by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – May 3, 2012
The Torah section of Emor begins (Vayikra 21:1-23): “And G-d said to Moses: Say to the priests the sons of Aaron and tell them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a [dead] person among his people. Except for the relative who is closest to him, to his mother and to his father, to his son, to his daughter, and to his brother. And to his virgin sister who is close to him, who has not been wed to a man, to her shall he contaminate himself…. They shall not make a bald spot on their heads, and they shall not shave an edge of their beard, and in their flesh they shall not cut a gash. They shall be holy to their G-d and they shall not desecrate the Name of their G-d, for the fire-offerings of G-d, the food of their G-d, they offer, so they must remain holy. They shall not marry a woman who is a harlot or has been desecrated, and they shall not marry a woman who has been divorced by her husband, for each one is holy to his G-d. You shall sanctify him, for he offers the food of your G-d; he shall remain holy to you, for holy am I, the L-rd Who sanctifies you….The priest who is exalted above his brethren – upon whose head the anointment oil has been poured or who has been inaugurated to don the vestments – shall not leave his head unshorn and shall not rend his garments. He shall not come near any dead person; he shall not contaminate himself to his father or his mother. He shall not leave the Sanctuary and he shall not desecrate the Sanctuary of his G-d, for a crown – the oil of this G-d’s anointment – is upon him; I am the L-rd.…Any man of your offspring throughout their generations in whom there will be a blemish shall not come near to offer the food of his G-d….He shall not come to the Curtain, and he shall not approach the Altar, for he has a blemish, and he shall not desecrate My sacred offerings, for I am the L-rd Who sanctified them.”
In his Outlooks and Insights, pp. 153-154, R. Zev Leff explains the emphasis on all sorts of added precepts and limitations upon the kohanim (priests). Throughout the Torah, we find that completion and wholeness is lauded and takes precedence over quantity. Consequently, a whole roll, for example, is preferred to a much larger portion of a loaf when reciting the blessing of hamotzi. Since G-d is the ultimate form of perfection, we, in our quest for closeness to Him, must seek to achieve the greatest degree of perfection possible, for we are expected to emulate G-d and “to be complete with G-d.” Only by approaching perfection as much as possible can we hope to come as close as possible to Him. In turn, since the kohen is G-d’s representative and the one most involved in His service (to this day the kohen, as representative of G-d, blesses the remaining populace on holidays the world over and every day in the land of Israel), he should represent perfection, and, therefore, physical imperfections and the like render a kohen unfit for service in the Sanctuary. Additionally, R. Leff notes, death is an inherent imperfection in mankind, as is evident from the verse (Tehillim 82:6), “I said you are angelic, sons of the most high are you all, but like men shall you die.” Mortality being antithetical to perfection, it is expected of the kohen, G-d’s representative in service to Him and bestowing blessing to His people, to limit contact with the deceased, thereby coming even closer to G-d as is in accordance with his stature.
G-d is our Leader and closeness to leadership demands higher expectations. So do we find in governments and corporations the world over. One who is closer to the top is held to higher standards and higher expectations; all the more so those who are appointed to a special stature by G-d Himself, the ultimate Leader. When the first king of Israel Shaul bent to the will of the people, his punishment came forthwith and he was chastised by the prophet Shmuel (I Shmuel 15:17), “Though you may be small in your own eyes, you are the head of the tribes of Israel, and G-d has anointed you to be king over Israel.” Those of us who are appointed by the greatest Leader of all to be close to him and represent His Will are held to higher expectations. May we all strive for closeness to the ultimate Leader and reach the concomitant perfection for our ultimate benefit in this world and in the world to come.