This week’s Torah portion, Emor, is about separation and isolation. It deliberately sets the Levitical priests aside from everyone else. They couldn’t go to family funerals. Couldn’t marry whomever they wanted. They had to be perfect, just like the animals that they sacrificed. Their job was to remain separate from the people they served.
The goal was to keep them holy. And holiness involves separateness. Which, given the current circumstances, makes all of us holy.
The problem is that we don’t want to be holy, at least not like that. We want to be in relationship with each other. We want to go to the movies, out to dinner, to synagogue, hang out at home with friends.
And unlike the Biblical priests, we don’t worry about imperfections. The Torah has specific limitations on who can serve as a priest: “No one at all who has a defect shall be qualified: no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long; no man who has a broken leg or a broken arm; or who is a hunchback, or a dwarf, or who has a growth in his eye, or who has a boil-scar, or scurvy, or crushed testes.” (Leviticus 21:81-20)
While this makes us uncomfortable, a verse immediately following is even worse in my eyes: “He may eat of the food of his God… but he shall not enter behind the curtain or come near the altar, for he has a defect. He shall not profane these places sacred to Me, for I the Lord have sanctified them.” (Lev. 21:22-23)
No one is perfect. We all have “defects” of one kind or another. Some visible, some unseen. Some that go beyond the external physical defects listed in the Torah, but which could limit a person’s ability to participate fully in social and religious activities.
Fortunately, we have chosen to look beyond these so-called defects and look at a person’s value as a human being. And we welcome everyone into our sacred spaces, knowing that they do not profane them. Quite the opposite – they ennoble and uplift our sacred gatherings. Our differences can serve as reminders of what we share, of the true essence of a person, and the true essence of holiness.
Today our sacred spaces are much smaller than they were just two months ago. They are in our homes, in front of our computers, which I don’t think any of us thought of as sacred places before. And yet, to our amazement, sacred things and holy things are happening right in front of our eyes. And we too have become holy.
Despite our defects, perhaps even because of them, we are holy. Every one of us. Not like the priests, and not because we are living in isolation.
No the thing that makes us holy is that we have chosen to live in isolation and practice social distancing to protect ourselves and the lives of those around us. Most of the people who will benefit from our isolation are people we don’t know, who we will never meet. It is this choice that makes us holy.
We are mere human beings, being human. And we are so much more. We are holy beings, being holy. Defects and all.