A Sacred Responsibility - And Privilege
“Vayomer Hashem el Moshe emor el hakohanim” (Vayikrah 21:1)
Parshas Emor lists some of the halochos (laws) pertaining to kohanim. One
of the many halochos that are specific to a kohen is the fact that he
needs to avoid becoming tamei (ritually impure) throughout his life.
This requires constant vigilance on the part of each kohen. In addition to
the general difficulty of seeing to it that one does not become tamei, it
becomes more challenging to a kohen whose close friend or relative r’l
dies. As the Torah relates in the opening pesukim of this week’s parsha, a
kohen is never permitted to enter a home where there is a deceased person
or to go in to a Beis Hakvaros (cemetery) – except for the funeral of an
immediate relative. Even in such an instance, this is a one-time
exemption, and the kohen could not visit the cemetery on the yahrtzeit or
at any other time.
Kohanim have other halachos that are exclusive to them as well. A male
kohen is not permitted to marry a divorcee, and, when the Bais Hamikdosh
was standing, he needed to be very careful to avoid any form of tumah
(ritual impurity) at all – since he would be eating Teruma and Kodoshim.
All in all, the Torah presents a listing of halachos that restrict and
limit the activities of the kohanim – due to their elevated status as
those who reside in the immediate presence to Hashem’s Shechinah (Divine
AN INTERESTING QUESTION
Rav Moshe Feinstein z’tl, in his sefer Darash Moshe asks an interesting
Why does the Torah begin this parsha with the word Vayomer as opposed to
Vayedabeir? Both words represent forms of speech. Generally speaking,
however, the word vayomer represents a softer form of speech, and
vayedaber represents a more firm verbal communication. Throughout the
Torah, Reb Moshe points out, the term "Vayedabeir Hashem el Moshe" is used
when halachic laws are being delivered. In this instance, Reb Moshe
maintains, vayedabeir should surely be used – since Hashem is informing
Moshe about halochos that are exceedingly difficult to keep.
Reb Moshe explains that the Kohanim were the teachers of Torah to Klal
Yisroel, as it says, "Yoru mishpatecha l’Yakov – They (kohanim) should
teach the halachos to Klal Yisroel" [Devorim 33:10].
A SACRED RESPONSIBILITY – AND PRIVILEGE
In order for anyone to properly transmit our mesorah, one needs to feel
that the mitzvos and halachos are a privilege, not a restriction.
Hashem used the word “Vayomer" in this instance to teach us this important
message. We, as the chosen people of Hashem have the privilege to observe
the mitzvos of our Creator. We need to approach them with an overriding
feeling of happiness, and not to view them as a voluminous listing of
restrictions. In order to effectively transmit that feeling, the halachos
pertaining to kohanim begin with the language of vayomer – a word that
Rav Moshe points out that not only kohanim and leveyim were the teachers
of Torah. According to the Rambam (Hilchos Shmitah v'Yovel 13:13), he
explains, anyone can take the role of a teacher of Torah. Additionally, we
teach Torah not only when learning it with others, but perhaps more
importantly, by living elevated lives according to its mandates and
interacting with others with a sense of Darchei Noam.
My great rebbi, Rav Avrohom Pam z’tl would often tell us during our
teenage years that we all need to prepare ourselves for the sacred mission
of becoming teachers of Torah. He shared with us that regardless of our
professions later in life, we would need to become teachers of Torah –
when Moshiach will come, bimeherah beyameinu (may he come speedily, in our
times). At that time, he said, Klal Yisroel will need countless rebbeim to
teach Torah to our brothers and sisters who did not have the privilege to
study its halachaos and lessons during their formative years.
This week’s parsha teaches us how to do this – by doing the mitzvos with a
sense of privilege and simcha. May we all be zoche to learn, live, and
i’yh teach Torah – b’simcha u’vetuv levav.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Torah.org.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.