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Posted on May 17, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1291 – The Fascinating Case of the Kohain Who Showed Up In Shul After They Sold The Aliyah to A Yisroel Good Shabbos!

The opening pasuk of Parshas Emor contains a famous redundancy. The pasuk says, “…Emor el haKohanim, bnei Aharon, v’amarta aleihem: L’nefesh lo yeetama b’amav” (Vayikra 21:1). Rashi comments (based on the Gemara in Yevamos 114a) on the apparently superfluous repetition of the words “V’amarta aleihem” (And you shall say to them) following the words “Emor el haKohanim” (Speak to the Kohanim): This teaches that the older Kohanim must warn the younger (pre–Bar Mitzvah) Kohanim.

This is one of three places in Torah She’beksav (the Written Torah) where the Torah requires parents to not let their children conduct themselves in a way that violates Torah prohibitions. The Torah also gives this type of warning by the prohibition against consuming sheratzim (insects) and dam (blood). So there are Biblical prohibitions against a person feeding his child something which is not Kosher and prohibiting a Kohen from allowing his young son to come in contact with tumas mes (human corpse impurity). This applies even to children below the age of chinuch (before they are normally taught about mitzvah observance).

Rav Chaim Dov Keller (Rosh Yeshiva in Telshe – Chicago) in his sefer Chidekel, wonders why it is necessary for the Torah to make a special prohibition regarding young Kohanim becoming tameh, over and above the principle taught elsewhere that children should not be fed non-kosher food. Rav Keller suggests that the Torah is teaching us that when we educate our children, it is not only important for us to teach them “You can’t eat this because it is treife and it is terrible for your neshama” but beyond that, it is incumbent upon Jewish parents to educate their children to the fact that they possess within themselves a spiritually pristine essence, which must be maintained. For example, even though it might be okay for everyone else to play baseball on a cemetery lot, you are a Kohen and you cannot do that. Why? It is because you are different. You are special.

The obligation of chinuch extends not only to ensuring that youngsters do not commit egregious aveiros, but it is also important to impress upon them that they are different, for example if they have a certain spiritual stature above that of their friends and acquaintances. Perhaps those of us who are not Kohanim need to worry less about this type of chinuch, but all parents have plenty of situations where they must educate their children that they are Jewish and they are different. Our children must recognize that some things they see their peers doing do not apply to them.

It can get really tough when even among our own communities, different parents have different standards and different approaches. Many a time, a parent needs to say to his child “I am sorry. We are different. We don’t do these things!” Even if the child responds – like every child in the world always says –”but, everyone is doing it!” (which usually turns out to be about 40% of his or her peer group), we need to say: “Yes, ‘everyone’ may be doing it, but we are not everyone! We are different and we have a different standard. We have a higher standard.”

My daughter recently told me about a family in Brooklyn whose parents are very open when it comes to their children. Their daughter was the first person in her class to get a driver’s license. We all know that it is a very big step for parents to let their teen-age son or daughter start driving. Even though they allowed their daughter to drive before everyone else in their peer group let their daughters drive, nevertheless, these same parents did not allow their daughter to have a cell phone.

The daughter argued that “Everyone in the class has a cell phone.” I am not here to argue about whether teenagers should have cell phones or not. However, there is a strong argument to be made that cell phones involve risks. This family was very adamant with their daughter: “Sorry. Not you!” Of course, she kicked and screamed, but perhaps one day she will look back and say “My parents were right. I appreciate where they were coming from, because they wanted to raise me differently.”

That is why by tumas Kohanim the Torah teaches that chinuch does not only involve ensuring that your children do not do something horrible (like consuming blood or insects). Chinuch also sometimes involves instilling in them the fact that they are different. Therefore, the Torah is teaching parents not to feel uncomfortable telling their children: “Sorry, maybe everyone else is doing it, but you are not everyone. You are my child. You are a Rosenberg or a Goldberg or a Stein – or whoever you may be – but this is the way we do it.”

Willing To Also Appreciate the Situation Which Brought About the Need for Salvation

The Torah teaches “When a person brings a Korban Todah (Thanksgiving Offering), it shall be brought willingly (l’rtzonchem)” (Vayikra 22:29). There are many types of korbonos. A Korban Todah is brought in certain special circumstances where a person is giving thanks for recovery from illness or escape from a dangerous situation. This is a type of korbon that people want to bring. They are genuinely grateful for being saved from a grave danger and they obviously desire to express gratitude for their salvation. Who does not want to express thanksgiving and express their appreciation to the Almighty under those circumstances?

Why, here, of all the korbonos, does the Torah specify that it must be brought “l’rtzonchem” (willingly)? In truth, Rashi is bothered by this question. Rashi says here that the Torah, in stating “l’rtzonchem,” is referring specifically to the need to eat the korban in the proper time span. This is not the simple reading of the word “l’rtzonchem.

The Kesav Sofer deals with the same issue. He takes a slightly different approach than Rashi:

Let us say that a person is seriously sick and then recovers from that condition. Let’s ask him “What would have been your preference – to have been sick and recovered or to never have been sick in the first place?” What do we expect his response to be? Most people would say, I would rather not have had the plague and not have needed the remedy for the plague.

The pasuk is teaching us over here that when you bring a Korban Todah, not only must you be thankful for the healing and the salvation that came after your crises, but you even need to be thankful for the crises itself. Why? Anyone who has been through an ordeal from which he has been saved and feels the Hand of G-d in his salvation develops a closeness with the Ribono shel Olam that he would not have developed had it not been for the tzarah that he experienced.

The “willingness” requirement of the Korban Todah is that a person should not only feel “Baruch Hashem, I got through the operation.” Ideally, the appropriate todah is “Baruch Hashem I was deathly ill and I experienced the Yad Hashem of how I got through that crisis.” The Korban Todah is even for the tzarah! That is what the Torah is trying to emphasize here.

I heard from one of my talmidim that Rav Baruch Sortozkin, zt”l, who was one of the Roshei Yeshiva in Telshe – Cleveland in the 1950s, 1960s, and into the 1970s, suffered from cancer. Rav Sortozkin went through the treatment, he went through remission, and for a while he was well. Unfortunately, the cancer came back and he died as a result. He commented that before he went through this experience “if someone would have given me the option of paying him $1,000,000 to avoid this ordeal, I would have raised the million dollars and paid it. However, after I experienced the illness, “if someone would offer me a $1,000,000 so that I would not have had to have that experience, I would turn down the million dollars.” In other words, in hindsight, he felt that he gained immeasurably from having had that experience.

This is a mind-boggling statement. Not everyone is on such a spiritual level. However, that reaction is based on this idea of the Kesav Sofer. After having gone through the ordeal and having felt the Hand of G-d and the intimacy of Hashem who accompanied him through his ordeal, he would not have traded away that experience for a million dollars.

Aveilus: A Moment to Sit and Think

The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 264) enumerates a positive mitzvah for Kohanim to become tameh through contact with (specific) relatives upon the time of their death and burial. Even though normally a Kohen is forbidden from having contact with any dead people, for the six relatives mentioned in the Torah, he does need to become tameh. The Sefer HaChinuch emphasizes that the pesukim are not merely giving Kohanim permission to become tameh for a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, or sister, but rather it is a mitzvah to do so.

The Sefer HaChinuch further cites the Rambam that the mitzvah specified here in Parshas Emor is really the Mitzvah D’Oraisa (Biblical command) of aveilus (mourning for relatives). In truth, the halachic consensus is that only the first day of aveilus is a Mitzvah D’Oraisa, but still, where is the mitzvah of aveilus mentioned in the Torah? The Rambam points to the obligation of a Kohen to become tameh for close relatives as the source of the entire Mitzvah D’Oraisa of aveilus.

But let us ask a question: How can the Torah require us to mourn for a relative? Mourning is an emotion. If I loved him or her and will truly miss them, I will mourn. If we had a strained or resentful relationship, I will probably not mourn. If, for the last sixty years, I have not been speaking with an estranged close family member, I will not want to mourn. I will not be shedding any tears at their demise.

What does it mean that the Torah is giving us a mitzvah to mourn? To answer this question, the Chinuch invokes an idea he mentions many times in his sefer cataloging the 613 mitzvos and the reasons for each of them: Namely, a person’s thoughts are influenced by his actions. Theory is all well and good, but it does not make an impression on a person.

In order to feel like free men on Pesach, we need to lean. If order to feel like free men on Pesach, we don’t break bones when eating the Korban Pesach. Similarly, the Chinuch writes, there are certain family members for whom a person normally has a positive feeling, and he should feel saddened by their passing from the world. To promote such an emotion, the Torah legislates certain actions demonstrating mourning to trigger thoughts of aveilus in the mind of the surviving family member.

The avel should pause and contemplate: Loss of a close relative is a klap from Heaven. Why did this happen to me? Upon proper contemplation, he will realize that it was aveira which brought this misfortune upon him. In some sense, it is a form of punishment for him.

This idea of the Chinuch is a most necessary lesson for our day and age. His message is that shiva and aveilus are times to think. Most of us spend very little time thinking. We are too busy. We are incredibly busy, going from ‘thing’ to ‘thing.’ Those few moments when we are not busy, too many of us are spacing out or are looking at our cell phones. We are always occupied.

There are very few moments in life when you just need to sit and think. If it would not be for the mitzvah of aveilus, a person would never stop to think “What just happened over here?” Why did the person die? What does this have to do with me? Is there some kind of message from Heaven for me here?

Therefore, aveilus is a time that the Torah says to do nothing else but think about the relative. It is a time to contemplate.

Ironically, the Chinuch says something similar about another mitzvah in Parshas Emor. Perek 23 contains all the negative mitzvos regarding doing melacha on Yom Tov. There is a special lav for each Yom Tov. We can’t do melacha on Shabbos because Shabbos commemorates the fact that Hashem rested and did not create on the seventh day. The Ribono shel Olam rested, so we rest.

But why can’t we work on Yom Tov? The Chinuch says that we don’t work on Yom Tov because the Torah wants us to have the time to think about what the Yom Tov represents. What is Pesach about? What is Shavuos about? If we were allowed to work on Yom Tov, we would be too busy working and we would not spend the time contemplating, which would defeat one of the main purposes of the holiday.

This is the same principle that he explains about aveilus. Ironically, the reasons for these two mitzvos – aveilus and the issur melacha on Yom Tov – are intertwined. They are both providing time to contemplate – whether it is contemplation of a tzarah or a simcha.

This idea must be extrapolated into our everyday lives: We all lead incredibly busy lives. We must always leave ourselves time to think – not only when the Torah imposes this upon us, like with aveilus, chas v’shalom.

This need to take time to think was promoted very strongly by the Mussar Movement. What is mussar about? It is not just about reading Mesilas Yesharim or reading another classic mussar text. It is about sitting and meditating. Everyone needs to take time to think and contemplate.

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Edited by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Emor is provided below:

  • # 010 – Can Kohanim visit Graves of Tzadikim
  • # 053 – Are Our Kohanim Really Kohanim?
  • # 096 – “Kovod Habrios”: The Concept of Human Dignity
  • # 144 – Kohanim in Hospitals: A Real Problem
  • # 191 – The Bracha for Kiddush Hashem.
  • # 281 – Kiddush Hashem: Is “Giluy Arayus” Ever Permitted?
  • # 327 – The Cohain and the Divorcee
  • # 371 – The Mitzvah of Ve’Kidashto: Honoring Kohanim
  • # 415 – The Ba’alas Teshuva and the Kohain
  • # 459 – Eliyahu Hanavi and the “Dead” Child
  • # 503 – Standing Up While Doing Mitzvos
  • # 547 – The Wayward Daughter
  • # 591 – The Kohain and the Gerusha
  • # 635 – Bracha of Mekadaish Es Shimcha B’rabim
  • # 679 – Mrs. Cohen is Having A Baby
  • # 723 – Is the Kohain Always First?
  • # 767 – Kohain, Kaddish, and Kadima
  • # 811 – Is Adultery Ever Permitted?
  • # 855 – The Brother-in-Law Who Threw Out The Ring
  • # 899 – Motrin For Your Children?
  • # 944 – Honoring Kohanim – Even Children?
  • # 986 – The Child of a Jewish Mother and Non-Jewish Father: Jewish?
  • #1030 – The Bonfires of Meiron–When Did it Start? Why? Mutar?
  • #1075 – Can I Steal Your Medicine To Save My Life?
  • #1117 – Must We Honor Leviim As Well As Kohanim?
  • #1159 – The “Morranos” of Spain: Their Halachic Status
  • #1203 – Mesiras Nefesh Challenges From Biblical Times Through the twentieth century
  • #1248 – The Challenge for the Occupational and Speech Therapist: Feeding Non-Kosher Food to a Jewish Child
  • #1291 – The Fascinating Case of the Kohain Who Showed Up In Shul After They Sold The Aliyah to A Yisroel
  • #1335 – May We Accept Tzedaka From Non-Jews
  • #1379 – Can a Kohain Accompany His Wife to the Hospital to Have Her Baby?
  • #1423 – Kavod HaBrios – How Far Does It Go?
  • #1467 – Birchas HaGomel During the Whole Year and During the Corona Pandemic
  • #1510 – I Said ‘It is Lag B’Omer Tonight’ – Can I Still Count Sefira With A Bracha?
  • #1553 – Is One Allowed to Institutionalize a Severely Mentally Handicapped Child Where He Will Eat Non-Kosher Food?

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