By Rabbi Label Lam
And HASHEM said to Moshe: ‘Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and you
shall say to them:“To a (dead) person he shall not become impure among his
people…”’ (Vayikra 21:1)
There are two major motifs in Emor. The first part deals with laws
pertaining to the maintenance of the integrity of the Kidusha-Holiness of
the Cohanim. The second speaks of special combinations of sacrifices that
are to be brought in the Mikdash on the various Yomim Tovim-Holy Days. It
may already be too easy to figure out how these two are connected but it’s
still worth explaining.
There are three basic arenas of life- Olam –Shana- Nefesh; that is literally
world (place), time, and person! The permissibility or the forbidden-ness of
an act depend upon the coordination of these three factors; where, when, and
who! Plug in the deed and the variables. Eating one hour before Yom Kippur
begins may actually be a noble thing. An hour later it is despicable! Why?
The Torah designated this time to for this set of behaviors and
inappropriate for others. That’s the reality of these boundaries like any
others boundaries. That’s what holiness means. It’s the art and science of
living respectfully within the G-d given boundaries of life.
Think about it! When people employ all their intelligence only to blur the
lines of distinctions rather than to clarify them they are working against
the Kodesh-the Holy and they are trying to make everything Chol-secular.
Chol lierally means sand! Sand is an undefined conglomerate of particles. It
has no particular shape or direction. Kodesh, on the other hand, thrives on
the drawing of and the obedience to clearly defined boundaries.
For example, a person needs to eat and sleep and learn and work. It then
becomes important to eat when it’s time to eat and sleep when it’s time to
What happens when any of these disciplines are broken and the person sleeps
when it’s time to work or eats when it’s time to sleep?! Once we know and
appreciate that that these lines of time, place, and person are not
negotiable then the stage is set for a life of holiness. Shabbos is Shabbos
and not a time to work. The Cohanim have standards that protect the
integrity of and enhance their inherent Holiness.
I still have ringing in my ears the cute words of one of my Rebbeim’s sons
from more than 31 years ago. Shabbos morning there was an Aufruf in Yeshiva
and the groom as is customary was to be called to the Torah. With the extra
guests in attendance there was a larger than usual crowd. The children were
also there in greater than to expected numbers. They could detect the sweet
smell of candy like birds in the park gathering around the man with the bag
of bed crumbs. Once the groom finished his blessing after the Torah reading
the bags loaded with goodies began to fly from all directions and so did the
scramble of little kids to collect them aggressively.
At the Kiddush one of Rebbeim’s boys proudly showed off to his father his
newly found cache of candy. His father was coaching him and advising that he
squirrel away his treasure before they go home. The kid just did not want to
depart from his hard earned candy bags and it wasn’t time to open them up
and eat them all right then and there. The boy insisted he wanted to take
them home and the father reminded him firmly there was no Eruv to permit him
to carry his package home and he would have to wait until after Shabbos. In
desperation he said one more thing, “Abba, I’ll put’m in my pocket! No one
I remember thinking then that this was a perfectly charming and immature
attempt to obfuscate what an adult can understand are unavoidable and
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.