Emor (Leviticus 21-24 )
It's easy to miss a most stunning idea smack in the middle of this week's Torah portion.
I didn't get it till I visited a milk farm in Israel during calving season. Calving season, for those among us not skilled in animal husbandry, is the time when mommy cows have baby cows (calves to be precise).
At this farm, rather than let the new born calves suckle from their mother (as some may have seen on National Geographic), the farm hands were feeding the little calves from baby bottles. It was very cute, and surreal.
I don't know, call me old fashioned, but that isn't the way it's supposed to be. And those calves looked really heavy.
Anyway, the farmers weren't as dysfunctional as we city folk imagined. There was a real reason behind their method. Apparently cows only produce as much milk as the calf suckles. As the calf matures and eventually weans away from its mother, the mother slowly produces less and less milk, eventually becoming useless as a milk cow.
Thus the baby bottles.
Then the farm hands told us something shocking. And this is where our Parsha comes in. They take the baby calves away from their mother immediately at birth. We were a little taken aback by this, and asked why they don't let the calves suckle for just a few days?
They explained that they tried that once. But, when you take a calf away from its mother before it has weaned away naturally, one of them cries.
The mother. Apparently it goes on for days and the incessant moaning can keep you up all night long. Such is the rule of life, don't upset mom!
So why does our Parsha tell us that for an animal to be acceptable as a sacrifice it had to be with its mother for at least the first seven days (Leviticus 22:27), and then you can take it away?
To bring this young animal as a sacrifice, you have to take it away from its mother, and thereby make it cry.
Why does God want us to hear these cries?
The Talmud (Pesachim 112a) explains; the mother cow needs to give more than the calf wants to take. That's why the mother cries and not the calf. The crying is a message, it makes us aware of a great principle of existence: the need to give is more meaningful than the desire to take.
The calf, like all children, doesn't really care who feeds it. It's the parents that need the child, more than the child needs the parents!
Today we have replaced sacrifices with prayers, and therefore this principle is at the heart of prayer. When you are praying you have to realize, the God to Whom you are speaking, wants to give to you, more than you want to take!
Just like your mother!