mitzvot, or adult Jewish responsibilities, that they are expected to fulfill. For each mitzvah, they have a learning session, when they learn about the Jewish texts and tradition behind the mitzvah; an action session, when they go out into the world and perform the mitzvah; and a reflection session, when they think about how it felt to do the mitzvah and how they can continue to do the mitzvah.

This text came up in two units of Mitzvah Corps: the first unit, lechem l'reyvim (providing food for the hungry) and the final unit, shomer adamah (protecting the earth). During the first unit, it was one of several texts about the Jewish obligation to feed the hungry, but this text felt less relevant because families in New York City don’t have farms. During the final unit, just a couple of weeks ago, the students and their families got to see this text in action. We spent the day at Eden Village Camp, a Jewish organic farm camp up in Westchester. The students and their families learned about taking care of the earth, literally, by learning what is good for the soil. They also looked at the larger issue of taking care of the earth by eating locally and organic as much as possible. It was also very exciting for them to see that the camp practices the mitzvah that comes from Emor; a Pe’ah Garden occupies a corner of the farm. (Pe’ah means “corner.”) All produce grown in this special garden is donated to local food pantries so that those in need have access to fresh produce. The students and their families were inspired to talk about ways that they could fulfill this mitzvah in their own lives, and here are some of their ideas:

• Starting a rooftop or window garden and donating the produce
• Purchasing a few extra groceries whenever going to the grocery store and donating them
• Buying an extra meal when going out to eat and giving it to a person in need

How will you be inspired to fulfill this mitzvah in your life?

Join the conversation and post your thoughts.

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