The positioning in Torah of our Parsha Emor, following last week’s Parsha Kedoshim gives rise to thought and contemplation.
In the previous 2 twin Parshas; Acharei Mos and Kedoshim, and Tazria and Metzora before them, we learn about the Kohen as the only one Divinely invested with ruling as to Tumah or Ta’Hara regarding ones’ skin, hair, clothing or homes, as well as with being the vehicle for Yom Kippur avodah, on behalf of the nation, in the Kadosh Kedoshim and as the model, the paradigm of the Darchim for the entire B’nai Yisrael to emulate as a model for all mankind.
In Parsha Emor, we learn how the Avodah, the Service of the Kohanim necessitated them “…to maintain an especially high standard of purity and perfection.” (L’lmod L’Lamed, Rabbi Mordechai Katz, Parsha Emor, page 119)
Shem Mishmuel (Sefer Shem Mishmuel, Parsha Emor, pages 273-275) explains the function of the Kohen and the manifestation of his Kedusha in this way:
“The job of the Kohen is to join the physical world to it’s spiritual counterpart.” He performs the Avodah in the Beit HaMikdash, the place where heaven and earth meet. He brings Hashem’s fire upon the Mizbei’ach (altar) in a service which joins the physical earth to Hashem.
It bears repeating here that joining, unifying is the very essence of the Kohen. Its worth repeating a citing of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in his sefer “Growth Through Torah” (page 253) from Parshat Tazria, a few weeks ago where he cites the Rabbi of Alexander who posits as the reason why, when one suspected an affliction, with tzara’as, that he is mandated by Torah, by halacha, to go to a Kohen, rather than to a scholar, a Talmud Chacham:
One of the traits of Aharon was that he did everything he could to make peace between people.
The Sefer relates how Aharon “exaggerated and told untruths in order to bring about peaceful relationships between people.” Whenever people quarreled, he would tell each side how highly thought of they were to the other. “When someone was told that the other person was speaking positively about him, he automatically felt positive about the other person and this greatly improved their relationship.”
Shem Mishmuel (Sefer Shem Mishmuel, Parsha Emor, pages 273-275) continues by noting that the co-existence of physical and spiritual is broken by the tumah (defilement) associated with death. Therefore, it is inappropriate for a Kohen to come into contact with death as death rips apart the unity of the physical and spiritual. He adds, in the name of the Arizal, that prior to death, a person is attacked by impure forces:
“The holy soul which rests within a person can’t bear to be connected with those forces and departs from the body to alleviate it’s discomfort. This is the moment of death. The tumah induces a split between the body and soul which is totally opposite of the Kohen’s role as a unifier or ‘joiner.’”
With this knowledge, we gain deeper insight from this explanation as to why it is the Kohen, rather than a Talmud Chacham, who rules as to tumah or tohar in cases of tzara’as as we previously learned in Parshas Tazria/Metzora.
Shem Mishmuel extends the Kohen’s attribute of being a unifier or a “joiner” even to the subject of prohibited Kohanic marriages and quotes Rabbi Akiva;
“A man and a woman, if they so merit, the divine presence rests between them: if they do not merit, fire consumes them.” (Sotah 17a)
Further, Shem Mishmuel relates that Chazal tell us that when a couple divorces, the power of divine unity is removed from them leaving both of them with a sense of division and disunity:
“Thus a divorced woman is no longer in a spiritual position to marry a Kohen whose very being demands contact with only unifying forces. For a divorcee to have a relationship with a Kohen would frustrate the Kohen’s personal mission.”
The divorcee has lost the innate ability to be solely unified with one person and thus may not marry a Kohen.
And so, the function of the Kohen in relationship to his fellow Jews is meant to be the paradigm of how the Jews are meant to relate to the nations as a light unto the world. The point is that the Kohanim are meant to be a paradigm, to set an example for all of B’nai Yisrael regarding derech, midos, chessed to one’s brothers — one’s fellow Jews, and of Avodat Hashem.
It is for these reasons that the Kohen is held to a higher level of behavior, morality and spiritual purity than the rest of the Jewish people. This higher level reflects itself in restrictions, such as to the Kohen’s exposure to tumah (impurity), i.e. the immediate relatives (wife, offspring, siblings and parents, or an unattended Jewish corpse) being the only ones for which the Kohen’s priestly responsibility is superseded by responsibility as a family member or human being to care for the burial of the deceased. This same higher level is reflected in restrictions as to whom the Kohan is permitted to marry, i.e. divorced women, women who converted to Judaism, women of Jewish mother/gentile father and women with the status of Chalutza (widowed woman who bore no offspring to their now-deceased husband) are all denied halachically to the Kohen. The Kohen Godol also has the further restriction that he may only wed a virgin.
One manifestation of this higher level is reflected in the halacha that when there is a Beit Hamikdash, a serving Kohen, were he to seek divorce from his wife, would have to go through a process: Get Mikushar (a higher level of Jewish divorce document than is now in use). The Get Mikushar process, with its various other halacic requirements, is meant as an impediment to divorce designed to negate frivolous, momentary anger-induced divorce proceedings by a Kohen and meant bring about thoughtful contemplation as to whether or not to divorce. The Get Mikushar is written in a special way, is folded three ways, is bounded and must have signatures of three witnesses, rather than the two witnesses signatures needed on the Get document used by a Beit Din for Gittin (plural for Get) today. (Mishnayot Baba Basra — Artscroll Mishna Series, Perek 10, Mishnayot 1 and 2, pages 281-290)
Other manifestations of this higher level relate exclusively to the Kohen Godol. Sefer Vayikra, Perek 16, posuk 6 states regarding the Kohen Godol’s service in the Kodosh Kadoshim on Yom Kippur:
“And he shall make atonement for himself and his house…”
Mishnayot Yoma — Artscroll Mishna Series, Perek 1, Mishna 1, pages 5-7 state:
‘His house’ — that is his wife.
This means that a stand-by wife is designated for the Kohen Godol in event that his current wife dies, that he satisfy halacha that he be married such as to enable him to atone for his household and be able to serve in the Kodosh Kadoshim on Yom Kippur on behalf of B’nei Yisrael.
The above Mishna also states:
“Seven days before Yom Kippur, the Kohen Godol is sequestered from his house… and they prepare another Kohen as his substitute, lest he [the Kohen Godol] become disqualified due to seminal emission or by [other] tumah [contamination].”
This author noted in a previous year’s Parshiyot Achrei Mos/Kedoshim:
There is a connection between the mido of loving kindness to our brethren and the role of the Kohen Godol as a unifier and as a national emissary. The Kohen’s very essence is the paradigm of unity and of the concept of “V’ohavta L’rei’acha Komochah” in which we all unify as one. There is a citing to illustrate this. R’ Hirsch, z’l in the new Hirsch Chumash (on Sefer Vayikra, published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Rabbi Daniel Haberman) comments on the opening of Parsha Sh’mini that for seven days, Aaron and his sons were instructed regarding the service in the Mishkan, and on the eighth day the Kohanim were consecrated to Hashem. But just as the Kohen is Hashem’s emissary to the B’nai Yisrael, so too, as Rav Chaim Zev Malinowitz said in …[a] drash, that there must be both a Shabbos and a full week of life for a newly-born male before Bris Milah is performed on him on the eighth day. The newly born male is thus consecrated to Hashem upon his Bris, just as Aaron and his sons, the Kohanim were consecrated to Hashem upon completion of their seven days of training. And so, the Jews are the “light unto the nations”, consecrated to Hashem, His Emissaries to the world, just as the Kohanim are Hashem’s Emissaries to all of Klal Yisrael.
If the B’nai Yisrael were to only glean from the Kohen, and apply a higher level of morality and the unity of loving kindness to our brethren, as to ourselves, corrupt governance in Israel would cease to exist, would be turned upside down and replaced by Torah governance. And then, B’ezrat Hashem,we’ll be zocha to fulfill our assigned mission, to serve as a light, a model to the nations of Hashem’s blueprint for creation and how a G’dly Nation acts on Its Land.
May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.