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Torah Sparks

April 27, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Lev.21:1-24:23; Hertz, p. 513; Etz Hayim, p. 717
Triennial Cycle I: Lev. 21:1-22:16; Hertz, p. 513; Etz Hayim, p. 717
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31; Hertz, p. 528; Etz Hayim, p. 734

Torah Portion Summary

(21:1-22:15) Prohibitions against the priest (kohen) coming near a dead person. The marital laws of the priest, and the special holiness of the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) concerning marriage and bereavement.

(21:16-22:16) Laws concerning a kohen who has been rendered ritually impure. Who is permitted and forbidden to eat the meat of the sacrifices.

(22:17-33) Defects that disqualify an animal from being sacrificed, and other related laws.

(23:1-34) Laws concerning the holiness of Shabbat, Passover, the bringing of the first omer offering, the counting of the omer, and the holiday of Shavuot. Laws concerning Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.

(24:1-9) The Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) and the Showbread, twelve loaves left on display in the Tabernacle.

(24:10-16) An incident of blasphemy and the punishment of the blasphemer: death by stoning. The law of blasphemy for the future.

(24:17-23) Other laws which have major penalties - murder and causing severe injury.

Theme: Shame, Come Back, Shame!

"You shall not profane My holy name" (Lev. 23:32)

  1. Not to profane the Divine Name (hillul ha-Shem) imposes an unconditional sacred obligation on every Jew. Any act by a Jew which is a defamation of God's name is considered a sin. A Jew can avoid such defamatory behavior by cultivating the human emotion of shame which prevents him/her from discrediting God and Judaism. (Author)
  2. Where there's no shame before people, there's no fear of God. (Yiddish proverb)
  3. "Ah harpeh und ah shandeh far der goyim!" --- "Oy, ah shandeh far der shechainim!" (Yiddish variations on same theme)
  4. Jerusalem was destroyed because its people had no shame. (Ulla ben Ishmael, Talmud, Sabbath 119a)
  5. The chief of all ten virtues is a sense of embarrassment. (Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Poet, Spain, 1021-1058, Mivhar ha-Peninim, #48)
  6. Rabbi Maurice D. Solomon once wrote: In those tearful High Holiday prayers through which a Jew sought to retrace his lost tracks, we read of a strong promise by G-d - "If your sins be as red as yarn, they shall be whitened as snow." Why this color scheme of red and white? Of what significance is the color of our misdeeds? The prerequisite based on color is indeed important, as if to say; "If your sins will make your face red, only then will they (your sins) be cleansed to be a pure white" - that is, if your face knows how to redden, to blush with shame, then and then only can there be hope for teshuvah. (The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle)
  7. Shamelessness continues to saunter down Main Street, bold as brass. Oprah, Ricki, Maury, Montel, Phil, Geraldo and so on have created a new genre of entertainment by encouraging their guests to confess infidelity, bestiality, sadism, costumed sex, child beating and so on - not as confessions, but indignant boasts that attack the whole idea of shame. (Henry Allen, "Perspectives", Networker, July/August, 1996)
  8. While the rest of the world still offered human sacrifices to their gods, and engaged in sacred prostitution, Judaism condemned such practices by unabashedly pointing a finger of guilt at such shameful rites. The Jewish Faith strove to bring the Jewish people, indeed the world, to a new level of morality. Debauchery was innately unacceptable to the Jewish people for it was considered to be an open affront to God's "good Name" since we are a reflection of His image. Oppressing the poor or the stranger in our midst or taking advantage of a widow or oppressing an orphan were all considered to be acts which denied God's Name since God Himself promised to intervene on their behalf. And so, over the course of time, as adherents of the Jewish Faith, we have developed a religious sensitivity to that which is shameful in all of its forms - in the world surrounding us and in our own conduct. Simply put, as Jews, we have come to accept the sacred obligation from the Torah to know when to feel ashamed. (David Blumenfeld, High Holiday Sermon, 5757-1996)
  9. The sting of shame is the only pain the ego cannot bear and the only blow that may cause its forces to shrink and retreat... Unto Thee, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but unto us shamefacedness. (Daniel 9:7)
  10. "Why is this so? Said Rabbi Nehemiah: Because even when we perform righteousness, we survey our actions and are filled with shame" (Exodus Rabbah 41:1; Abraham J. Heschel, God In Search of Man, p. 401-2)

Some people just don't have any sense of shame at all as is reflected in the following anecdote:

It seems that a particularly wealthy Jew had never contributed to the Jewish Federation/UJA campaign, though he was asked to do so many times over the years. So one evening a special high-level delegation went over to his place to solicit a donation from him. After a few social niceties they finally confronted him directly and said: "Look, Morris, we know everything about your financial situation. Not only do you own this magnificent mansion outright, we know about your incredible place in Palm Beach and about your gorgeous chalet in Switzerland. You drive a Rolls Royce, your wife has a Mercedes and we know that you opened twelve new stores this year. So we truly anticipate a very substantial contribution from you this year to the campaign."

The wealthy man, Morris, sat through the entire speech totally unperturbed. When they finished, he responded as follows: "You think you checked into my background so deeply? - Well, let me tell you, did you also find out that my mother has been in the hospital for the past few weeks with a serious heart condition? Do you have any idea what 'around-the-clock' nurses cost? Did you find out about my uncle who is in a mental institution and absolutely has no insurance? And how about my widowed sister, who has seven children, three of whom need extraordinary medical attention?

Well I just want you to know... if I don't give any money to them, what makes you think that I'm going to give any to you!!"


Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to. (Mark Twain, Following the Equator, Vol. I, Pudd'nhead Wilson, Chap. 27)

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