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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)

Why is it necessary to have two "amiros," sayings? Rashi cites Chazal in the Talmud Yevamos 114a who say that the Torah is emphasizing the need for "the gedolim to warn the ketanim." The Kohanim, scholars and teachers of the people, were to convey this teaching to others who were not necessarily obligated by this mitzvah. The adult Kohanim were cautioned to make sure that their children not become contaminated. The Midrash says that the word gedolim is a reference to the "beings," angels in Heaven Above, for whom one amirah, admonishment, suffices. The tachtonim, human beings who walk the face of the earth, who are subject to the blandishments of the yetzer hora, evil inclination, need at least two enjoinments to curb their appetite for sin. What is the meaning of the two amiros, enjoinments, that would assist the tachtonim, humans, in thwarting the yetzer hora's efforts to cause them to sin?

Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, cites Horav P. Friedman, Shlita, who explains this Midrash by using a concept stated by the Koznitzer Maggid, zl. The Torah in Parashas Haazinu (Devarim 32:) declares, "Give ear o' heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth." The Maggid explains this pasuk in the following manner: The tzaddik who attempts to reprove his generation in order to bring them back to serve Hashem properly, but does not succeed, should realize that their hearts have turned to stone. In order to reach them, he should focus his words on the origin of their neshamah, soul. In Heaven, the klipos, "outer shells", which prevent the words of admonishment from entering their hearts, are not effective. Horav Schlessinger explains that, actually, a person's neshamah has two components. The primary neshamah which remains pure and holy - untainted by anything - stays in Heaven. The aspect that leaves the Heaven to enter into the human body is but a small part of the neshamah's light, the "overflow." As a person serves Hashem and studies Torah, accordingly the two neshamos become bound up with one another.

The Bnei Yissacher explains the concept of Machatzis Hashekel: Each Jew was instructed to give only a half-shekel to the Mikdash, based upon this idea. The numerical equivalent of "shekel" is the same as "nefesh," referring to the soul of man. We are enjoined to give a half-shekel, alluding to our responsibility to elevate our half of the nefesh/neshamah, and bind it up with its pure source in Heaven.

The neshamah in Heaven is never blemished or tainted by our sins. What we do on earth affects only our "earthly" neshamah. This is so that even when man sullies himself with sin in this world, he still has the opportunity left for him to perform teshuvah and repent, since the neshamah in Heaven remains in its pristine state. "Kol Yisrael yeish lahem chelek la'Olam Habah," "Every Jew has a portion in the World To Come." Does this apply to the wicked who have perverted Hashem's word, who have denigrated His mitzvos and belittled His Torah? Yes! The neshamah that is in Heaven is not affected by the person's rebellion in his human existence. It continues in its state of purity and holiness, waiting for its "other half" to repent and return to its source. When the tzaddik offers words of rebuke, he should first focus on the "earthly" soul. If he sees that it is to no avail, he should speak to the unaffected neshamah, the one in Shomayim, that will always hear. This is implied by the Torah's redundancy of "Hocheach tocheach es amisecha" "You shall reprove your fellow man," (Vayikra 19:17). If at first one is not successful with his tochachah, he should speak again to the soul in Heaven. Every Jew has his bedrock, his foundation of spiritual stability, the Pintele Yid that will never be blemished. For every Jew, there is always hope.

We now have a profound understanding of the words of the Midrash. Because the elyonim, angels, do not have a yetzer hora that would sway them and blemish their neshamos, they do not need a special amirah to the source of their neshamah. One amirah from Hashem is sufficient. For the tachtonim, humans, who have a yetzer hora, we can only hope that two amiros - one for their earthly neshamah and the second for their Heavenly neshamah, are sufficient enjoinment to bring them back to serve Him. These are the two amiros: to the person and -- if that does not work -- speak to their neshamos in Heaven.

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

The various commentators address the Torah's redundancy in its enjoinment to the Kohanim regarding the laws of tumah, ritual contamination. Rashi cites Chazal who say that the Torah is emphasizing the need for the gedolim, adults, to warn the ketanim, children. In a homiletic rendering of the pasuk, the Chasam Sofer focuses upon what has regrettably become common practice: We take an interest only in the "gedolim," while we ignore the "ketanim". For example, when a member of the community passes away, we make an effort to provide everything for the "niftar ha'gadol," the distinguished deceased. We prepare a "great" funeral, with "great" eulogies; we see to it that a "large" crowd assembles for the funeral, followed by an appropriate burial. What about the "ketanim," the "little," forgotten people, the widow and orphans who are now left to fend for themselves, bereft of their husband and father? When the Torah begins its chapter dealing with death in a family, it seeks to make us acutely aware of the responsibility for caring about the little things in the same manner in which we dedicate ourselves to addressing the big issues.

The Kohen who is exalted above his brethren - upon whose head the anointment oil has been poured. (21:10)

The Kohen Gadol "stands" above the other Kohanim as a result of certain qualities with which he has been vested. Chazal enumerate five areas in which he was "greater" than the others. One of these was strength. The Kohen Gadol was exceptionally strong. This is indicated by Aharon Hakohen's ability to consecrate twenty-two thousand Leviim - in one day. This process involved physically raising each one and moving them back and forth, up and down. The magnitude of this task is evident when one realizes that this was all performed in the space of one day!

Let us analyze this statement. When we take into consideration that such an incredible feat could be performed only through the intervention of a miracle, it no longer serves as evidence of Aharon's amazing physical strength. Furthermore, what difference does it really make if the Kohen Gadol possesses remarkable physical strength? Does this make him a better, more virtuous person?

We find another mention of the concept of strength in the Talmud Nedarim 38a, wherein it is stated that the Shechinah rests only on one who is strong. Incidentally, in his commentary, the Rambam explains Chazal's statement as a reference to one's ability to overwhelm the blandishments of his yetzer hora, evil inclination. The commentaries, however, disagree with this interpretation, leaving a consensus that specifically refers to physical strength.

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, defines strength as one's ability to overcome a tendency towards indolence. We tend to find excuses for not doing a specific task: it is either too hard, unnecessary or unimportant. The true reason behind our excuses is laziness. Why are we lazy? Is it because we do not appreciate or value the task at hand? When one is machshiv, appreciates and holds a given endeavor in esteem, he will somehow find the strength and vitality to perform it. It is difficult work to paint a house, but when it is one's own house, the difficulty seems to disappear. Why? Because the individual is machshiv his house more. When one values a project or endeavor, he attacks it with zest and vibrancy. No obstacles stand in his way. He overcomes any challenge that confronts him. Indolence creeps in when one does not have "cheishak," desire.

One who comes home after a day's work and finds the "time" and "strength" to study Torah, to leave the comfort of his home to attend a shiur, demonstrates his esteem for limud ha'Torah. One who is machshiv Torah will always find a way to study it. One who finds excuses to justify his laziness simply is not machshiv Torah! It is obvious that lifting twenty-two thousand Leviim in one day is impossible. Aharon had every reason to defer from this task. How could he do it? When one is machshiv, values, Hashem's command, however, nothing deters him. Aharon's incredible strength lay in his attitude, his drive, his overwhelming desire to fulfill mitzvas Hashem. He undertook the impossible. Hashem responded to Aharon's effort by miraculously transforming the impossible into the achievable.

The son of an Israelite woman - and he was the son of an Egyptian man... the son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name and blasphemed... the name of his mother was Shlomis daughter of Divri. (24:10,11) The Torah relates the story of a Jew who committed the heinous sin of blaspheming the Name of Hashem. The Torah records this person's mother's name as Shlomis bas Divri. Rashi attributes the name Shlomis to her tendency to greet everyone, striking up a conversation with everyone she meets. The name Divri also implies that she was a dabronis, talked very much with everyone. Apparently, her proclivity to talk excessively led to all forms of sinful speech and behavior. The Chasam Sofer questions Rashi's statement. It would seem that Rashi was giving us a reason why this woman gave birth to such a despicable son. Rather than relating her deplorable behavior to us, Rashi tells us that she was a friendly person who made a point of greeting everyone she encountered. Second, Rashi comments regarding both aspects of her name - Shlomis and Divri. Is that really necessary? Moreover, while the name Shlomis implies her amicability towards people, the name Divri, whose root word is diber, alludes to a harsher form of speech. What was Shlomis really like and wherein lay the origin of her iniquity?

In his approach to responding to these questions, the Satmar Rav, zl, is bothered by the fact that the generation of the wilderness, the people who stood at Har Sinai during the Revelation and accepted Hashem's Torah, produced an individual who could commit such an atrocious sin. Furthermore, according to the Daas Zekeinim, the blasphemer was a Torah scholar! How are we to understand the evolution of this tragic occurrence and its ramifications for us today?

In response to these questions,. the Satmar Rav cites the pasuk in Devarim 29:18 regarding the renewal of the covenant in which Hashem details the punishment for he who would defy the Torah, saying, "Shalom yiheyeh li," "Peace will be with me," though I walk as my heart sees fit. He is not impressed with the thought of impending punishment. Hashem will surely punish him, as Rashi explains that those sins that heretofore were committed inadvertently will now be viewed as done b'meizid, intentionally. Is this the type of punishment for one who scoffs punishment? Should he be punished so harshly that his shegagos, unintentional transgressions, be treated as zedonos, intentional ones?

He explains that the covenant here is a reference to each Jew's responsibility towards his fellow man. "Kol Yisrael areivim ze la'zeh," "All Jews are responsible one for another" is a halachic axiom. When one Jew sees another Jew transgressing, he has a moral responsibility to protest and help him to return to the Torah way. There are those who regrettably shirk their responsibility due to personal vested interests. They will express a number of excuses to justify not making an issue. First and foremost is the idea of shalom - peace. Peace among Jews is the lifeblood of our People. Unity and harmony - achdus is G-d like. As Hashem is echad - One, He wants His children to live in achdus - oneness, in harmony with one another.

When a close friend is doing something that is harmful to himself, it behooves an individual to prevent him from hurting himself. When one sins, he is hurting himself - and Klal Yisrael! A true friend will not stand idly by ignoring, and at times even encouraging him -- simply because he does not want to strain his relationship. Such a person is not a friend. Any relationship that does not leave room for constructive criticism is not a relationship.

This is the meaning of the pasuk. He, who when he hears the punishment that will be meted out to those who ignore their responsibility towards their fellow Jew, saying, "Peace will be with me," meaning - shalom is more important than addressing my brothers' shortcomings, he will have a share in all the sins committed by his friend. Although regarding his friends' sins he is only a shogeg, Hashem will consider him a meizid, because he could have prevented them from occurring.

With this in mind, we can understand the underlying meaning of Shlomis bas Divri's name. She believed in shalom - hence the name Shlomis. While still in Egypt, she made it her business to make peace with everyone. The wicked were her best friends, to the point that she would put down her brethren in order to sycophant to the reshaim - all in the name of shalom. Interestingly, she was at peace only with those who desecrated the Torah and denigrated Hashem's word. In her relationship with the rest of her brethren, she was at odds. She spoke harshly to them, with hatred and vitriol. She was Shlomis to the wicked and Divri, speaking harshly, to the righteous. What began as Shalom, by ignoring her responsibility, ended as hatred towards those from who she had originated. A child growing up in such a home, observing such a double standard, an inner animus towards observant Jews who were supposedly his brothers, can have very little recourse but to grow up into the blasphemer that he became.


1. What is the difference between a Kohen Gadol who is an onen and a Kohen Hedyot who is in a similar circumstance?
2. If a Kohen has a passing/temporary blemish, can he return to performing the avodah once he is cured?
3. What is the punishment for a tamei person who eats basar kodesh?
4. May an animal delivered through a surgical procedure be used for a korban?
5. May the owner of a field assist a poor man, who happens to be his friend, in gathering Leket Shikchah and Peah?
6. The Torah mentions two men from the tribe of Dan: One is praised; the other is scorned. Who are they?

ANSWERS: 1. The Kohen Gadol may perform the avodah, while the Kohen Hedyot may not.
2. Yes.
3. Kares - Heavenly excision.
4. No. It must be born naturally.
5. No.
6. Oholiav ben Achizamach was praised for his part in the construction of the Mishkan. The mekalel who blasphemed Hashem was also a descendant of the tribe of Dan.


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