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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Emor

Say to the Kohanim…and tell them; No one may contaminate himself to a (dead) person among his people. (21:2)

According to halachah, the source of tumah, spiritual contamination, is contact with a dead body, whether this contact is direct or indirect. The Zohar Hakadosh comments that when the human body is deprived of its source of life, the soul, it becomes a source of contamination. Indeed, the human corpse is referred to as "avi avos ha'tumah", "father of the fathers of contamination." As Horav S.R. Hirsch,zl, explains, death is the ultimate manifestation of the stripping of the soul and spirit from matter. Once they are removed, the body becomes a lifeless mass. The living human body represents moral freedom and the ability to grow both physically and spiritually. It signifies the ability to serve the Almighty and provides an opportunity for spiritual growth. Death represents the negation of everything, the end of moral freedom, the cessation of growth, the opposite of our purpose on this earth. Hence, with the departure of life, a transformation takes place so that tumah, the antithesis of life, predominates.

Horav Hirsch also notes the striking contrast between the laws of tumah as expressed to the Kohanim, the spiritual mentors of our People, and the religious practices of other nations. In other religions, the advent of death is a time for summoning the priest to administer the last rites. Perhaps this practice is in consonance with the belief that the kingdom of G-d commences when the kingdom of man comes to a close. This concept suggests that human existence has no intrinsic value, that it is nothing more than a precursor of the kingdom of the dead. In this perspective, spirituality exists only in death, little spirituality is attributed to life. Indeed, with this idea in mind, we can certainly understand the underlying rationale for the behavior of those who adhere to these ideas.

Our Torah presents a different idea: The Kohen's function is not to focus on death, but rather on life. He teaches us how to live, not how to die. When the family of a dying person is gathered at his bedside, the Kohen, the spiritual symbol, remains at a distance, indicating this his holy mission is not to interact with death. Some might say that the Kohen stays away out of self-interest, but such foolishness only bespeaks the source of the comment. The Kohen is instructed to be distant, attesting to the immortality of the soul, to the eternal nature of Judaism's spiritual ideal. Hence, death is not an end, but a bridge connecting two worlds of the living - human life with spiritual life. The Torah offers a dispensation to the Kohen when his close family is involved. He is a human being with emotions like everybody else. He hurts and grieves like the rest of the community. The Torah disciplines his life as it determines when and how he is to let himself experience and express his emotions.

If the daughter of a Kohen desecrates herself through adultery, she desecrates her father - she shall be consumed by fire. (21:9)

The Torah records one of the most tragic incidents that a parent could ever confront: A child disgraces herself, her family, and even her religion. When a Jewish child assimilates and acts like a member of a subculture of contemporary society, she disgraces the religion for which her ancestors died. The parents are humiliated by her reprehensible act of rebellion. Chazal attribute a portion of the blame on them, as the Torah says, "She desecrates her father." Those who see her state, "Accursed is the one who gave birth to her; accursed is the one who raised her." Furthermore, Chazal maintain that her father's position is diminished. He no longer receives the eminence he had previously been accorded.

This is a very bitter pill to swallow. Parents raise a child, assuming that they are doing an adequate job of childrearing. Suddenly, they are confronted with an out of control situation. In addition to their personal tragedy of losing a child, they are publicly castigated, censured for being poor parents. Is this right? Do they not have enough with which to contend? Must public humiliation be added to their list of miseries? Nachlas Tzvi cites two apparently contradictory sources in Chazal that seem to address the parents' onus of guilt in the matter. The Talmud Sukkah 56b recounts the story of Miriam bas Bilgah, a descendant of a distinguished family who became an apostate and married a Greek officer. When the Greeks entered the Heichal, she had the gall to remove her sandal and begin beating on the Mizbayach screaming, "Lyka, Lukas (a reference to the Almighty), how long will You continue to devour the Jew's money and not stand behind them during their times of affliction?" When Chazal heard about this blasphemy, they decreed that the ring in the Bais Hamikdash which was used for slaughtering korbanos, and the little window through which the members of her Priestly family would place their knives, was to be forever sealed. In other words, her family was publicly censured and degraded as a result of her sacrilegious behavior. This Chazal seems to support the fact that parents are to be held responsible for the evil wrought by their offspring.

In the Talmud Berachos 10a, Chazal seem to imply something totally different. The Talmud tells of Chizkiyahu Ha'Melech's sickness, during which he was visited by the distinguished Navi of the day, Yeshayahu HaNavi, who told him that death had been decreed against him: "You will die in this world and not live in the next world, because you did not occupy yourself with the mitzvah, of 'Be fruitful and multiply.'" He responded that he had not had children because he saw by Divine Inspiration that he would father a wicked son. He was told that he should not worry about the future. He should do his part, and the Almighty would do His. To paraphrase the words of Chazal, "What have you to do with the secrets of the All-Merciful?" We derive from here a completely different perspective than that which was cited earlier. We note that even parents who are fine, decent, G-d fearing Jews, who do everything to educate and raise their children in the Torah way, can be plagued with a son such as Menashe ben Chizkiyahu Ha'Melech, whose evil was notorious. Ostensibly, there are circumstances in which the parents are responsible, and there are instances when they do all that a responsible, loving parent can and must do, and yet they still have a problematic child.

Nachlas Tzvi suggests two defining factors by which one can ascertain the genesis of this child's sinful behavior. First, we observe the form of education that the parents have provided for their child. Chizkiyahu had an incredible track record in Jewish education. During his tenure as king, Chazal searched from one end of Eretz Yisrael till the other and found that the youth was well-versed in the most difficult areas of Torah law. With a father such as Chizkiyahu, one was assured of the finest Jewish education in the most conducive environment. Second, we must note the family environment. Have the parents been supportive of the education, or have they denigrated the system, the school and the teachers? Every indication from Chazal points to the fact that bas Bilgah was privy to the vilifying remarks about the Mizbayach and its function. The daughter followed in her father's footsteps; in fact, she exceeded her father in sheer chutzpah and aggression.

Consequently, one must do whatever possible to provide a fine Torah education for his children, never surrendering in the face of adversity. Indeed, if a child were physically ill, would we throw up our hands in disgust or regret and say, "I give up"? A child's spiritual and emotional health is no different. Actually, its effect is more far-reaching.

We suggest that in emphasizing the father's disgrace, the Torah might be focusing on the source of this girl's problem. Regrettably, often enough we find parents who attempt to relive their own lives through their children. They impose standards and demands on their children, some of whom are not up to these rigid demands. A child should be educated according to his own way - not according to the parents' idiosyncrasies. He should live up to his potential, not the parents' expectations. The bas Kohen was indirectly driven to her tragic end by her father. He is disgraced for the role he played in his child's ruin. Our children should be our best friends, a relationship that should develop with time.

You shall observe My commandments and perform them. (22:31)

In selecting a Hebrew word to define observance, the Torah uses the expression "shemirah," which means to guard. Horav Elazar Menachem Shach, Shlita, explains that it is incumbent upon every individual Jew to be a shomer, watchman, on the mitzvos. This means that he has the obligation to guard the mitzvos so that they are observed by the community. It is not enough to merely focus upon one's personal mitzvah observance. It is essential that one see to it that the entire community also be observant, so that the mitzvos are not left unguarded, open to influence and disdain.

This is the true meaning of Chazal's dictum, "Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh," "All Yisrael are responsible one for another." An areiv, guarantor, is one who accepts upon himself to repay the loan if the borrower does not pay. In regard to mitzvos, this concept goes one step further. We are guarantors that others will perform the mitzvah. It is like saying that we guarantee that the borrower will pay back the loan. We do not just substitute; we ensure that the one who is responsible fulfills his own obligations. Arvus means to see to it that all Jews understand and perform mitzvos.

The son of an Israelite woman went out - And he was the son of an Egyptian man…And they fought in the camp. (24:10)

Chazal focus upon the words "went out". From where did he go "out"? Simply, it means that he left his tent and entered into the camp where he blasphemed. In a homiletic rendering, Chazal say that he left his "world," a reference to the World To Come, as a result of his iniquitous sin. In his rebuke to Klal Yisrael, Yeshayahu Hanavi says, "Yisrael does not know My Name, My nation does not understand." He quotes Hashem as declaring that His people have neglected their relationship with the Almighty. Chazal add a new dimension to the two expressions of neglect: do not "know," and do not "understand". They say "Yisrael does not know the past; My nation does not understand the future." Apparently, a lack of perception regarding the past and future is a contributing factor to sin.

Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, explains that the root of sin, the prevalent reason that so many people slip into a life of sin, is that they constrict their perspective. They live in their own little world, consisting only of the "here" and the "now". One who refuses to look back to delve into our glorious history, to learn a lesson, to appreciate and take pride in the conviction, devotion and achievements of our ancestors, is depriving himself of a remarkable source of pride, encouragement and fortitude. This source of pride, this ray of hope, engenders a different perspective for the "lost" Jew. Contemporary man seeks to connect with something. Regrettably, those who have assimilated away from their Jewish culture have connected to the wrong place.

Similarly, one should integrate the future into his perspective. We have to understand that this world is temporary. Sooner, and hopefully later, one will have the opportunity to enjoy true bliss in the World To Come. True, it may be difficult to conceive, but one must face the realization that there must be something better than this world. Furthermore, there is another aspect of the future that one should confront: the consequences of his assimilation. Will there be a second generation to carry on his "religious" beliefs? Or will these descendants see the fallacy of their parents' supposed conviction and gravitate even further from the religion of their ancestors? One who lives in a vacuum totally devoid of the perspective of time, ignoring the past and future, will probably never experience more than the present.

The son of an Israelite woman went out and he was the son of an Egyptian man… And they fought in the camp. (24:10)

The word "Va'yetze," (he) "went out" is the source of much discussion among Chazal, as they address from "where" he "went out." They cite a number of homiletical expositions to explain the blasphemer's point of departure. Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, suggests a novel approach. If, indeed, we delve into the text, we note an irregularity. The Torah records the grave sin that was perpetrated, followed by the Heavenly verdict that the blasphemer be stoned to death. Prior to the Torah's recording the actual execution, we read three pesukim which relate to the damages incurred by man against another fellow's property - or even against another fellow. Then the Torah concludes with the execution. It does not seem to be appropriate to position the laws of social damages in the middle of a case of capital punishment of the degree of blasphemy. Is the Torah conveying a message to us by the proximity of these pesukim to each other?

Furthermore, we find another parsha in the Torah which begins with "V'ayetze", "He went out". In Sefer Bereishis, the Torah relates Yaakov Avinu's departure from home, "V'ayetze Yaakov mi'Beer Sheva, v'ayelech Charanah", "And Yaakov left Beer Sheva and he went to Charan." The commentators wonder why the Torah emphasizes Yaakov Avinu's point of departure, as well as his destination. Is it really necessary to record from where he left and to where he was going? They explain that Yaakov had two goals in mind: to leave Beer Sheva, to escape his evil brother who was bent on killing him; and also to reach his mother's family in Charan, to fulfill his mother's directive.

The megadef, blasphemer, had only one goal: to "go away," to escape, to turn his back on Yahadus, Judaism. He had nowhere to go, because one who leaves Judaism has no goal, has no purpose other than to escape his responsibilities and renege on his commitment as a Jew. Indeed, those who leave Judaism do so not because they have something better, somewhere else to go; they go because they want to run away. They float aimlessly, without cause, without goal, without purpose. They know "from where they come", but they do not realize "where they will ultimately go."

The Torah adds a new dimension to the Torah deserter's composite. One might think when one deserts Torah to the point that he is prepared to rebel against and blaspheme Hashem's Name, he can still be a fine person. In fact, he might be a good Jew who, through his other efforts such as charity and good deeds, maintains his standing as a decent and upstanding Jew. The Torah teaches us that this is not true. A Jew who abandons Judaism, who reneges against the Almighty, is capable of doing any type of injustice. He is no longer G-d-fearing; his sense of discipline is gone. This is why the Torah interjects the narrative of the megadef into the laws pertaining to social injustice. He who "goes out," does not realize how far away he might ultimately end up.


1)1) May a Kohen baal mum become tamei to a corpse?
2) Do the laws of trumah apply to a bas Kohen?
3) May a Kohen become tamei to his wife through eirusin?
4) One who makes 5 seritos, scratches, in his skin in mourning for the dead, is liable for how many sins?
5) What is done to a Kohen who marries a gerushah and refuses to divorce her?
6) May a Kohen Gadol who is a metzora perform the avodah?
7) Does the law of "Oso v'es b'no" apply to the male parent and his offspring?


1) No.
2) No.
3) Yes.
4) Five.
5) He is given malkos and chastised until he divorces her.
6) No.
7) No. It applies only to the female parent.

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