parsha of the week

Keeping Kohanim, and ourselves, separate, holy


While much of the first part of Parshat Emor speaks of rules of the Kohanim, there is a greater theme in the Torah portion on the periphery to being a Kohen, and it has to do with the desecration of G-d’s name and things that are holy.

The Kohanim need to be separate for holiness so they shall not desecrate the name of their G-d (V’lo y’challu shem elohayhem”) and  Aharon and sons were to be careful when it came to the offerings (“V’lo y’challu et shem kodshi”).

Any non Kohen who ate the holy foods had to pay the Kohanim back, because they had taken from that which was designated for the Kohanim (“V’lo y’challu et Kodshei bnei Yisrael”).

The daughter of a Kohen had to conduct herself on an even higher level of purity and discretion, lest she be guilty of defiling her family position (“Et avihah hi m’chalellet”).

There are times when the Kohen Gadol may not leave the Mikdash lest “yechallel at mikdash elohav.” Were a Kohen who is not allowed to serve on account of some kind of blemish to nonetheless come close, he is warned not to desecrate the space  (“V’lo yehcallel et mikdashai”).

Even eating forbidden meat from animals improperly slaughtered or which died naturally — which is a prohibition for all Jews — is an extra desecration for the Kohanim.

If I can take a slight leap off the page, I think there’s one more example in the parsha — that of the blasphemer, the young man who is the son of Shlomit Bat Divri and an Egyptian man who curses G-d. In the aftermath of this story, we are told that they were to take out the mekallel (the blasphemer). The Israelites were further told that a man (“ki y’kallel Elohav v’nasa chet’o”) who curses G-d must bear the burden of his sin.

The word mekallel and the word yekallel sound very much like mechallel and yechallel. The linguistic rules which allows for the interchanging of letters indicates deeper teachings and understandings from the text.

When we read these verses we are certainly meant to remind ourselves of how to not desecrate. But even more so, we ought to remind ourselves how to consecrate.

This is a particular challenge for those of us who do what we do by rote, without injecting kedusha into our prayers, Torah study, and day-in-and-day-out behavior.

When we neglect, for example, basic concerns for our fellow man, or if our middot indicate a lackadaisical attitude toward others’ well-being, including not caring about the response to our question of “How are you?” or being mindless to the mess we and/or our children leave behind in a restaurant, store, or public bathroom, we are certainly not consecrating.

The correct attitude should never be “I only do what I like.” It should be, “I do what is right!” Always. Sometimes, even, when I don’t know or understand everything.

While certain aspects of Jewish life require precision and exactness and don’t have much flexibility, many aspects of Jewish life are fluid, flexible, and subject to one’s own personality and personal input.

How each of us prays — that’s up to each person to decide. How we study — that’s also up to each person to decide. Even what we study we decide on our own, as is our degree of involvement in Jewish life. How important and how much we want to emphasize the Jewish side of our individual experience — that’s up to each person to decide.

Every Jew is a Jew 365 days a year. We don’t turn it on and off, emphasize sometimes more or sometimes less. We live a Jewish life all the time. That is who we are.

We must do the opposite of challel (desecrate) and kallel (curse), because these are very negative character traits! Our job is to be m’kadesh, to sanctify, to bring holiness in, to bring G-d in. That is why we observe the mitzvot between man and G-d, and that is surely why we must keep the mitzvot between man and man as a top priority.

G-d is easy! He forgives quickly.

But man is left with a very bad impression which is hard to shake. So the impression we leave must always be a good one, especially when we are relating to people who will judge us and our faith based on how we conduct ourselves.

May we be blessed to be models of sanctifying G-d’s name in the eyes of G-d and man.