The end of this week’s Parsha juxtaposed the incident of the Blasphemer and the penalty for blasphemy with three other sins and their penalties. First, the Torah narrated the episode of the Blasphemer. Then, while relating the consequences for blasphemy and the actual execution of the Blasphemer, the Torah interjected three other sins: one who takes the life of a human, one who takes the life of an animal, and one who injures a human. How do these three laws relate to the story of the Blasphemer?
This week’s Parsha begins with a selection of priestly laws. These include: 1. The manner in which a Kohain and Kohain Gadol must relate to death, including their seven closet relatives. 2. Restrictions on who a Kohain and a Kohain Gadol may marry. 3. The prohibition against a Kohain who is physically “blemished”; (being crippled, hunchbacked, a dwarf, or having severe eczema, ringworm or a hernia) from participating in the offering of sacrifices. The Torah then includes other circumstances that affect a Kohain’s ability to participate in the Temple services: personal impurity due to Tzaraas, male discharges, or coming in contact with other sources of impurity.
The laws regarding who is and is not permitted to eat from the sacrifices and other priestly gifts is then presented, followed by a description of which blemishes render an animal unfit for the Mizbeach.
The Parsha then lists the special occasions in the yearly calendar when Kedusha; sanctity is more manifest: Shabbos, Pesach, Shavuos, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos. Finally, before relating the incident of the Blasphemer, the Torah commanded the laws for lighting the Menorah and the baking and eating of the Showbread.
What does it take to integrate Kedusha into our lives, both in action as well as attitude? The practical meaning of Kedusha; sanctity is the specific designation of function and purpose. The greater our understanding of G-d’s intent in doing and creating all things, the greater our ability to use G-d’s world in the manner and purpose that He intended. The world is sanctified when it is used as G-d intended. The laws in last week’s and this week’s Parshios detail the basic laws for integrating sanctity into the daily lives of the nation and sanctifying the world.
Accepting and then understanding G-d’s intent in creating all things is the key to living a life of Kedusha. G-d clearly created all things as separate and distinct from each other (in direct contrast to Himself Who is singular and indivisible; see the Rambam’s second Principle of Faith).
The concept of separate and distinct is extended to the human race as well. Humans are distinctly different from all other living creatures.
Within the masses of humanity there are clear distinctions as well. Males and females are clearly different from each other, both physically and psychologically.
Less obviously distinct are the divisions G-d established between the various nations. However, no less intended is the division between the Jew and the non-Jew.
Within the Jews there are further divisions: Mitzvos for men vs. Mitzvos for women, Layvie and non-Layvie, Kohain and non-Kohain, Kohain Gadol and all others.
It is important to note that aside from the physical and psychological differences between men and women, all other distinctions within the human race are only in relation to G-d’s commandments. This teaches that it is only in contrast to each other that all men are not created equal. However, in relation to G-d, all of humanity was created equal because each of us was created by G-d for a reason. No one reason is more important than another. The fact that we were all created tells us that G-d considers each of us, regardless of nationality or sex, essential to His intents and purposes.
To the extent that we accept G-d’s designations of purpose and function will be the extent to which we live purposeful lives. Attempting to assume someone else’s job (aspects of some feminist philosophy) might be a function of free will, but from the Torah’s point of view is not a function of personal right.
The concept of G-d’s intent and the function and sanctity of all things is fundamental to understanding why the Torah protects individual ownership, property, dignity, and person. It is not an extension of our ethical, humanistic and or emotional development as an evolved and civilized species. It is because we were commanded by G-d to recognize and accept His designation of purposes by virtue of His established rules of separation. What ever is yours was given to you by G-d who wanted you to have it. If He had wanted me to have it He would have given it to me! This is true about our persons, our talents, our belongings, our families, and our positions in life. The Kohain does not have the choice not to be a Kohain anymore than the non-Kohain has the choice to be a Kohain.
A man does not have the choice not to do time bound Mitzvos any more than the woman has the right to demand that she have equal claim on time bound Mitzvos. In fact, G-d commanded the Kohain to be a Kohain and the non-Kohain to respect that designation and separation. In fact, G-d commanded the man to do the time bound Mitzvos and for women to respect that designation and separation.
When there is a breakdown in our respect for G-d’s designations of purpose, function, and separation, there is chaos and destruction. That is why the pre-diluvial world was destroyed because of thievery.
That is why Nadav and Avihu died for assuming a greater position than their G-d designated right to claim.
That is why a Kohain who has drunk wine is forbidden to do the service in the Bais Hamikdash. Alcohol tends to blur established lines of demarcation. The drunk assumes many more rights than is truly his to assume. The Kohain, who should represent the integration of Kedusha into daily life, must be the first to respect and accept G-d’s established rules of separation. If he should drink before performing the service, he forfeits his G-d given job and thereby forfeits his right to live.
Kedusha has a price. The restrictions that are sanctitys attendants are an integral part of accepting G-d’s intentions and purposes. It is the restrictions, more so than the privileges that create the separation. The very wealthy are separate from the masses of humanity who cannot afford the same luxuries and comforts as the rich. However, when they sit down to eat, whether or not they eat on the finest china or cheapest paper, they eat the same foods. When they sleep, whether or not they sleep on Duxiana or straw, they sleep. Not so the Jew. When we eat or sleep we follow guidelines that sanctify our lives and direct us toward fulfilling G-d’s intentions and purposes. We eat kosher and we eat with a Bracha; blessing. We sleep after reciting Hamapil (prayer prior to going to sleep) and Shema, and we follow the dictates of Halacha regarding body position and direction (while in bed). We proclaim in action the attitude described by the Rambam ! of eating and sleeping so that we can better serve G-d.
The same is true for the Kohain and the Kohain Gadol. He may not marry just anyone. He may not become Tameh impure by having contact with the dead; to such an extent that the High Priest is forbidden to attend the funerals of his own family! At first glance, this seems insensitive and inhuman. However, from the perspective of Kedusha, the Kohain must accept that he is truly apart and different. His separateness is a reflection of his sanctity. If he accepts G-d’s determination for his function and purpose in life, then he must also accept the restrictions.
The same is true for blemishes. In both animals and Kohanim, G-d demanded a degree of esthetic perfection. The blemished are not less important in G-d’s overall scheme of things. However, G-d’s designations are determined by G-d, not by our sensitivities or emotions. Political correctness and societies notions of equality do not always equate with ethics and morality. To the extent that we accept G-d’s restrictions is the extent to which we live a life of Kedusha. To the extent that we live a life of Kedusha is the extent to which we live morally and ethically.
Time is also subject to G-d’s purpose and intent. Each of the Yomim Tovim holidays plays a unique part in focusing us toward sanctity. Shabbos is the most constant in our lives and is therefore the one time most often mentioned in the Torah.
The lighting of the Menorah and the eating of the Showbread also fit into the theme of Kedusha as a function of purpose and intent. However, I will reserve an elaboration on that application for a different time.
The scene of the Blasphemer and its juxtaposition to the laws of: one who takes the life a human, one who takes the life of an animal, and one who injures a human, is now easily understood. The Talmud tells us that the Blasphemer cursed after asking Moshe a Halachik – legal question. As the son of an Egyptian man and a Jewish mother, which tribe did he belong to? Moshe ruled that he did not belong to any tribe because the father, not the mother, determines tribal affiliation. He was definitely a Jew, but a Jew without a tribe.
Tribal affiliation had tremendous consequences when it came to receiving a portion of the Promised Land. Without an affiliation, the man would not receive a portion in the land of Israel. This was G-d’s law and therefore G-d’s intent and purpose. The man, rather than accept his divinely ordained destiny, cursed G-d and cursed His design in creating the universe. Such an individual, like Nadav and Avihu, or the Kohain that had drunk wine before doing the Temple service, forfeits his purpose and his life.
The three laws are perfect complements to the concept of Kedusha as a function of purpose, and separation. The most basic and fundamental value we have is the value of life and personal property. Each person’s physical being is the clearest expression of G-d’s intent and purpose. Each person’s personal belongings are distinctly theirs. Therefore, we must live a life of Kedusha that enhances individual safety, value, dignity and ownership. As the Halacha states, we must be more vigilant about our neighbor’s money than our own.
Like the Blasphemer, a murderer forfeits his own right to live because he did not accept G-d’s design for having created each person as unique and apart from each other. Like the Blasphemer who is held accountable for what he says, one who damages another’s person or property is held financially accountable to replace the stolen or destroyed value and correct the damage.
The laws of the Torah are the prescription for sanctity. Going against the Torah denies G-d’s primacy as a purposeful creator Who has reason and purpose in all He does. On the other hand, to the extent that we accept and live by G-d’s established rules is the extent to which we are a Holy Nation.
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.