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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Emor

Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and tell them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a (dead) person among his people. (21:1)

Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, observes that Judaism sustains three levels of kedushah, holiness: that of a Yisrael, common Jew; that of a Kohen, member of the priestly family; that of the Kohen Gadol, High Priest. These three distinct individuals represent three ascending levels of Divine sanctity. The average Jew, the Yisrael or Levi who is not a Kohen, is a member of an "Am Kadosh," holy nation, consecrated to the Almighty, separated from all that is impure and unclean. Just as Hashem is holy and unsusceptible to evil and contamination, the Yisrael who is to emulate Hashem is adjured to distinguish himself in a number of areas. He is forbidden to eat specific food and forbidden to enter places which by their very nature impart spiritual pollution.

The next level of kedushah is that of a Kohen. While the Kohen is included in all of the demands made upon the Yisrael, he is to additionally refrain from coming in contact with a dead body. He also may not marry certain women. Interestingly, if a Yisrael were to accept upon himself the various stringencies of a Kohen, such as not entering a room in which a dead body lies, he would be considered cruel. Imagine an individual not going to a funeral because he wants to behave like a Kohen! Where is his sensitivity for another Jew?

The Kohen, however, who from birth is consecrated for his exalted position, is not permitted to enter a building while even his best friend or close relative lies dead. This is all due to his distinct level of kedushah. He may only defile himself for his six closest relatives and his wife. Is he cruel? No! He is holy. It is understood that one who distinguishes himself in holiness must remain removed from any form of spiritual contaminant - regardless of how emotionally difficult it may be.

While, the Kohen hedyot may contaminate himself for these close relatives, the Kohen Gadol, who maintains the highest level of kedushah, may not become tamei even for his closest relatives. His relationship with Hashem raises him above everyone else to the point that what seems natural and right for the average Jew is far removed from the Kohen Gadol.

How does this happen? Consider the example of parents who have devoted their lives to raising a son to excel in all areas of spiritual life. He succeeds in exemplifying the ideals of Torah to the point that he is chosen to be the spiritual leader of the Jewish people. He will have the closest connection to Hashem. What is the parents' reward? Now their son, the Kohen Gadol, cannot even follow behind their coffin. He may not do anything that might shatter the idyllic life of service to Hashem that he now leads. While his parents may view this as "the greatest nachas," what about the Kohen Gadol himself? Where does he conjure up such super-human strength to transcend his natural emotions?

We can better understand the nature of the Kohen Gadol when we take into account his position, his relationship with Hashem, and his new focus on life. The Kohen Gadol wears the "crown of Hashem on his head," his essence is suffused in Hashem; he is to be the embodiment of Heavenly spirituality on this world. He "lives" in the Heavens, while his body exists on earth. He has achieved such a sublime level of kedushah that the affairs of this world have but a distant meaning to him. Obviously, not everyone is able to attain this remarkable level of achievement. On the other hand, not everyone is worthy of becoming the Kohen Gadol. What is proper and even meritous for others is "beneath" his dignity and level of deveikus, clinging/closeness to Hashem. Conversely, if anyone other than the Kohen Gadol would attempt to act in such a manner, he would be considered cruel and not mentschlich, outside the bounds of human nature. The Torah demands that each Jew interact with Hashem and other people in accordance with his individual degree of kedushah - not someone else's.

Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, makes a noteworthy statement which serves as a compelling addendum to this idea. The kesser Kehunah, crown of the priesthood, is demanding; there is, however, a loftier crown - the kesser Torah, crown of the Torah. While this diadem is available to everyone who so desires and seeks to immerse himself totally in the study of Torah, it demands much of its achiever. It requires that one totally abnegate himself from the affairs of the mundane - not by ignoring them - but rather by not permitting them to impede spiritual growth. The ben Torah must have the acquired ability to stand firm in the face of secular and mundane challenge, for, his essence embodies Torah.

They shall be holy to their G-d and they shall not desecrate the Name of their G-d. (21:6)

It seems strange to present two extremes, holiness and desecration, in such close proximity. After all, is holiness not diametrically in opposition to desecration? It is like saying, "Be honest, do good, so not to be a bank robber! Is there not some compromise between kedushah and chillul? In addressing this question, Horav Shlomo Breuer, zl, claims that Hashem is very exact with His close/pious ones. He judges those closest to Him in a very strict manner, because a tzaddik's "insignificant" error can have a strong effect upon the average Jew., The good performed by the righteous rarely causes a ripple. His "crime," however, raises a storm of peer indignation which is difficult to quell. That is human nature; we tend to concentrate on the tzaddik's weakness and mistake. Thus, the chasm between holiness and desecration is minimized. Every injustice at the hands of a righteous Jew immediately becomes a chillul Hashem.

That which is true for the Kohanim is equally true for every Jew who represents a religion founded upon and governed by the Torah. In the Talmud Yoma 86a Chazal comment that when a person speaks and acts as a ben Torah should, people say about him, "Praised is the father who taught him Torah." Conversely, one whose demeanor does not reflect a Torah orientation causes a grave chillul Hashem. The Rambam supplements Chazal when he maintains, "Any act, even though not a sin, committed by a Torah scholar; such as, words of anger, or simply 'losing it', becomes a chillul Hashem when people talk about it". Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, adds, that in such a case it is unimportant if the scholar is humble and does not view himself as great in stature. Everything is measured in the eyes of the people. If they consider him a scholar, then they respond to him as a scholar.

After all is said and done, the responsibility of one who studies Torah is awesome. Indeed his error is not measured realistically, but rather from the perspective of others. One must realize that this responsibility accompanies the role. One who is insensitive to this fact simply does not respect the reality of Torah life.

I should be sanctified among the Bnei Yisrael. (22:32)

Every Jew is commanded to sanctify Hashem's Name. A Jew's total demeanor is to reflect his subordination to Hashem. His behavior must be admirable; his dealings with others, the height of integrity, his devotion to mitzvos, exemplary. This pasuk serves as the general commandment to give up one's life, if necessary, to sanctify Hashem's Name. It, therefore, seems strange that the Torah does not write this mitzvah in a stronger, more emphatic form. It simply says, "I should be sanctified." Why does the Torah not say, "Sanctify My Name," as a form of command. The Torah seems to take a nonchalant approach to Kiddush Hashem. It is as if it were saying, "I will become sanctified."

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, explains that the goal of the Torah's text is to teach us how one develops the level of conviction to be prepared to give up his life as a martyr for Hashem. From where does he call upon such remarkable fortitude that he is willing to give up his life to sanctify Hashem's Name? The answer is: it cannot happen over night. One does not suddenly conjure up the ability to be moser nefesh, sacrifice himself for Hashem. Only the willingness to live as a Jew can produce the willingness to die as a Jew. A Jew who observes mitzvos, who sanctifies his life through Kashrus, Shabbos, family purity; who strives constantly to cling closer to Hashem, who, when he errs, confesses his sin and seeks atonement through teshuvah, repentance, is the one who sanctifies his speech and overall personality. Such a person is prepared to give up his life for the Almighty. By fulfilling the "h,asebu", "I should be sanctified," by experiencing a wholesome life of kedushah, one elevates himself to the sublime level of mesiras nefesh.

This may be inferred from the Tanna who personified mesiras nefesh, whose life ended in a most tragic but striking example of Kiddush Hashem - Rabbi Akiva. Chazal tell us that when Rabbi Akiva was led out to be executed, he recited the Shema. He continued while his skin was being flayed off his body with steel combs. Imagine the excruciating pain and suffering he must have sustained. Yet, he continued to recite Shema with the same religious fervor and conviction he had demonstrated on a daily level. His students who were watching in shock and disbelief asked, "Rebbe, so much? How much is one supposed to suffer?" Rabbi Akiva responded, "My whole life I awaited the moment that I could sanctify myself to Hashem." Horav Alpert interprets the dialogue between Rabbi Akiva and his students in the following manner. The students wondered how a human being could endure so much pain and suffering - even if it was for the sake of Heaven. Rabbi Akiva told them that he spent an entire life conditioning himself for this moment when he could martyr himself for the Almighty. It did not occur overnight; it took a lifetime of preparation that climaxed with the ultimate sacrifice - himself.

The son of the Yisraelite woman pronounced the name and blashphemed - so they brought him to Moshe...They placed under guard to clarify for themselves through Hashem. (24:12,13)

Two people were in jail awaiting their fate, the blasphemer and the m'koshesh eitzim, the one who desecrated Shabbos. They were placed in different cells for an interesting reason. The m'koshesh awaited his punishment - death. His punishment was certain. The fate of the blasphemer, on the other hand, was yet to be decided. Had they placed both of them in the same cell, the blasphemer would naturally assume that he was to receive the same fate as his cellmate - death. Since thiswas not certain, it would cause the blasphemer undue anxiety to think that he was also to be executed. To avoid this unnecessary suffering, Moshe decided that the two would be placed in separate cells.

Let us examine this further. The Daas Zekeinim notes that Bnei Yisrael were reluctant to sentence the blasphemer to death because they were unsure if execution would atone for the outrage that he had committed. Perhaps death was insufficient punishment for his reprehensible deed. If one who curses his parents is put to death, should we not infer that cursing Hashem is a much graver sin? It might be so serious that meting out punishment for this sin should be left totally to the hands of Hashem. Consequently, if the blasphemer was considered such a despicable sinner that he would deserve a fate even worse than death, why did Bnei Yisrael arrange to make life easier for him? Let him suffer in accordance with his sin!

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, Shlita, feels that Bnei Yisrael were communicating to us the importance of being sensitive to the needs of all Jews, regardless of their religious persuasion and moral tendency. While the blasphemer was a rasha gamur- truly wicked - he still was a Jew who had feelings; he was a human being whose dignity was to be preserved. While he will surely receive the punishment he deserves, it is still wrong to add insult, humiliation and fear to his present state.

How compelling is this statement? We live in a time in which we feel we have license to disparage and humiliate anyone who does not see eye-to-eye with us. After all, "he is a rasha" is the usual response for every indignity we have suffered. We have no right to humiliate or hurt someone's feelings unnecessarily. Perhaps, if we would act more like tzaddikim, "they" would not be such reshaim.

We may suggest another reason for not placing these two together. We are not to bunch together two sinners if their sins are distinct from one another. People are motivated to do evil for different reasons. In one instance it may be family background; in another it might be the social environment to which the person has been exposed; in yet another, it might be something innate within the sinner that has caused him to go wrong. We should not view all mistakes through the same looking glass. Even a sinner deserves his day in court. Whether it is an infraction against the Almighty or it is two children at home or at school who "commit" wrong, we should give each action and each individual its own moment of judgment, one distinct from the other.QUESTIONS and ANSWERS


1. A. Is a Kohen permitted to become tamei to his wife?

B. Does this rule always apply?

2. What does Bais Din do in the event a Kohen marries a woman who is prohibited to him?

3. Is there any kind of meis, dead body, to which a Kohen Gadol may become tamei?

4. May a Yisrael eat Terumah?

5. May the wife of a Kohen eat Terumah?

6. May a Kohen onan eat Terumah?

7. What is the difference between a neder and a nedavah?


1. A. Yes

B. If she was a pesulah, forbidden to him, i.e. divorce.

2. They force him to divorce her.

3. Meis mitzvah, someone who dies and there is no one there to take care of the body.

4. No 5. Yes 6. Yes

7. For a neder the person says, "I accept upon myself to bring a korban." Regardless of what happens to the particular animal, he is liable to bring another animal. For a nedavah, the person says, "This animal is to be my korban." Since he designated a specific animal, he is only obligated to bring that animal

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