Emor – Lighten Up!


“Enlightenment means taking full responsibility for your life.”

                                                                                           – William Blake

On any given day, the news reports a story of someone being indicted for some white-collar crime. I wait for the name of the alleged perpetrator. Not Jewish? I breathe a sigh of relief. Whenever Jews, and especially religious Jews, make the news for dishonest, criminal or other bad behavior, I cringe and feel sullied in the core of my Jewish collective soul.

Maybe it stems from this week’s Torah portion, “Emor”, where God charges the Jewish people with the task of sanctifying His Name here on earth. One way of doing that is to act in a way that causes people to revere God, which is called a “Kiddush Hashem” (sanctification of God’s Name). By standing for and becoming living embodiments of holiness, we become God’s emissaries, as it were.

Sadly, however, the reverse is also true, and when we act in unsavory and hypocritical ways, so as to garner contempt, it is called a “Chillul Hashem” (desecration of God’s Name).

Standing Up for God – Really?

Sounds like a very tall order – “sanctifying God’s Name.” Furthermore, we are told, that “God’s honor is at stake.” How is it even possible that we mere mortals can have any effect on an infinite and perfect Being?

The Jewish people – and the world – had just witnessed the destruction of the most powerful civilization on Earth, along with the toppling (literally) of its many gods. The God that redeemed the Jewish people brought the plagues, turned nature on its head, split the sea, etc.   This unimaginable reality was a new paradigm for our understanding of God. How can we affect God’s reputation? How could this Deity need anyone or anything to sanctify His Name?   How could this Deity even have any “needs” period?

Furthermore, this command comes at a time when the Jewish People were barely out of Egypt. Had I been there, I could imagine my reaction: “Seriously? Am I supposed to be Your emissary to make You look good? I’ve been a slave all my life. And as you know, God, I have post-traumatic-stress disorder, my self-esteem is in the pits, and my inner child is wounded to the core. No offense, God, but Your expectations of me are completely unrealistic.

What Lights You Up?

One way to answer this lies in the first sentence of the Torah portion, “Emor,” which means, “Speak.”   God tells Moses, “Speak to the “Kohanim” (the Priests)….and warn them to educate their children.” The Hebrew word “to warn” is “l’hazeer” and it is related to the word, “Zohar,” which means “light.”

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

                                    – Socrates

Predating by thousands of years a contemporary idea one would find in any spiritual parenting book, the Torah wants us to understand that the purpose of educating our children is to “light them up from within.” It is no coincidence that we use the term “to enlighten” to impart knowledge. True enlightenment is not about acquiring knowledge, however, but about gaining wisdom. Being enlightened is not an external process; rather, it’s the revealing of our inner essence and wisdom, our divine truth.

And so Moses was “warning” the Priests that the process of educating children is not just the external downloading of information but the internal cultivation of their character to reveal their inner greatness, because the essence of parenting is to build a child, and in so doing, to fill the child with light.

Similarly, the essence of the Jewish people is to build this world.   All Jews – not just the “Kohanim” – are charged with being the Priests of this world and being a light unto the nations.

Stepping into Greatness

But where does it start? It is the responsibility of each person to build him or herself. When we understand who we are at our core, and when our external behavior is congruent with this inner reality, then we could never act in any way   other than sanctifying God’s Name.   And then, embodying holiness, so as to honor God’s Name, would be effortless and natural. In a very familiar quote by Marianne Williamson, she says the following:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  

We are all children of God, and so, this all-powerful Deity has a relationship, a personal connection with each and every one of us. In “Emor”, however, God is further redefining the relationship and ups the ante. If we think of ourselves as dependent children who can only “take,” it limits us and forces us to “play small.”

And so in “Emor,” God asks us to step onto the bigger playing field, where we become God’s real partner in Creation. To do that, we must become givers. Then, we are capable of sanctifying holiness. And then God returns the favor. Says Pat Conroy: “Honor is the presence of God in man.”

In giving us the Torah in the desert, God was freeing us not just from the reality of slavery, but also from the mentality of slavery. May we all embrace our divine charge to be builders and enlighteners, and to live in the paradigm where everything and everyone is illuminated.

Something To Ponder:

  1. When you internalize your own holiness and power, what becomes newly possible for you?
  1. What would be you doing differently?
  1. What does the most enlightened version of you look like?
  1. Who and what situation changes for the better when you act from your enlightened self?