Parsha Emor: Values of a Pure Leader

May 5, 2023
BBYO Weekly Parsha


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The Torah portion this week, Parshat Emor, talks about purity in the Temple. It is here, for example, we learn how a Priest may become unclean and how to cleanse himself. We learn what makes a sacrifice pure or impure and all the standards to which a Priest or High Priest must be held. We even learn of the maximum eyebrow length permitted before one becomes impure.
As a British citizen, in a matter of days, I will bear witness to the official Coronation of King Charles III after the passing of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. It is apparent, then, for me to draw an analogy between him and the Priests of which this week’s Parsha speaks.
So, what must Charles do? I’m not saying, of course, that his first act as king should be to fetch the royal eyebrow trimmers, but taking a step back and reviewing the Torah portion, we see that it is providing a set of guiding principles for every aspect of a Priest’s, and high Priest’s, life. Because the most important value for a community leader to follow, is to have a set of values to begin with … and stick to it. The duty of the king, or the Priest, or the president, or anyone else to whom this is applicable, is first and foremost to be a figurehead to the people.
The head of a community is meant to be a dependable leader, someone who can be innately trusted. Someone who knows what they stand for, and makes sure their followers do too, so that their community may unite underneath one figurehead. This is why the most important thing is for a Priest to follow a set of laws.
If we compromise on the values we believe to be divine, we can stray a little more, and a little more, and a little more, until we are overrun by impurity. This is, I believe, the true message of the parsha … analogous to the Priests’ instructions on remaining pure, and cleansing themselves when impurities arise, we too must attain our own ‘purity’ by standing firm with our own moral code, making sure we stay away from impurities that tempt us to falter. It’s not easy to live one’s life with 100% adherence to a strict code … we are only human, after all, but this is the challenge that burdens the leader. Constantly in the public eye, never faltering, never being swayed.
As youth leaders of BBYO, this message is notably applicable to us. We spearhead the development of our local Jewish communities. We are the face of Judaism in the diaspora, a diaspora which is becoming increasingly antisemitic as the years pass. We must be a proud and public face to the world. Sticking firmly to our codes of ethics, whatever they may be, is the firmest defiance we can show to the antisemites.
Returning, then, to the Coronation, what King Charles must do to truly represent the British people is ensure that he makes it clearly known what he stands for, and doesn’t deviate from it, just as the Priests ensured they did justice to the Jewish people who followed them by sticking to their laws and values, and just as we, the Jews of tomorrow, must stand stoically by our communities, and never do them the disservice of faltering from the core principles we hold dearest in our hearts … whether those be about inclusivity, religion, sexism, or even the maximum acceptable eyebrow length.

Shabbat Shalom,
Edward Lewis


Read commentary on this week's Parsha from BBYO teens around the world.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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