Parsha Emor 5770: The Kohanic Paradigm of Purity, Unity vs the Forces of Defilement

by Moshe Burt

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 in the Kadosh Kedoshim and as the model of Darchim for the entire B’nai Yisrael to ideally 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 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.

Shem Mishmuel continues by saying 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 tears 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.'” (Sefer Shem Mishmuel, Parsha Emor, pages 273-275)

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.

Having said the above, the question arises; Just as the divorcee is forbidden halachically from marrying a Kohen due to loss of the ability to unify with one person resulting in division and disunity; what about the lost unity amongst B’nai Yisrael after the divide and conquer tactics of political protexia class result in Jews divorcing themselves from Jews? What about the purity which is then defiled by the tumah of this disunity — the forces of defilement; sectorial divisiveness, prejudice and disagreements?

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, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we hear good news with the results of this Thursday’s Likud central committee vote and may we have the courage to prevent future evictions Chas V’Challila of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over 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, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

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.