This week's Torah portion, "Declare to the Priests," contains 63 precepts, ranging in subject from the requirements for spiritual service in the Sanctuary to the cycle of celebrations connecting every participant to the natural world of God's creation. These two themes comprise the majority of the Torah portion, and yet seem - at first blush - entirely unrelated. They are relevant to two very different groups of people - the ministers and the laborers - working in two very different domains - the Sanctuary and the field. Moreover, the closing episode of this week's portion - a tragic tale of unnecessary alienation and its social consequences - seems equally unconnected to either the priestly service or the agricultural cycle. Why did the members of the Great Assembly teach that these three narratives together form a single unit?
Upon considering the biblical precepts found in the first two narratives in greater detail, a connection slowly emerges. The priest, acknowledged as a minister charged with mediating disputes between individuals, must be able to speak to the people from a position of integrity and clarity, unconfused by the curveballs which are inevitably thrown at us in life. Personal dedication and aesthetic perfection characterize true service of God, creating an experience of profound empathy and awe which is the priests' gift to the people. Yet just as God instructs the priests to psychologically and spiritually sustain the people (farmers included!) through their service in the Sanctuary, God also instructs the common laborers to sustain the people (priests included!) through their service in the field. A balance is struck between the ministers and the laborers, between our words and our deeds, between the inner dimension of spirit and the greater world all around us, and recognition of this all-pervasive unity is truly a national treasure.
Living as if we were oblivious to this unity - as if our lives were not interdependent, as if we did not together form something tremendously significant which transcended our individual shortcomings and limitations - we would only be able to build a pale imitation of the holy social dream of this week's Torah portion. We could achieve only an abysmal society of alienation and exclusion, where a lone stranger, made in the image of God yet born into a home of cruelty and abuse, finds not comfort and acceptance but rejection. An unbalanced society that does not know that it needs each and every individual just as much as they need it. A broken society where justice must step in to protect what compassion has failed to embrace - all too often, far too late to stop the weight of despair and bitter resentment from warping the hearts and minds of precious human beings. As tragic as the concluding episode in this Torah portion is, perhaps it's inclusion alongside the priestly service and agricultural calendar is intended as a stark reminder of the stake we each have in building a society with unity, integrity, and empathy. We hope that as we celebrate and relax this weekend, we will all find reason to draw closer to our fellow human beings.