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Rabbi Kalmar's Parashat Emor 15 iyyar 5780

"After the Fallen:  What to do in face of Terrible Loss" (May 8/9, 2020)

It is a little hard for us to wrap our minds around it. As of today, more than 76,000 Americans have died from Covid 19 in the past two months among 271,000 around the world. In our own world Jewish community there have been terrible losses. In the Torah community certainly great Torah scholars have been felled. The magnitude of the situation is one that we cannot even comprehend or grapple with right now. The loss to the world, and the loss to our Jewish community is one that is hard to get a handle on.

And personally I am afraid. I am afraid for myself and my family and I am afraid for my community and I am afraid for humanity. How do I face that fear?

The Rabbis look at the series of parshiot in the Torah from last week and this week – Acharei Mot, Kedoshim Emor – and they translate them to send us a message – the translation of the names of the parshas is - after the death, say they were holy– to give us an indication of how we are to eulogize – we focus on the good traits of those who have passed.

But I think there is another message here as well – if you put the comma in a different place - Acharei Mot Kedoshim – after the death of the holy ones – emor – you say Emor. You have parshat Emor. What is the discussion at the beginning of Emor about? It talks of the Kohanim, the priests – and how they are not allowed to make themselves Tamei to the dead – they are not allowed to have contact with the dead – except in the case of close relatives. The Kohein is not allowed to let death be his focus. He needs to serve God without the shadow of death upon him. If he is going to be focused on death – he will not be able to function – he will be lost in death and worry and grief and loss.

And where does the Kohein find this strength? Upon what does the Kohein draw to deal with what is facing him – what is staring him in the face? We are all ‘mamleches kohanim vigoi kadosh – a nation of priests and a holy nation’ What do we draw upon? We are in an Acharei Mot situation – we have suffered losses, we are facing the fear of death. And we have faced Acharei Mot Kedoshim – many holy special lives have been lost. What are we supposed to do ?

I heard from Rabbi JJ Schacter a beautiful insight this week – There is a story in Melachim Bet 4:1-7:

א וְאִשָּׁה אַחַת מִנְּשֵׁי בְנֵי-הַנְּבִיאִים צָעֲקָה אֶל-אֱלִישָׁע לֵאמֹר, עַבְדְּךָ אִישִׁי מֵת, וְאַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ, כִּי עַבְדְּךָ הָיָה יָרֵא אֶת-יְהוָה; וְהַנֹּשֶׁה--בָּא לָקַחַת אֶת-שְׁנֵי יְלָדַי לוֹ, לַעֲבָדִים.

1 Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying: 'Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD; and the creditor is come to take unto him my two children to be bondmen.'

ב וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ אֱלִישָׁע, מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה-לָּךְ, הַגִּידִי לִי, מַה-יֶּשׁ-לכי (לָךְ) בַּבָּיִת; וַתֹּאמֶר, אֵין לְשִׁפְחָתְךָ כֹל בַּבַּיִת, כִּי, אִם-אָסוּךְ שָׁמֶן.

2 And Elisha said unto her: 'What shall I do for thee? tell me; what hast thou in the house?' And she said: 'Thy handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil.'

ג וַיֹּאמֶר, לְכִי שַׁאֲלִי-לָךְ כֵּלִים מִן-הַחוּץ, מֵאֵת, כָּל-שכנכי (שְׁכֵנָיִךְ)--כֵּלִים רֵקִים, אַל-תַּמְעִיטִי.

3 Then he said: 'Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.

ד וּבָאת, וְסָגַרְתְּ הַדֶּלֶת בַּעֲדֵךְ וּבְעַד-בָּנַיִךְ, וְיָצַקְתְּ, עַל כָּל-הַכֵּלִים הָאֵלֶּה; וְהַמָּלֵא, תַּסִּיעִי.

4 And thou shalt go in, and shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and pour out into all those vessels; and thou shalt set aside that which is full.'

ה וַתֵּלֶךְ, מֵאִתּוֹ, וַתִּסְגֹּר הַדֶּלֶת, בַּעֲדָהּ וּבְעַד בָּנֶיהָ; הֵם מַגִּישִׁים אֵלֶיהָ, וְהִיא מיצקת (מוֹצָקֶת).

5 So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons; they brought the vessels to her, and she poured out.

ו וַיְהִי כִּמְלֹאת הַכֵּלִים, וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל-בְּנָהּ הַגִּישָׁה אֵלַי עוֹד כֶּלִי, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ, אֵין עוֹד כֶּלִי; וַיַּעֲמֹד, הַשָּׁמֶן.

6 And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son: 'Bring me yet a vessel.' And he said unto her: 'There is not a vessel more.' And the oil stayed.

ז וַתָּבֹא, וַתַּגֵּד לְאִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאמֶר לְכִי מִכְרִי אֶת-הַשֶּׁמֶן, וְשַׁלְּמִי אֶת-נשיכי (נִשְׁיֵךְ); וְאַתְּ בניכי (וּבָנַיִךְ), תִּחְיִי בַּנּוֹתָר. {פ}

7 Then she came and told the man of God. And he said: 'Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy sons of the rest.

  1. is the Haftorah from Parshas Vayeira – she is in trouble – I don’t have a husband and now the creditors are coming and I’m going to lose my children – Elisha says – what can I do for you? What do you have in the home. She says I just have a little jar of oil. Get vessels from your neighbors – you will fill up the vessels with oil and save your children.

    Here is the insight - what does Elisha tell the woman – he does not ask her – yesh lach babayis? ‘do you have something in the house?’ – he says ‘mah yesh lach babayis?’ He says what do you have in the house – because you have something. We are facing challenges – the question you should ask yourselves is not “do you have anything that you can find as a source of support? “ I know you do – because I know I do. I know that there is something. There is something there that we have that we can draw on. We are all looking for support – so how do we help ourselves? If we are in touch with the sadness and the fear. What am I going to do to help myself? You have to look inside the house – what do I have? Some have - Family – the oil in our house – starts with our family. We have hopefully good health, we have a community that appreciates us – we have our own kochos - access what we have in the bayit shelanu – what is in your own house – your own strengths. What do we say in the face of what we are facing? ’s not – do you have something in your house? It is what do you have in your house ? It’s not do you have something to face your challenges with? It is ‘what’ do you have? What do I have – to face my challenges with. We look inside to find strength. Acharei Mot Kedoshim Emor – after all the holy ones have fallen – look for ways to speak up and face the tragedy. To find a way to deal with what has happened and what is happening – by looking inside our own powerhouse. May God, in his mercy cancel this terrible decree, and rid this world of this terrible virus, and protect us and our families and our people and the entire world. And may He give us the strength to deal with the situation, and to find our source of internal strength until that time.
Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782