Parshat Emor 5780: Questions Concerning the Kohanic Standard of Purity and Perfection

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua for Emor is being sponsored by Dr. Pinchas and Penina Klahr of Ramat Beit Shemesh Lilui Nishmas for Pinchas’ parents: Nosson Karpel ben Shmuel Zanvil Tzvi and Pessia Toiba bat Rav Yehuda Dov and Penina’s dad – Rav Matisyohu ben Rav Yaakov (Weisenberg). To the Klahr family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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 a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Emor 5780: Questions Concerning the Kohanic Standard of Purity and Perfection

by Moshe Burt

The positioning in Torah of our Parshat Emor, following the last two week’s Parshiyot Acharei Mos and Kedoshim gives rise to thought and contemplation.

In the previous 2 pairings of Parshiyot; 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 the 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.

Our Parsha opens in this way:

“Hashem said to Moshe: Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron and tell them…” ( Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posuk 1 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash)

The sefer “Torah Gems”, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg (page 323) cites Rashi on this posuk:

“Speak” and “say” — To admonish the big ones about the little ones. This is an admonition to the leaders of the nation to humble themselves and not lord it over the people.

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.

Thus, we learn again that one of the attributes of a Kohen is to serve as a paradigm of how a Jew is to treat his brethren.

Later in our Parsha, Torah states:

“You shall observe My commandments and perform them, I am Hashem. You shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the B’nei Yisrael: I am Hashem Who sanctifies you.” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 22, posukim 31-32 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash)

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash provides this commentary on the above posukim (Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, pages 681-682 re: Sefer Vayikra, Perek 22, posukim 31-32)

The primary responsibility of any Jew, …is to sanctify Hashem’s name through his behavior, whether among Jews or among gentiles — …by treating others kindly, considerably and honestly so that people will say of him, “Fortunate are the parents and teachers who raised such a person.” Conversely, there is no greater degradation for a Jew than to act in a way that will make people say the opposite. (The Artscroll Chumash citing Mesechta Yoma, 86a)

“You shall not desecrate…” Desecration of the Name is the most serious of all sins and the one for which it is most difficult to atone. (ibid)

“I am Hashem Who sanctifies you.” If you dedicate your lives to My service, I will devote Myself personally to you, by regulating your activities Myself, and not through an intermediary. (The Artscroll Chumash citing Sforno)

So it appears obvious that sanctifying Hashem’s name through one’s behavior, as a paradigm for all Jews, would be characteristic of the Kohanic standard of purity and perfection.

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)

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides a context with questions he asked as a Bar Mitzvah regarding Halachot concerning Kohanim in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” for Sefer Vayikra (page 185):

How could Halacha… be so painfully… politically incorrect? Why should a Kohen be barred from serving in the Beit Hamikdash through no fault of his own, simply because he is not physically perfect?

Rabbi Goldin then notes (ibid, Sefer Vayikra, page 185):

The Torah lists, at length, a series of personal blemishes and injuries that disqualify a Kohen from the active priesthood. (citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posukim 16-24)

Rabbi Goldin writes noting specific obligations inherent in this “high standard of purity and perfection” as part of his Parsha summary (ibid, Sefer Vayikra, page 183):

Hashem commands Moshe to instruct the Kohanim concerning a number of obligations specific to their priestly role. Included are the prohibition of involvement with death and burial (except in cases the death of immediate relatives [i.e. parents, siblings, children]); the prohibition of marrying a divorcee; laws regarding blemishes which disqualify a Kohen from active service in the Beit Hamikdash and specific laws of tumah and tahara (ritual impurity and purity). Outlined, as well, are the even more severe restrictions applying to the Kohen Godol.

Rabbi Goldin now provides explanations by commentators of the restrictive rules for Kohanim (ibid, Sefer Vayikra, page 186):

…Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi seems to suggest [that] the classical commentaries view the rules concerning Kohanim… as an extension of the regulations that govern the korbonot that they offer. Just as the korbonot brought to the Mishkan [Sanctuary] must be whole and unblemished (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 22, posukim 20-25), so too, those performing the sacrificial rites must be physically flawless, as well. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posuk 18)

…Perhaps an answer lies in the terse observation… offered by Rashi on… this passage. Commenting on the sentence “Ki Kol Ish…,” “For any man, in whom there is a blemish shall not approach…,” Rashi… explains: “It is not proper that he [the blemished Kohen] should approach… (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posuk 18)

Numerous commentaries explain that Rashi views this posuk as offering a rationale, of sorts, for the laws concerning… blemished Kohanim (Rabbi Goldin citing Sifsei Chachamim and Mizrachi on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posuk 18) Perhaps, as later scholars suggest, the Torah… demands that we show Hashem the same respect that we would show an earthly king. Just as a monarch of flesh and blood would not be waited upon by servants with obvious physical afflictions, so too, the Divine King of Kings should be served by those who are physically unblemished. (Rabbi Goldin citing Torat Moshe on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posuk 18)

The classical commentators clearly understood a truth… Hashem’s choices need not, and will not, always comply with human logic and sensibility.

Such personal blemishes seem not to be restricted to the physical, but may extend to close relationships.

Regarding prohibitions of marriage, this author, early on in becoming observant, learned the specifics of such prohibitions; i.e. prohibitions against not only a divorcee, but also the daughter from a mixed marriage, one who had been with a non-Jew and one with the status of a chalutzah — a widow of a man who dies childless (this author citing a footnote on Rashi, Sapirstein Edition, The Torah with Rashi Commentary, Sefer Vayikra, page 266, footnote #6)

One manifestation of this higher standard of purity and perfection 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 halachic requirements, is meant as an impediment to divorce designed to negate frivolous, momentary anger-induced divorce proceedings by a Kohen and meant to 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 standard 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 Parshat 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, z”l once 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.

And, so we should experience the manifestation of the Kohanic standard of purity and perfection in their [our] service in the Beit Hamikdash, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time.

May we, the B’nei 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 and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. 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 prevent Chas V’Challila 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 Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — 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.