Parshat Emor 5781: Why Personal Blemishes Disqualify a Kohen from Active Avodah?

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 5781: Why Personal Blemishes Disqualify a Kohen from Active Avodah?

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’nei 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)

In his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” for Sefer Vayikra, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin expresses questions regarding Torah laws addressing personal blemishes disqualifying a Kohen from active service in the Beit Hamikdash (page 185):

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

How could Torah law… be so painfully (to use the current vernacular) 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 now proceeds to set down possible answers (ibid, pages 186-188):

…Perhaps an answer lies in the terse observation… offered by Rashi on the second sentence of this passage:

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: ‘Speak to Aaron saying: Any man of your offspring throughout the generations in whom there would be a blemish shall not come near to offer the bread of his G’d. For any man [Ki kol ish] in whom there is a blemish shall not approach…'” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posukim 16-18)

Commenting on the sentence Ki kol ish…, “For any man, in whom there is a blemish shall not approach…,” Rashi simply explains: “It is not proper that he [the blemished Kohen] should approach…” (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posok 18)

Numerous commentaries explain that Rashi views this sentence as offering a rationale, of sorts, for the laws concerning the blemished Kohanim. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sifrei Chachamim and Mizrachi on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posuk 18) Perhaps, as later scholars suggest, the Torah simply demands that we show Hashem the same respect that we would show for an earthly king. Just as a monarch of flesh and blood would not be waited upon by servants with obvious physical afflictions, so to, 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)

Perhaps, as Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi seems to suggest, the classical commentators view the rules concerning the Kohanim simply as an extension of the regulations that govern the korbonot that they offer. Just as the korbonot brought to the Mizbeiyach 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 Mizrachi on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posuk 18) The connection between these two sets of regulations is… underscored by the fact that they are both recorded in Parshat Emor.

A later scholar, Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein, offers an explanation for the strange texual flow [of Sefer Vayikra, Perek 21, posukim 16-18 cited above].

Perhaps, reasons [Rabbi] Epstein, the text, through omission, makes an emphatic point: Concerning the laws of the blemished Kohanim,, no rationale is available to man. Any attempt at understanding, in fact, will not only prove futile, but will jeopardize the very performance of the Mitzvah itself. The Torah therefore deliberately introduces the arena of logic and reason, but fails to provide any answers. There are times when we should make no attempt to understand that which lies beyond our [capability to understand].

[Rabbi] Epstein’s comments… [serve as] a warning in the Torah against the search for a rationale concerning specific laws…, a clear indication that those very laws might be troubling to the mind of the reader.

Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, for example, the nineteenth century scholar known as the Ktav Sofer (after the work of that name), is among a group of scholars who are unwilling to accept that a merciful Lord would exclude Kohanim from serving on the Beit Hamikdash simply because they are physically blemished. Instead, …[he] maintains, the afflictions listed in the Torah invariably reflect the presence of deeper spiritual shortcomings on the part of the affected Kohanim. These internal failings are the true cause of their exclusion from the service in the Beit Hamikdash. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ktav Sofer, Sefer Vayikra, Parshat Emor)

Rabbi Goldin concludes with a citing from Rabbi Shlomo Chaim HaKohen Aviner (ibid, page 188):

In the search for a sanctified life, one must strive for wisdom, health, material self-sufficiency and moral purity. Representing this search in the Beit Hamikdash, therefore, will be only those Kohanim who are visibly “complete.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shlomo Chaim HaKohen Aviner, Tal Chermon, translated by Bracha Slae — Jerusalem: privately printed, 1985)

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. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May 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. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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.