Thursday, May 7, 2009

Crushed Testicles, Broken Limbs and Holiness: Parshat Emor

Crushed Testicles, Broken Limbs and Holiness: Parshat Emor

(Note: this post was brought to you with help by activist Nick Dupress. Visit his blog Nick's Crusade at

In Leviticus 21, the Kohanim, the holiest of holy priests, were instructed to not perform their priestly duties if they had the following disabilities: blindness, mobility impairment, sunken nose, broken or twisted limb, one limb disproportionate to the other, sores, and, of course, crushed testicles. Then again, if I had crushed testicles, I probably wouldn't if I was holy...all I'd be worried about is getting an ice pack.

It got me thinking about my friend Nick Dupree, an activist for the handicapped. Here's a person who knows all about being a sacrificer and the one being sacrificed. Nick is completely immobile except for his hand. Nick needs constant care in order to stay alive. In spite of this, Nick has sacrificed his life to handicapped issues and home care reform. At the same time, by being immobile, Nick himself is a sacrifice: a sacrifice to the angels of our better nature, calling to us do the work of G_d, Tikkun Olam and Tzedaka. By being stuck in a hospital bed, Nick is the proverbial Issac, bound to the altar of our health care system.

I asked Nick to contribute something to this discussion. I expected he'd think the same way that I do: that this Torah portion is outdated and trivializes the disabled.

I was wrong. Instead, Nick managed to find holiness that spoke to him. In his blog he wrote, "I’m not offended by the stringent requirements for kohanim. Disabled kohanim were never stripped of their title, and were still allowed to eat from the holiest of sacrifices (they got all the benefits of their role). Some were even allowed to perform the priestly blessing. And unlike illegitimate kohanim, disabled kohanim continued to keep all the benefits, and all the priestly laws. To suggest a physical defect is a spiritual defect is ablist and false."

If we literally interpreted this scripture then Nick would not qualify as a Kohanim. But his battle for goodness and a fair society for all oppressed people makes him holier than any moron bouncing around in a tunic and robe.

My take on this Parshat is a little different...

So maybe Parshat Emor isn't talking about physical blemishes and deformities. Maybe what it is REALLY talking about is an emotional deformity, one that blinds us and cripples us on the inside, where we cannot see the G_d that challenges us to make the world a better place for everyone...especially people like Nick.

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