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. 

The Importance of Effort by Rabbi Joel Grossman

Pure Intentions by Cobi Friedman