Back to the Basics
Haftarah for Parashat Emor
by Michael Hillel, Netanya, Israel
Growing up as a teenager on the Mississippi gulf coast, I could not wait to finish high school and spread my wings and fly. I was operating under the youthful understanding of freedom as being free of restraints. It did not take me long, however, to discover the error of my thoughts. You see, my choice for expressing that freedom was to join the US Marine Corps.
The first stop on my freedom trail was Marine Basic at Paris Island, South Carolina. Dressed according to the fashion of the day, I got off the bus in blue jeans, combat boots, a t-shirt and a blue jean jacket with a Confederate flag on the back (I did mention I was from Mississippi, remember). I never saw that jacket again. It went the way of my hair, which, while not exceptionally long, was definitely not standard Marine length. During the next three months I learned much and can confidently say that the boy who got off the bus was totally different from the Marine that left Paris Island two and a half months later. My attitudes toward life changed as well. Instead of a hypothetical concept of freedom, I was now looking at what it meant to be a Marine, as well as actually being a man of integrity.
This week’s haftarah portion, Ezekiel 44:15–31, relates to the parashah in that it contains regulations for which the priests would be responsible. Among the restrictions and limitations described, two verses are probably more important than all the other ritual requirements in the passage. Hashem, speaking through Ezekiel, gives this charge to the priests:
They will teach My people the difference between the holy and the common and explain to them the difference between the unclean and the clean. In a lawsuit, they will stand to judge, and judge in accordance with My ordinances. They will keep My laws and My statutes in all My moadim and keep My Shabbatot holy. (44:23–24, TLV)
Notice it says “They will teach", not “they will minister”, or “they will mediate”, both of which are priestly responsibilities. In his commentary on this haftarah, Dr. Meir Tamari brings to our attention the root of the word Kohen (priest) and related words. The root is K-H-N and related words are nakhon, “correct” or “suitable” for a certain purpose, and meikhin, “to prepare” or “to provide a firm clear basis” (Truths Desired by God [Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2011] 169). Priests are to prepare the people of Israel and correct them so they walk the correct way.
Maybe the prophet understood the future adage, Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Only instead of a fish, the priests were to teach the people of Israel how to discern right from wrong, and what is moral and ethical from what is not. The relationship Hashem wanted with his people was never intended to be one-sided or to be a spectator sport where the people watched the priests do their thing. So much so that Hashem gave Israel a Day-Timer, so to speak, with specific meeting times throughout the year to meet with him and to serve as a reminder of his care and grace on their behalf.
Some of the rules and regulations seemed to separate the kohanim from the common people, especially in their function as priest and mediator. However, as teachers, guides, and judges, the kohanim were one with the people. They had to learn Hashem’s ways so that they could teach Israel. Being a teacher, then like today, comes with its own special set of problems. A teacher’s life and practice are often scrutinized and inspected for shortcomings. In his letter to the Messianic believers in the Diaspora, where learning the ways of the Lord would be a bit more difficult due to foreign rule, culture, and society, James wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, since you know that we will receive a stricter judgment” (3:1 TLV). Teaching is not to be avoided but teachers need to realize that they are responsible not only for the material being taught, but also for the lives in which they are investing. Look, for example, at Yeshua’s training of the Twelve. They did not come to class a couple hours a day and then go off to work or play or whatever. For approximately three years the Twelve did seemingly everything together with Yeshua— not only learning the Master’s words but experiencing his life and habits as well. His charge to them was to follow him (Mark 1:17), to learn from him, to emulate him.
We are each a teacher to someone, possibly even without our knowledge. Within our sphere of influence, there are people that desire a closer relationship with the Lord but do not know how to get it or maybe maintain it. There are others who, knowing of our faith, think we are a bit meshuga, while at the same time they are curious about why we are doing what we are doing. Some folks need the intensity of Marine Basic Training, while others just need a gentle guide or a soft word to learn what they need next. Are we up to the task of teaching his people? If not, let’s be willing to learn together as we journey with him.