Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23) Who Can Stand In The Holy Place?

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In this week’s portion, we read that no one “that has a defect ” (moom) is allowed to perform a variety of rituals. We read this in the context of laws and commands that deal with family issues, calendar issues and rules governing the sanctuary,  as well as issues related to taking over “the land that I assign you”. Always the theme of mandating that Israelites follow  the word of God. One who approaches or enters the most sacred spaces must be without defect. But what does that translate to now?

No doubt, as you study this portion this Shabbat, someone will call out these verses (21:16-23)  While we may be able to understand them in some way as relatable to a religion 3,000 years ago, today, many will rebel against the strictness of the message. Gone is the Priesthood and the sense that approaching the Bimah in a modern synagogue is restricted in any way. Indeed, inclusion is the flag being waved by so many of our institutions. Yet, this portion can serve as a starting point to remind us that despite our openness and liberalism, we still suffer from barriers and restrictions. This month, in the USA, is a month devoted to raising awareness around mental health issues. Even a casual observer of the news can see that we are in the midst of a pandemic of mental health issues. It is inclusive of all generations, socio-economic groups etc. Many who will read this are waling this walk or know friends or family that will relate. This issue will be with us for years and, as many fear, we are, as a society, vastly unprepared.

One of the positive developments has been the fact that an increasing  number of congregations have created programmatic responses to this issue. From seminars and workshops, to sermons and  support groups , often in partnership with local mental health agencies, many are trying to shed light on what is still a stigma for many. Many go to our tradition to examine the place of mental health within our texts. We, at Jewish Sacred Aging, have done many sessions at congregations on the Jewish approach to Mental Health Issues”. This portion, and these verses, may spur your congregation or organization to do something.

As part of this developing awareness, we are seeing the creation of some new rituals and prayers. Many have to do with the rise in dementia and Alzheimer’s. Let us offer the following as an example. Most congregations now include as part of their worship serve the traditional m’sheberach for healing. Look at the following that was written specifically for individuals and families dealing with  mental health concerns. This m’sheberach was adapted from Jewish Reconstructionist Prayer book and published in a book we did for the Union for Reform Judaism “R’fuat Ha Nefesh: Caring for the Soul: A Mental Health Resource and Study Guide”. Feel free to use this or adapt it  as we welcome all to our sacred spaces.

May God who blessed our fathers and mothers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah

grant blessed healing to all those members of our congregation and members of our families who struggle with mental illness.

May God be with them in their illness and give them patience, hope and courage.

May God so endow their attending physicians and therapists with insight and skill that they be soon restored to health and vigor of body and mind.

May God be with their families too, and grant them patience hope and courage.

May God remove  their anger and wipe away their feelings of guilt.

May God endow them with a full life and with love that they too enjoy health and vigor of body and mind.

May God bind up their wounds that they may enjoy many a simcha thank God for the blessings of health. Let us say Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Richard F. Address

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