Caring for Body & Soul

Parashat Emor (Say)
Vayikra (Leviticus) 21:1-24:3
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31

In this week’s Parashah, we see that God called the Levitical priests to a very specific standard of living. We find similar instructions in the Haftarah portion. One may wonder why this was important. Well, let’s look at what the Word says:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his people, except for his relatives who are nearest to him, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother, also for his virgin sister who is near to him because she has not had a husband; for her, he may defile himself.
Leviticus 21:1-3 

They shall not shave any area on their heads bald, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts in their flesh.
Leviticus 21:5 

A widow, or a divorced woman, or one who is profaned by prostitution, these he shall not take; but rather he is to marry a virgin of his own people.
Leviticus 21:14 

He shall not eat an animal which dies or is torn by animals, becoming unclean by it; I am the LORD.
Leviticus 22:8

In the Haftarah portion from Ezekiel 44:15-31, we read of the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who, unlike the other Levites who turned away from God and led the people of Israel astray, (Ezekiel 44:10-13) were tasked to lead the people and to enter God’s sanctuary. We find similar instructions to those given in Leviticus:

Also they shall not shave their heads, yet they shall not let their locks grow long; they shall only trim the hair of their heads.
Ezekiel 44:20 

And they shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman, but shall take virgins from the descendants of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest.
Ezekiel 44:22

They shall not go to a dead person to defile themselves; however, for father, for mother, for son, for daughter, for brother, or for a sister who has not had a husband, they may defile themselves.
Ezekiel 44:25

The priests shall not eat any bird or animal that has died a natural death or has been torn to pieces by animals.
Ezekiel 44:31

What can we conclude about these very specific guidelines for the Levitical priests? Notice they are concerned with the connection between the body and soul. The physical affects the spiritual. This can explain why Judaism is very concerned with the materiality (or physicality) of the body. Ultimately, the concern of defiling oneself has to do with death, which is when the soul leaves the body. For example, not marrying a widow is connected to death. While the widow is obviously not dead, we can understand that a widow has already been with another man, and therefore has lost her virginity. The same is true for a divorced woman.

The prohibition from shaving, cutting the hair or the flesh, has to do with the possibility of harming the body. The razor has the potential to cause bleeding, which is not only impure but also can cause physical harm. Furthermore, the prohibition from eating from the bird or the animal that has died a natural death, or has been torn to pieces by animals, has to do with God’s command that Israel be holy. The possibility of defiling the body by eating animal flesh that is spoiled, whether by disease or by having been eaten by other animals, could have spiritual implications.

Our bodies are important to God and therefore ought to be important to us! I am not referring to the outward appearance and the preoccupation that can come with it. This is more about caring for the physical entity that houses our soul and the Holy Spirit:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

God cares about both our bodies and our souls, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 5:23:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Messiah Yeshua.

It’s easy to focus on one more than the other; at times we care for our bodies more than our spirit and soul, and other times we tend to care for our spirit and soul more than our bodies. However, I would like to challenge us all to look at our lives and care for our bodies, spirit and soul as we aim to live healthy and balanced lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Check out previous blogs on this parashah!

Did you know? — Lone Soldier

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