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Parshas Emor - Vol. 11, Issue 32
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Emor begins by discussing the unique laws governing Kohanim, the first of which is that they are forbidden to become ritually impure through contact with the dead, with the exception of the bodies of their seven closest relatives. The Torah identifies the relatives for whom a regular Kohen may become impure as his father, mother, son, daughter, brother, unmarried sister, and she'eir ha'karov eilav - the relative who is closest to him.
Rashi identifies this as his wife, explaining that ein she'eiro ela ishto - the word she'eir refers to a wife. However, the Medrash which is the source for Rashi's comment adds a few additional words: ein she'eiro ela ishto she'ne'emar she'eir avicha hee - the term she'eir refers to a wife, as we find in the expression (Vayikra 18:12) she'eir avicha hee. However, the Tosefos Yom Tov (Bava Basra 8:1) points out that this Medrash is extremely difficult to understand, as the expression she'eir avicha in the verse it cites is not talking about a wife, but a sister, as the Torah forbids a person to have relations with his father's sister, and the reason given for this prohibition is that she is she'eir avicha - your father's sister. If so, how can the Medrash derive from there that the term she'eir used in conjunction with Kohanim is a reference to his wife?
The sefer HaK'sav V'HaKabbalah by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg writes that the word she'eir does not literally mean "wife." He quotes the Vilna Gaon, who explains that she'eir means a person who is connected to one's flesh. In this sense, a sister is described as she'eir because she comes from the same parents and the same flesh. However, a wife is not a blood relative, so in what way can she be referred to as she'eir? After Hashem created Chava, the Torah says (Bereishis 2:24) al kein ya'azov ish es aviv v'es imo v'davak b'ishto v'hayu l'basar echad - therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh - so in this sense, a wife is also considered she'eir.
Even so, how did the Medrash know that the term she'eir used regarding Kohanim is specifically talking about a wife? The full expression in the verse is she'eiro ha'karov eilav - the flesh who is closest to him. Although there are other blood relatives that can also be described as she'eir, the relative who is considered the closest flesh to him is his wife, as the Torah describes them as basar echad - one flesh. In fact, when the Gemora (Bava Basra 109b) states that she'eiro zu ishto - she'eir refers to a wife - the Rashbam writes in his commentary k'dichsiv v'hayu l'basar echad - the source for the Gemora's statement is the verse that says that a husband and wife should be one flesh, exactly as the HaK'sav V'HaKabbalah explains. Although the beginning of Parshas Emor is addressed to Kohanim, the concept of she'eiro zu ishto, of constantly working to ensure that our spouse is our closest relative and that we function as one, is certainly universal.
Parshas Emor contains a list of the various Yomim Tovim and their associated mitzvos. The Torah introduces the topic with a general statement, in which Moshe is commanded to speak to the Jewish people and say to them, "Hashem's appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations, these are My (Hashem's) appointed festivals." The Netziv points out that this verse seems needlessly verbose, and the expression in the middle appears completely redundant. Why doesn't the verse state more succinctly, "Speak to the Jewish people and say to them, 'these are My appointed festivals?'"
The Netziv explains that we might mistakenly assume that the holiness associated with each of the Yomim Tovim is solely due to the events that transpired on that day. Just as Americans celebrate July 4 due to the formal approval of the Declaration of Independence that took place on that day in 1776, so too we might think that the sanctity of 15 Nissan (Pesach) and 6 Sivan (Shavuos) are a result of the fact that the Jewish people were freed from Egypt and received the Torah on those respective dates.
However, this in incorrect. In reality, each of the Yomim Tovim possesses its own inherent holiness, completely independent of the historical events that took place on those dates. The Mishnah in Rosh Hashana (1:2) teaches that on Pesach the world is judged on grain, on Shavuos we are judged on fruits of the tree, and on Sukkos it is judged on water. This teaches us that each of these days was innately a day of Divine judgment long before the Jewish people experienced any miracles at those times.
The Netziv explains that the seemingly superfluous expression in the verse - Hashem's appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations - is intended to teach precisely this point. Before these days were Moadei Yisroel (Jewish festivals), they were Moadei Hashem, and the Torah introduces them by telling us that these days were designated by Hashem as holy days from the time of Creation, and now the Jewish people are commanded to observe them as festivals as well.
The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (29b) points out that Parshas Pinchas (Bamidbar 29:1) refers to Rosh Hashana as יום תרועה - the day of blowing the shofar - while Parshas Emor describes it as זכרון תרועה - a remembrance of shofar blasts. The Gemora explains that Parshas Pinchas is discussing a scenario in which Rosh Hashana is observed during the week and the shofar is sounded. Parshas Emor, on the other hand, refers to a year when Rosh Hashana is on Shabbos, on which there are no shofar blasts but only the remembrance of them, as the Sages forbade the shofar to be blown on Shabbos.
This enactment was made due to a concern that a Jew may be unfamiliar with the proper way to blow the shofar. In order to learn how to do so, he may carry it to the house of the Rabbi, in the process violating the prohibition against carrying in the public domain on Shabbos. Although this would indeed be a tragedy, why did the Sages deny everybody else this invaluable merit simply because one Jew may carry it to a Rabbi to learn how to blow it? After all, the Gemora in Rosh Hashana (16b) teaches that blowing the shofar has the tremendous effect of confusing and silencing the Satan (accusing angel), and of invoking the Akeidah (binding of Yitzchok) as a merit for us on the crucial Day of Judgment.
Rav Shimon Schwab answers this question by explaining that Avrohom actually had two different tests at the Akeidah. The first trial was the concept of the Akeidah itself, of potentially losing his beloved son and spiritual inheritor Yitzchok. As difficult as this test was, Avrohom was fully prepared to pass it, in fulfillment of what he believed to be Hashem's instructions to him. However, at the last possible moment, just as Avrohom was about to kill Yitzchok, an angel climactically called to him and told him to stop (Bereishis 22:12). Rashi writes that when Avrohom heard this, he responded that he didn't want his entire trip to be in vain, so at the very least, he wanted to nick Yitzchok and draw a little blood as a partial fulfillment of the mitzvah. The angel replied by telling Avrohom not to touch Yitzchok at all. This was Avrohom's second test, which he also passed.
When Rosh Hashana arrives, we get excited to perform the lofty mitzvah of blowing the shofar, both to fulfill the Torah's commandment and also because of the tremendous merits that it creates for us at such a critical time. However, when Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos, we adhere to the Sages' enactment forbidding us to blow the shofar. Rav Schwab explains that this is in fact a perfect parallel to the challenge faced by Avrohom at the Akeidah, where he yearned for the opportunity to perform an unparalleled mitzvah, yet willingly relinquished it to obey the angel's instructions. In essence, by not blowing the shofar to invoke Akeidas Yitzchok, we are in fact remembering the Akeidah by following in Avrohom's footsteps.
Rav Schwab refers to this concept as Akeidas Ha'Daas, the binding of the mind, and he uses it to explain the suffering and travails of Iyov. When the all-merciful Hashem caused Iyov to suffer terribly, for reasons that he couldn't begin to fathom or understand, he responded by "tying up" his intellect and subjugating it to Hashem. Iyov acknowledged that he couldn't comprehend why a loving G-d would subject him to such anguish, yet he simultaneously bowed his head to accept Hashem's will. Many times in life we desperately want something, yet for reasons that appear completely incomprehensible, Hashem orchestrates circumstances to prevent us from doing so. In such trying times, as we struggle to understand Hashem's will, we should remember Avrohom and Iyov and strive to emulate their Akeidas Ha'Daas.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (21:1) that although a Kohen is prohibited to have contact with the dead, he is required to have contact with the body of a meis mitzvah - a dead Jew who lacks anybody to bury him. If there are non-Jews available to perform the burial, is it still considered a meis mitzvah? (Ayeles HaShachar)
2) The Torah commands us (21:8) to sanctify the Kohanim and to treat them respectfully, giving them precedence in all spiritual matters. If a Kohen and a Yisroel ask a mohel to circumcise their sons on the same day, is there a mitzvah to circumcise the son of the Kohen before the son of the Yisroel? (Keren Orah Horayos 12b, Bishvilei HaParsha)
3) Can a person fulfill his obligation to count the Omer (23:15-16) by writing that day's count on paper? (Shu"t Rav Akiva Eiger 29-32, Shaarei Teshuvah O. C. 489:1, Shu"t Yabia Omer 4:43)
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