A Kohen At Any Price1
Any man, whose wife strayed, and committed a trespass against him…
Rashi: What is written preceding this? “A man, his sanctified things shall be his.” 2 The Torah hints to us, “If you hold back from giving the statutory gifts to the kohen, by your life, you will need to come to him to bring a straying wife before him.”
Maharal: I don’t believe that Rashi responds here to the juxtaposition of these two seemingly unrelated sections of the kohanic gifts and the straying wife. If he were, he would use the same formula that he does elsewhere, i.e. “Why does the Torah juxtapose the parshah of sotah to the parshah that precedes it?” Additionally, why would Rashi believe that one of these sections is out of order? Why should the laws of sotah not be placed at this point in the text? Rashi ordinarily would question the juxtaposition of two sections only if a different arrangement seems more compelling.
Rather, Rashi responds here to a different textual problem. Our pasuk seems to have things backwards, by starting “Ish ish/ any man.” This section is really is not about men, but about women! A better, simpler way to introduce the parshah would be to speak in a straightforward manner: “When a woman strays….” Rashi’s keen eye picks up on the pasuk above that also stresses the word ish/man. He tells us that the Torah suggests that indeed the parshah is about men. While overtly it is the wife who committed the indiscretion by sequestering herself with a man after her husband made it clear that he was jealous and suspicious of him, she is not the only guilty party. Their marriage got to this unfortunate point because of some fault of her husband. By denying the kohen what the Torah sees as coming to him, he contributes to bringing upon himself the circumstances with which he must now deal.
Rashi only mentions the need to appear before the kohen to help solve the particular problem of a husband whose wife has become a sotah. Rashi did not mean to exclude different problems which are solved only through the intervention and services of a kohen. A zav and a metzora also require a kohen for the afflicted person to revert to the status of an unaffected citizen. Until the kohen offers the specified korbanos associated with each condition, the zav and metzora remain burdened with restrictions and limitations. The Torah happens to place this lesson here, in the parshah of sotah; it could just as well have placed it in one of those other parshios. The Torah’s point is that those who shortchange the kohen increase the chances that they will need the services of the kohen under very unhappy circumstances.
Possibly, on the other hand, this is the perfect place to teach the lesson. A zav or metzora may decide to tough it out, and forego their purification by the kohen. They will have only their consciences to live with. Nothing will compel them to fulfill their purification obligation if they stubbornly refuse to do so. Even the evildoer, however, cannot abide the thought of his wife cheating on him, and will want to determine her guilt or innocence. He will certainly find himself drawn to the beis hamikdosh, there to resolve the status of his marriage. Thus, of all the available options, our parshah is the best place – the only place, really – through which to convey the warning against denying the kohen what belongs to him.
When you examine the point from the perspective of what we know about Divine forms of punishment, the Torah’s placing this lesson here becomes even more compelling, because it exhibits the “measure for measure” pattern. What goes on in the mind of the person who refuses to give the required gifts to the kohen? Surely, he is irked by a demand that he part with his hard-earned property to someone who seems to be a professional slacker. The community is expected to support the kohen, but our reluctant householder cannot detect any quid pro quo. What does the kohen provide, that he should live on the dole, supported by the labor of others?
Our non-contributor fails to recognize the spiritual stature of the kohen. In a word, the kohen is the intermediary between HKBH and Yisrael, creating peace between them though his ministrations to the offerings in the beis hamikdosh. The korbanos bring people close to Hashem, just as the root “krv” implies, forging a relationship of peace and harmony.
Our non-contributor knows that the kohen and only the kohen can perform the avodah. Heowever, he does not stop and think of the implications of this. He views the kohen as just another person doing the job that he is supposed to do. Possibly he undervalues the importance of the kohen’s job. Possibly he fails to understand that filling a role of Divine service, acting as intermediary between Hashem and Man, elevates the kohen to a higher spiritual place. Perhaps he is clueless in both of these regards.
Missing the Divine poetry, he also fails to take note of the relationship between the Jewish people and their Creator. As the pasuk puts it, ” If you do not know, most beautiful of women,” 3 referring to Klal Yisrael as a bride. Specifically, she is likened in places to the bride of Hashem, the Groom. The kohen makes that marriage strong, getting it past some of the bumps in the road caused by sin. He brings peace between the wife and the heavenly Husband, by restoring the relationship through the korbanos.
Turning a blind eye to this crucial role, our miser is punished measure for measure. His relationship with his own wife reaches an impasse, and then he receives his comeuppance. He realizes that he has vastly undervalued the role of the kohen. Only the kohen can shore up his marital home.
1. Based on Gur Aryeh, Bamidbar 5:12
2. Bamidbar 5:10 There Rashi explains that a person retains a residual right in what he sanctifies. He is free to give it to whomever he wants. Here, Rashi adds another level of meaning to that phrase. The Torah hints that one who retains too much ownership over what should be sanctified and given to the kohen will ultimately be in need of the services of the kohen to relieve some extreme discomfort.
3. Shir HaShirim 1:8