Friday, May 11, 2012

Which is better, London or Leeds?

Spending last Shabbat in Leeds, a couple of people said to me: “The Olympics in London have zero impact on us in Leeds, the games might as well be held in Holland or China.” I am not sure Lord Coe would be too happy about that. The Diamond Jubilee is perhaps a little less London-centric, indeed the queen has a trip planned around her glorious empire. But there is something about London: it’s where the Queen lives; it’s where the Olympics are happening. Does that not make London choicer? Which leads us to one of the most contentious ideas as Jews: The chosen people. Many interesting explanations and excuses have been given over time. Here is another which sheds some light on this touchy subject by looking at juxtapositions in this week’s Torah portion. Emor begins with the laws of the Kohen - Priestly Purity, and acceptable animals for sacrifice, followed by the laws of Shabbat and festivals.
Why this order? Let us go back to our earlier illustration: A human king rules over all his subjects, but he chooses his personal servants for special duty. He commands all his army, yet he chooses a special regiment, his "royal regiment." He rules over all his lands and cities, yet he chooses one city for his personal residence, his royal palace. This does not mean that by choosing his personal servants and royal regiment he takes no further interest in any of his other subjects, or the rest of his army, just as making his residence in a certain city does not mean that he has given up the rest of his country. It does mean, however, that his personal servants have special duties to perform, members of the royal regiment who bear the king's crest, must be model soldiers; the city that is the king’s residence must be kept particularly clean and beautiful. G-d tell us in the Torah that He created the world, and that His plan included a chosen people, who would have the special duty to spread G-dliness on this earth. He would give them His Torah and Mitzvot, both as the guide in their daily life and the source of G-dliness which it was their duty to spread in the world. Within the Jewish people themselves, G-d chose the tribe of Levi, for special service; and within the tribe of Levi, G-d chose one family, for greater service as kohanirn (priests). Therein lies the order of this week’s Torah portion. First the Kohen followed by Shabbat. One of the focal point of Shabbat is Kiddush where we recite: For You have chosen us and sanctified us from among all peoples. Like the Kohen was given additional responsibilities to serve G-d, Am Yisroel too, have been chosen for a unique responsibility. The juxtaposition therefore serves us as a reminder that to be Chosen and Holy is to carry responsibilities on a more intimate level.

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