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   by Jacob Solomon

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PARASHAT EMOR (D'var Torah and Questions) 5763

G-d spoke to Moses…Speak to Aaron and his sons: they must separate themselves from the holy things of the Israelites which they sanctify for Me, and they shall not profane My Holy Name; I am the Lord (22:1-2).

The interpretation of the text according to the Talmud is that whenever Kohanim become ritually unclean they must withdraw from all aspects of the Temple service less they contaminate and therefore disqualify the offering which the Israelites have brought. The penalty for those who serve whilst contaminated is death (22:9) by the hand of Heaven (Sanhedrin 83b).

This text occurs in the middle of the earlier sections of this Parasha which deal with the laws of the Kohanim. These sections, in order, deal with: the restrictions of, and respects paid to ordinary Kohanim, and the Kohen Gadol; the prohibition of a Kohen with any physical defect serving, the prohibition of a Kohen with an even temporary spiritual defect (ritual uncleanness) serving, and the disqualification of any animal with a physical defect as a sacrifice.

The language of Divine communication seems harsh in the section under study - namely the forbidding of a Kohen who is ritually unclean serving in the Temple. This may be derived from way that section is introduced: 'G-d spoke to Moses… Speak to Aaron and his sons', rather than the more usual expression: 'Speak to Aaron and his sons saying'. There is a general rule that where, in a Divine instruction, the word daber (to speak) is not accompanied by some form of the word amar (to say), the communication is a harsh one (see Rashi on Shemot 6:2 and 32:7). The use of that style to convey such a mood occurs, for example, where G-d draws Moses' attention to the Israelites' worshipping the Golden Calf.

Throughout Parashat Emor this is the only place where that harsh form of command is used. What was special about the laws of spiritual uncleanness which justified their being singled out for a severe form of Divine communication?

In answering the question consider the following remark of the Sforno: Kohanim should not be so taken by the thoughts of their high position that they regard as profane that which the Israelites regard as sacred (S'forno on 22:2).

This gives us an insight into the series of laws applying to the Kehuna. The Kohen, as a descendent of Aaron, is singled out as a person to be respected and honored (21:8) - for example in being the first to be called up to the Torah. In Temple times only Kohanim were allowed to deal with the korban after shechita, so that it would bring the desired atonement or other effect for the person who brought it. In addition the Kohanim were supported by the mandatory terumot and other items listed in Bamidbar (18:9-20). In short they were a privileged, authoritative, and honored class. They were the aristocracy of Klal Yisrael.

People in high positions have many chances to abuse their authority: to allow themselves liberties not permitted to 'commoners'. In this case, the Kohanim's familiarity with the kedusha of the Beth Hamikdash - totally off-limits to the other sections of Klal Yisrael - could reduce the respect that they would have for their holy duties, and for that matter the Beth Hamikdash in general. This ultimately would cause the neglect of the Torah-ordained standards of ritual purity required by the Kohanim for their Divine service.

Therefore the commandment had to be communicated harshly. The Almighty, through Moses, was addressing human nature. The severe tone in effect was saying to the Kohanim: Beware - you are close to Me, and privileged by Me and My People. Under no circumstances abuse your status or your duties…

This whole approach in fact addresses the wider issue of carelessness and corruption on the part of learned people and public figures towards other people. Torah standards in this are may be illustrated by the following story.

The late Rav Rabinow ztl. a talmid muvhak of the Hafetz Hayim used to give a Chumash-Rashi shiur to unlearned Baalei Batim in his Beth Hamidrash in London, between Mincha and Aravit on Shabbat. He was observed meticulously going through the text before the Shiur. "R. Rabinow, don't you know the text off by heart? Why do you need to go over it?" He answered: "Of course I know it. But the Baalei Batim have made a special effort to attend the shiur. I owe them the respect that I should go over it especially for them and not arrive unprepared…"


From which sources in Parashat Emor may the following Torah values be learnt?
[The more difficult items have clues attached]

1. Respect and precedence must be given to a Priest.

2. Even if appearances do not tell the truth, they can still be of vital importance.

3. A person who sins by accident and does not take trouble to atone for his sin is regarded as having sinned on purpose - derived from this Parasha by the Ohr Hachayim.

4. Although the thought is important when serving G-d, the correct manner is vital as well.

5. A person should not behave in such a manner that would morally desensitize himself to callousness and cruelty.

6. A person must be very careful not to behave in such a manner that would bring the Torah into disrepute.

7. Even hard labor is worthy of being sanctified - derived from this Parasha by the Meshech Chochma.

8. Yom Kippur only effects atonement for those who sincerely repent - derived from this Parasha in Rashi's commentary.

9. The 'mitzva' of rejoicing on the Festivals is at its strongest on Sukkot.

10. A person who killed an animal must pay its market value.


1. This is derived from the words 'You shall make him holy… he (the Kohen) shall be holy to you' (21:8). This is understood to mean that he should be given precedence in religious matters - for example in being first to be called up to the Torah reading. See Rashi ad loc.

2. The importance of appearances is reflected in the Torah's prohibiting a Kohen with a physical defect from performing the Temple service (21:16-24).

3. The Torah requires a non-Kohen who ate Teruma by accident to replace what he took, and to add one fifth to it (22:14). If a person finds out that he made such a mistake and does not make those amends stated by the Torah, he 'bears the sin' (22:16) which in Hebrew is termed 'avon' (22:16) - sin done on purpose. Thus the inadvertent sinner who had not used the possibility of gaining atonement for himself shows himself to be indifferent to sin. Because of that attitude, his accidental sin becomes an 'avon' - as though it was an intentional one. See Ohr Hachayim ad loc.

4. That serving G-d must not only be done with the correct thoughts, but with the right actions, may be derived from the prohibition of offering an animal with any blemish whatsoever - whether naturally or man-induced. See 22:17-25.

5. The prohibition of slaughtering an animal and its child on the same day (22:28) indicates that a person should not behave in a way that would morally desensitize himself to callousness and cruelty. See the Chinuch on that Mitzva.

6. The words: "You shall not profane my Holy Name" (22:32) indicate that a person must be very careful not to behave in such a manner that would bring the Torah into disrepute. A person is required to sanctify G-d's name through his behavior by performing the commandments and by treating others kindly, considerately, and honestly, so that people will say of him: "Happy are the parents and teachers who taught him Torah, and raised such a person." See Talmud Yoma 86a.

7. The mundane and exhausting work of harvesting the grain crops of wheat and barley is sanctified by being focused on the Temple services of offering the 'omer' - the communal barley harvest offering on Pesach, and the communal wheat harvest - the two loaves of bread - on Shavuot. See 23:10,17.

8. A key word introducing the section about Yom Kippur is the Hebrew 'ach' - 'but' (23:27). That suggests a limitation to the scope of Yom Kippur: Rashi brings the tradition that the limitation is that Yom Kippur effects atonement only for those who sincerely repent.

9. This is derived by the fact that the word 'simcha' - rejoicing - is only mentioned once in this section of the Torah - and that is in respect to Sukkot 'You shall rejoice before… G-d for seven days' (23:40). (Commentaries state that Sukkot is special as it is the culmination of the Tishri process of repentance of atonement, when the Israelites endeavor to drag themselves out of the morass of sin.)

10. This in the Halachic interpretation of the text: 'A person who kills (literally, hits the soul) of an animal, shall pay - "a soul for a soul"' (24:18) - understood by the Rabbis to mean 'the value of the animal in exchange of the animal'. See also Bava Kama 83b and 84a.


The text states: 'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not gather in all that grows in the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger - I am the L-rd your G-d' (23:22). This commandment is remarkable in that it is placed in an entirely different context - within the section concerning the Festival - and specifically within that part which refers to the Festival of Shavuot (Pentecost). What is the connection between the mandatory gifts from the landowner to the poor, and Shavuot?

For my attempt to look at this issue, see Shema Yisrael on Parashat Emor for 5763.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.


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