Parashat Emor opens with Hashem telling Moshe to instruct the Kohanim in the Halachot of mourning. At the time that I am writing this article, twelve days remain in the Sheloshim mourning period I am observing for my mother. It seems, therefore, appropriate to write a few words on this topic.
Nearly one year ago, I attended the funeral of the woman who taught me the Aleph-Bet nearly forty-five years ago. Her son recalled an event that occurred just a few months before the funeral. He had been about to leave the house early one morning for Shacharit when he noticed his mother, obviously very upset, sitting at the kitchen table with a copy of the Hamodia newspaper in her hands. “What’s the matter, mom?” he asked.
“The Bobover Rebbe died,” was the reply. (His mother had grown up in Europe and had known of many Gedolim from that generation. However, she had never mentioned the Bobover Rebbe.)
“I didn’t know that you knew the Bobover Rebbe,” her son commented.
“I never met him,” she said.
“Then why are you so upset?” her son continued.
Disappointed in her son’s question, the elderly mother looked at her son and said slowly, “Nosson, what’s the matter with you? A Groiseh Mensch Iz Avek” (a great personality has departed).
During the week of Shiva many stories about my mother emerged. Having grown up on a small farm in rural Massachusetts, my mother was placed into stories that described life without air condition, refrigeration, good heat, and modern entertainment. We heard about long and physically demanding days. My mother attended public school in an openly anti-Semitic atmosphere. She knew that there was an open door available at any time to a liberal, much easier and physically comfortable world, but despite this attractive option, she clung to her traditions and ultimately brought up a Jewish family. Even after she had married and was living comfortably, she told me that, given the choice once again, she would enthusiastically choose a life of rich Jewish tradition over poor fleeting comforts. I miss her.
“A Groiseh Mensch Iz Avek.”
-LeElui Nishmat Beilla Bat Tzvi Zalman.
Waste of Words
by Tzvi Atkin
Towards the end of Parshat Emor, the Torah tells the story of the Mekaleil, a man who cursed Hashem and was therefore pelted to death with stones. The Torah says that the name of the man’s mother was “Shelomit Bat (daughter of) Divri.” Following this incident, the Torahlists the Halachot of punishments that one receives for killing or causing damage to a human or an animal. Why is the name of the Mekaleil’s mother important? In addition, what is the connection between these two topics?
Rashi says that the mother was called “Divri” because she was a gossiper (Divri is translated as “speak”). Rabbeinu Bachaya comments that the majority of a person’s character traits are acquired from his or her mother, because he or she was in the mother’s womb for nine months. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the reason that the man was punished was not because of the actual cursing of Hashem. Rather, he was punished because he was given the power of speech to do good things, but instead used it to do something improper. Inheriting his mother’s habit of excessive speaking, the man wasted his words by using them for a negative purpose.
The Aished HaNechalim explains the juxtaposition of these two sections. He says that the reason that the damages of man and animal follow the incident of the man who curses is because the man failed to realize the difference between man and animal – man has the ability to speak while an animal does not. If the man would have recognized the greatness of the power of speech, he would have never said something so improper. It is of utmost importance to appreciate our gift of speech and not use it to say any harmful or unnecessary words. -Adapted from a Shiur by Rabbi Yissocher Frand
by Cobi Friedman
Parshat Emor starts off with two very intriguing Pesukim. “Hashem said to Moshe: Speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and say to them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself through a dead person among his people” (21:1-2). There are two questions which one can ask on these Pesukim. First, why does it say “Speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them?” This is redundant! The Torah does not waste any words, so why does the Pasuk have to repeat the commandment of talking to the Kohanim? Additionally, why is Moshe told to speak to Aharon’s sons but not to Aharon himself?
Ibn Ezra answers our first question. He says that the first statement refers to the previous chapters and is simply reminding the Kohanim of the laws of Tumah. The second statement tells Moshe to explain to the Kohanim the Mitzvot of this and the following Perakim.
Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski answers our second question. He quotes a Midrash which states that when the Jews received the Torah, they were freed from the Malach HaMavet (Angel of Death). How did individuals pass away during this time? People (such as Moshe and Aharon later) died by the “Kiss of God” – Hashem Himself took their souls. However, after the Cheit HaEigel, the Malach HaMavet returned to his position. Knowing that Aharon still felt guilty about his involvement in the Cheit HaEigel, Hashem did not address him in the Pesukim which dealt with natural death and its consequences, which returned due to this sin. If only we could be equally sensitive to the feelings of others. -Adapted from a Dvar Torah on www.theraphi.com
An Easy Mitzvah
by Marc Poleyeff
In the first Pasuk of this week’s Parsha, the Torah states (21:1), “Vayomer Hashem El Moshe Emor El HaKohanim…” “Hashem said to Moshe, say to the Kohanim…” This section goes on to speak about various laws relating to the Kohanim. In the majority of places where the Torah discusses laws, it introduces the section with the word “Vaydaber.” Even in Sefer Yehoshua, in which almost every prophecy begins with the word “Vayomer,” one Perek, dealing with the setup of the Arei Miklat (cities of refuge for negligent murder, see Bemidbar 35:9-34), begins with the word “Vaydaber.” The Gemara in Makkot (11a) explains that “Vaydaber,” a stronger expression of speech, is used because the Arei Miklat are matters of the Torah. Why, then, does the Torah begin the section in our Parsha relating to the laws of the Kohanim with the word “Vayomer?”
To answer this question, we must examine the role of the Kohanim. The Kohanim are supposed to be the teachers of Am Yisrael, as Moshe says in Devarim (33:10), “Yoru Mishpatecha LeYaakov VeToratecha LeYisrael,” “They (the tribe of Levi and specifically the Kohanim) shall teach Your laws to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel.” The Kohanim had a special teaching role even when serving in the Beit HaMikdash. With regard to bringing Maaser Sheini to Yerushalyim, the Torah says: “Lemaan Tilmad LeYirah Et Hashem Elokecha Kol HaYamim,” “So that you (Bnei Yisrael) will learn to fear Hashem your God all the days.” Bnei Yisrael would learn to fear Hashem by watching the Kohanim perform their service in the Beit HaMikdash (see Rashbam to Devarim 14:23).
Although being a Kohen entails always being in a state of Kedushah and following certain Halachot, the Torah, by starting off this section with the word “Vayomer” (a softer form of speech), is trying to convey the message that the Kohanim’s service in the Beit HaMikdash and teaching Bnei Yisrael Torah should seem to them as an easy task. In Devarim (10:12), Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael, “Ma Hashem Elokecha Shoel MeiImach, Ki Im LeYirah Et Hashem Elokecha,” “What does Hashem your God ask from you? Only to fear Hashem your God.” The Gemara in Berachot (33b) asks: is fear of Hashem an easy task, as Moshe makes it seem? It answers, “Yes, it is a small matter for Moshe.” In a similar vein, the Kohanim should regard all of their commandments as an easy task and accept them with joy.
The Rambam says at the end of Hilchot Deiot that the best type of Avodat Hashem is service done out of love. Even though most of us are not Kohanim, hopefully we can learn an important lesson from the Torah’s expectations of them. We too should accept every Mitzvah with love and joy and perform it to the best of our abilities.
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