A sofer, a scribe of Jewish texts including Torah scrolls, mezuzzot, tefillin texts and more, has a difficult job. Not only must they be meticulous in their transcription and their penmanship, they must maintain a constant mental focus on their work. If a sofer were to fail to explicitly note the sanctity of God’s name while writing it in a Torah scroll, neither the Name nor the Torah itself would be considered sacred. It’s a tremendous amount of mindfulness and responsibility, and it illustrates one of Judaism’s foundational truths: human beings invest our tradition with holiness, not the other way around. We demarcate sanctity in time and space; holiness can’t happen without us.
This week’s Torah portion, Emor, takes on a different understanding through this lens. Instead of the outdated concerns of an extinct priestly cast, we instead encounter our early ancestors’ efforts to imbue their lives with meaning. The outward expression thankfully looks very different today, but our task is much the same as theirs. What could we do, what should we do, and what must we do to honor God’s presence in our lives? “Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it” we read in Pirkei Avot.
– Rabbi Aaron Meyer