This week we read Parashat Emor. One part of Parashat Emor that is a bit unsettling is its emphasis on physical perfection over many other features, both in terms of people and animals. The Parashah starts out by explaining why it is absolutely essential for a Kohein Gadol to marry a Betulah, a virgin. The Pasuk states “Almanah UGerushah VaChalalah Zonah Et Eileh Lo Yikach Ki Im Betulah MeiAmav Yikach Ishah,” “A widow, or a divorcee, or a profaned woman, or a harlot, these shall he not take; but a virgin of his own people shall he take to wife” (VaYikra 21:14).
Just a few Pesukim later, the Torah tells us that certain blemishes disqualify a Kohein from offering sacrifices. The Pasuk reads “Dabeir El Aharon Leimor, Ish MiZaracha LeDorotam Asher Yihyeh Vo Mum Lo Yikrav LeHakriv Lechem Elokav,” “Speak unto Aharon, saying: Whosoever is of your seed that has a blemish throughout his generations let him not approach to offer the bread of his God” (ad loc. 17).
Towards the end of the Parashah, there is a third example of the Torah valuing the physical. When discussing Korbanot, Hashem explains to Moshe that any animal used as a sacrifice must be free of blemishes. “Kol Asher Bo Mum Lo Takrivu Ki Lo LeRatzon Yihyeh Lachem,” “But whatever has a blemish that you shall not bring; for it shall not be acceptable for you” (22:20).
Why do blemishes or imperfections that seem so superficial and insignificant make such a big difference? There must be a very important reason why HaKadosh Baruch Hu, the most powerful and merciful being of all time, is unable to overlook things that to us seem rather shallow and unimportant.
One explanation for this is that God does not really care about the perfection of a given person; He simply wants us to care about and put effort into our service to Him. This would tie in with an explanation for Korbanot as a whole. The following question is asked: why would a supernatural being like Hashem desire something that mere humans use for satiation and physical pleasure, namely, a Korban? Many have discussed this question and have deduced that God wants us to bring the Korbanot as a way for us to build a relationship with Him.
If this is true, why is it so important for the person or the animal to be in perfect health? Why should it matter if somebody is sick or has a blemish of some sort? The answer is that these examples, as well as the many other illustrations of this found throughout the Torah, are not about the body at all. In fact, they are not about physical perfection in any way. Rather, they are symbolic of the spiritual perfection that we strive for each and every day. If one was attempting to reach the highest spiritual levels, he would certainly do everything in his power to do so, even perfecting the seemingly irrelevant physical aspects. The reason we use the body as an example is to show that we cannot possibly reach the highest level of spiritual perfection without trying our utmost to achieve it.