What’s the harm?

Parshas Emor concludes with the tragic episode of the man who cursed Hashem (R”l). Initially, B’nei Yisrael were unsure of what should happen to the offender, so they placed him in jail while Moshe consulted Hashem. In response, Hashem taught Moshe the laws of blasphemy and the harsh capital punishment for one who commits this egregious crime (VaYikra 24:14-16).

It’s a first-hand account of the Exodus – thousands of years later.

The Torah instructs each of us to tell the next generation about all of the miracles that “Hashem did for me as I left Egypt” (Sh’mos 13:8). It is based on the first-person narrative in this verse that Chazal famously declared: “In every generation, a person is obligated to view himself as if he had personally left Mitzrayim” (P’sachim 116b).

How can adults behave like good children?

As youngsters, we are taught that kibud av va’eim (honoring parents) is all about cleaning up the toys when asked, not arguing at bedtime, and saying “thank you” for a ride to the mall. In other words, it is a mitzvah primarily for little kids who need to respect those who provide everything for them. There is certainly a key theme of hakaras ha’tov underlying this commandment (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 33), and young children are expected to respond accordingly, as long as they are entirely reliant on the support of their parents.

Think before you tweet.

A most unusual ritual is performed as part of the purification process of a m’tzora (a person stricken with leprosy for speaking lashon ha’ra). Two identical birds are taken; one is slaughtered, while the other is set free (VaYikra 14:4-7). Rashi (v. 4) explains that birds were fittingly chosen for the atonement of a baal lashon ha’ra, because they, too, chatter and twitter incessantly. The person with tzaraas is supposed to view these animals as a representation of what brought about his punishment in the first place: his unbridled gossip and chirping. By taking this lesson to heart, he can move one step closer to purification.

It’s an emotional story of divergence, and it ends with a cliffhanger.

Every year on Yom Kippur, two identical goats were brought to the Beis HaMikdash, where lots were drawn to determine which would be “for Hashem” (a special korban) and which would be “for Azazel” (pushed off a cliff). Which animal was considered the lucky winner of this lottery?

Why isn’t lashon ha’ra considered treif?

Rav Yisrael Salanter zt”l noted a symbolic meaning in the placement of this week’s parshah. Tazria, which deals with the laws of a person who speaks lashon ha’ra and his resulting tzaraas, immediately follows Sh’mini, which ends with the laws of kashrus. Rav Salanter explained the juxtaposition as follows: We are all quite careful about what we put into our mouths; the Torah then proceeds to remind us to be just as careful about what comes out of them.