In this week’s Parsha, we are told, “USemachtem Lifnei Hashem Elokeichem Shiv’at Yamim,” “And you shall rejoice before Hashem for seven days.” This Pasuk is speaking particularly about the holiday of Sukkot, but Chazal understand this and other similar sentences to teach us that there is a commandment to rejoice and be happy on every Yom Tov.
Let us focus on the beginning of this Pasuk. What does the word USemachtem, “and you shall rejoice,” truly mean? Many people have their own definitions of happiness, some contrary to the thinking of our holy Torah. I would like to present a Torah outlook (or perhaps several outlooks) on happiness.
The Rambam writes about Purim (Hilchot Megilah 2:17) that we should spend more money for Matanot LeEvyonim than we do for our Purim meal or for Mishloach Manot. He explains “the reason for this is that there is no greater joy than gladdening the hearts of the poor.” The Rambam thus expresses a completely different definition of happiness from what we would have thought ourselves: true happiness means making those who are less fortunate than us feel happy.
The Talmud in Masechet Pesachim (109a) has another definition of Simcha on Yom Tov. It states that different people become happy because of different things. The Talmud asks, “What makes children happy?” Its answer, “parched grain and nuts,” can be explained in a modern context as sweets and toys. “What makes women happy? New clothing.” (I have heard shoes and jewelry as well.) “What makes men happy? Eating meat and drinking wine.” These statements of the Talmud clearly show that physical pleasures can play a role in Simcha. This is not absolute, however, as evidenced by a Machloket Rishonim about Simcha. Tosafot (Moed Katan 14b s.v. Asei) argue that we do not fulfill the Mitzvah of Simcha on a Torah level since we do not have the Korban Shelamim (Rambam, Hilchot Yom Tov 6:17, disagrees). Tosafot’s opinion demonstrates that although we can achieve Simchat Yom Tov through personal physical pleasure, this is true only as long as it is done for the holy purpose of serving Hashem on Yom Tov.
The Talmud also says that every Yom Tov is half for Hashem and half for us, except for Shavuot, which is entirely for us. This seems to be providing another idea of Simcha, namely that accepting the Torah and fulfilling it as we do on Shavuot allows us to achieve true joy.
Many years ago, when I was a student at RIETS, Rav Dovid Lipshitz ZT”L would hang up signs around the Yeshiva as Rosh Chodesh Adar approached. The signs read, “MiSheNichnas Adar Marbin BeSimcha,” “When the month of Adar begins, we must increase our joy,” followed by “Ein Simcha Ela Torah,” “There is no joy in this world except for learning Torah.” Therefore, “MiSheNichnas Adar Marbin BeTorah,” “When Adar arrives, we must increase our learning of Torah.” This, too, shows the definition of Simcha to be studying Torah and coming close to Hashem.
As we approach the holiday of Shavuot, may we fulfill the Mitzvah of Simcha by helping those who are less fortunate, enjoying our festive meals, and of course learning Torah during Zeman Matan Torateinu.
A Safeguard of Purity
by Chaim Strassman
This week’s Parsha describes several restrictions placed upon the Kohen Gadol. One of the more well-known restrictions is that he may not come in contact with a dead body so that he does not become Tamei, spiritually impure. This Halacha is so strict that the Kohen Gadol may not even go to a parent’s funeral, whereas a Kohen Hedyot, a common Kohen, can attend the funerals of certain close relatives, including his parents. Moreover, the Halacha accepts the Tannaitic opinion that forbids a Kohen Gadol to leave the Beit Hamikdash to even follow his parent’s funeral procession. This seems to be a very harsh restriction, especially given that it would normally be considered a Mitzvah to honor a parent by attending his or her funeral, and the Kohen would certainly want very much to go. How can it be that our Torah that teaches Rachamim, mercy, still prohibits a grieving son from going to his parent’s funeral? Additionally, the Torah usually does not always make such strong safeguards. Why does it go so far in safeguarding the Kohen Gadol’s Taharah?
We may find an answer at the beginning of the laws for the Kohen Gadol. Many times, the Torah emphasizes the command of holiness for Kohanim: “They shall be holy…and you shall sanctify him…he shall be holy…” (21:6,8). This quality, which is even more true of the Kohen Gadol than other Kohanim, was reason enough to make such a strong safeguard to ensure the Kohen Gadol’s Taharah. The commandment of remaining Tahor is simply too important to transgress, even if it is his parent’s funeral.
From the Torah’s enacting such strong safeguards, we can also learn something else. The Kohen Gadol must go to great lengths to stay holy even in a time of hardship for him. When we find ourselves dropping on some level in our lives, we, too, need to make our own safeguards in order to improve ourselves. Whether the problem is lack of enthusiasm in learning or watching too much television or any other issue we may encounter, it is our task to ensure that we safeguard every aspect of our Torah lives.
The Bread of Belief
by Jesse Dunietz
The last section of Parshat Emor discusses the Mekallel, the man who cursed the Name of Hashem. After describing the man’s crime, the instructions from Hashem for punishment, and the execution of that punishment, the section closes with, “Uvnei Yisrael Asu Kaasher Tzivah Hashem Et Moshe,” “And Bnei Yisrael did according to what Hashem commanded Moshe” (24:23). This seems quite redundant; the Pasuk already described how Bnei Yisrael performed the prescribed punishment of stoning! What does this Pasuk add to our understanding of the story?
Another question arises from a Midrash about the motivations of the Mekallel. The Midrash comments that what drove the Mekallel to “go out” (24:10) and curse the Name of Hashem was the previous section about the Lechem HaPanim. The Torah states that the Kohanim eat the Lechem upon removing it from the Shulchan a full week after it is placed there. According to the Midrash, the concept that the Kohanim were serving Hashem with cold, stale bread was so upsetting that he was moved to commit his crime. This, too, seems very strange – how could such a seemingly small issue drive someone to such a severe offense?
Rav Yissochar Frand, quoting the Tolner Rebbe, answers both questions by explaining the Midrash allegorically. The Mekallel was not upset about bread in the literal sense. Rather, he was troubled by the symbolism of the bread. Throughout Tanach and the Midrash, bread symbolizes Hashem’s providing us with Parnassah, sustenance. The Lechem HaPanim is one manifestation of this symbolism. Indeed, the Gemara (quoted by the Rambam as practical Halacha) states that because the Lechem HaPanim is the vehicle of Hashem’s sustenance to Bnei Yisrael, the Kohanim who remove the old bread must simultaneously slide the new bread on so that there will not be a break in the “conduit.” It was this concept of Hashem’s Parnassah, the idea that Hashem is personally and actively involved with providing for His creations, that bothered the Mekallel. He believed that the bread was cold and stale, i.e. there was no such involved, loving connection with Hashem. What he failed to recognize was that, as Chazal say, the bread stayed warm and fresh from week to week, i.e. this close relationship does exist. It was this philosophical error that caused the Mekallel to commit the offense that he did.
Finally, the Pasuk concludes by saying that “Bnei Yisrael did as Hashem commanded.” Despite the presence of such a strong challenge to the idea Hashem’s influence in the world, Bnei Yisrael remained steadfast in their belief in Hashem.
The Unmovable Kohen
by Jesse Nowlin
In the course of the detailed instructions for Kohanim which form the opening of Parshat Emor, Hashem instructs regarding the Kohen Gadol, “UMin Hamikdash Lo Yetzei,” “And from the sanctuary he shall not leave” (21:12). Chazal derive from this prohibition that the Kohen Gadol is to perform the Avodah even while he is an Onen, a mourner for a close relative prior to the burial. This is in contrast to the Kohen Hedyot, the regular Kohen, who may not perform the Avodah as an Onen. The simple reason given for this is that while one is at the heightened state of grief of an Onen, his mind is not in control. The sadness that envelopes a person at such a time disqualifies the Kohen Hedyot from performing the service, since he no longer has the proper mindset that is so essential for carrying out his mission properly. The Kohen Gadol, on the other hand, is admonished not to leave the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary must dominate his consciousness; he must reign over his emotions so that he does not even momentarily divorce himself from his lofty mission.
Harav Shneur Kotler Z”L notes the distinction and special demand placed on the Kohen Gadol. Rav Kotler asserts that the capacity to always retain the correct frame of mind crucial for carrying out the priestly service is a prerequisite of Kehunah Gedolah. This is the implied meaning of “from the sanctuary he shall not leave”: the Kohen Gadol must rise from above all worldly events, remaining totally Kadosh and attached to his Avodah. Indeed, as Rav Kotler notes, the ability to remain calm and serene during the most anxious and frightening moments is the hallmark of an Adam HaShaleim, a man who has achieved spiritual and moral perfection. Even as he encounters other people and confronts mundane challenges, he always remains within the confines of the Sanctuary. Indeed, he becomes the embodiment of the Sanctuary, as it permeates his entire essence. Thus, the Kohen Gadol cannot physically leave the Mikdash even as an Onen because by definition, he can never spiritually depart from the Mikdash and the Avodah.
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This week’s Kol Torah has been sponsored by the Moed, Cohen, Fischler, and Peretz families in loving memory their dear father, husband, and grandfather Isi Moed, who loved Israel, its people, and its heritage.
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