The opening chapter of this week’s Torah portion, Emor, contains a long list of physical handicaps that disqualify a biblical kohen/priest from offering sacrifices. As Leviticus 21:17 commands: “No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God.”
This passage should trouble us. Why should blindness or broken bones or any of the other “imperfections” enumerated in our text exclude one from fulfilling their priestly duties? Most of our commentators suggest that handicapped priests might distract the worshippers from concentrating on the ritual and distort the image of the sanctuary as a flawless place reflecting God’s own perfection. But no priest—indeed, no human being—is faultless or unblemished. The standards in our portion seem more reflective of human prejudices than divine ideals.
Thankfully, this did not become the Jewish norm. As Rabbi Harold Kushner notes: “In later texts, in the Psalms and the prophets, the Bible emphasizes that the broken in body and spirit, because they have been cured of the sin of arrogance, are especially welcome before God. True sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; Holy One, you will not despite a contrite and crushed heart (Psalm 51:19)
Indeed, the very name of our portion—Emor—which means “Speak!”—reminds us that Moses himself is handicapped in just this area, describing himself as slow of speech and tongue. The path to healing begins with the recognition that we are all broken. As Leonard Cohen famously put it in his song, “Anthem”: There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
In his musical interpretation of the traditional morning blessing giving thanks for our bodies, Dan Nichols writes: I’m perfect the way I am, and a little broken, too.
How might we express gratitude for the way we are, while also acknowledging our brokenness?