Parshat Emor 5773: The Kohanim: Paradigm of Service, Chessed, Purity; As Am Yisrael Should Be to All Mankind

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parsha HaShevua is being sponsored by Avraham and Miriam Deutsch of Efrat in commemoration of the Yahrtzeit of Avraham’s parents, Mordechai ben Avraham Aba and Sarah Reetza Bat Tzion bat Avraham Yaakov. The Yahrtzeit of Avraham’s Dad is on Yud Tess Iyar. To the Deutsch family, many thanks for your kindness.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring (or as the case may be, co-sponsoring) a Parshat HaShevua. Please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt

Parshat Emor 5773: The Kohanim: Paradigm of Service, Chessed, Purity; As Am Yisrael Should Be to All Mankind

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, 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.

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.’”

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.

This last part of the citing from Shem Mishmuel brings to mind a scene from an old Woody Allen movie, many may recall which one, but the title will go unmentioned here.

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.

As this author noted in 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 recent] 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.

There is a posuk in our parsha (Sefer VaYikra, Perek 22, posuk 9) regarding the Kohanim and their consumption of donations:

“They shall observe my charge, and they shall not bear sin for it.”

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in “Growth Through Torah” (pages 283-284) notes that Rashi explains that this warns the Kohanim not to eat terumah while in a state of tumah (spiritual impurity). R’ Pliskin explains:

Even though eating terumah is the fufillment of a mitzvah for the priests, they must be careful not to do so in a manner that will transform the potential good into a transgression. Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz (Daas Torah, Vayikra, page 210) commented that we see here an important principle: even when a person is involved in doing the Almighty’s service, he must be very careful that no transgressions should come from it. On a practical level, whenever… engaged in doing a good deed or involved in a worthwhile project, be on guard that the good… is complete and does not include any transgressions.

The above citing would indicate that a mitzvah, a chessed done should be out of pureness of heart and mind, untainted by any ulterior motivation, i.e. lust for kavod (for credit or notoriety), or any tinges of wrongdoing. From R’ Pliskin’s citings of Rashi and of R’ Levovitz, it would seem that tzedakah, mi’eser (10% of earnings) given of dirty, ill-gotten, laundered money is not tzedakah at all. Similarly, those organizations which are recipients of tzedakah need to be straight and above any possible opening for criticism.

R’ Pliskin’s citing of R’ Levovitz provides food for thought in light of media revelations in recent years regarding various alleged fraud or corruption charges against chessed institutions, such as the alleged fraud charges against an officer and a number of employees of a chessed organization in Israel which runs soup kitchens, vocational training courses, free dental clinics as well as food distribution centers. Chessed organizations need take special care to insure that their activities are lilly-white and totally above reproach.

Extending on the concept that a mitzvah, a kindness be clean and devoid of wrongdoing, the Admor Piaseczna, R’ Kalman Menachem Shapira, descended from the renowed Aish Kodesh, teaches that the purest kindness or tzedakah is that done or given in anonymity.

In short, it seems that not only should a mitzvah, a chessed, a tzedakah be complete, wholehearted and devoid of even a tinge of wrongdoing. A mitzvah should be done in the model of being free of desire for praise, or perhaps, even thought and desire for mitzvah points in Shemayim.

If the B’nai Yisrael were to only glean from the Kohen, and apply 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 other 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, 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.