Parsha Emor Rabbi Fishel Todd


Parsha Emor Rabbi Fishel Todd

Rabbi Fishel Todd

If the daughter of a Kohen desecrates herself through adultery, she desecrates her father; she shall be consumed by fire. (21:9)

The Torah’s prescribed punishment for a bas Kohen who commits adultery is greater than for a bas Yisrael who commits the same sin. The daughter of a common Jew is executed through chenek, choking, while the daughter of a Kohen receives sereifah, burning. The reason for this severe punishment is the nature of the home in which the bas Kohen had been raised. The education that she received was loftier; the environment that she was raised in was one of increased sanctity. This grants her elevated status. She had more, because she was exposed to more. Consequently, her sin is greater, and thus, her punishment is concomitantly harsher. She should have known better than to sin in a manner endemic to a member of the lowest echelon of society. In other words, she is guilty twofold: first, for desecrating her father’s name, her background, her education, her family purity; she is also culpable for her own position. A girl raised in such a home should have developed a more profound perspective on life. Her goals and objectives should have been loftier. Her raison d’etre should have been more elevated. When one hails from such a home, more is expected of her. With her act of defilement, she brought herself down, and she also brought down her father’s reputation!

Let us look at the Torah’s reason: she profanes her father. The Kehunah, Priesthood, was the most exalted position in the spiritual hierarchy of Klal Yisrael. Shevet Levi stood out among the tribes as the tribe that represented the reply to Moshe Rabbeinu’s clarion call, Mi l’Hashem eilai, “Who is for Hashem (should come) to me!”

The tribe of Levi came forward. They did not sin with the Golden Calf. From the tribe of Levi, the Kohanim were singled out to perform the service in the Bais Hamikdash. When this girl sinned, she impugned the integrity of the Kehunah. The Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, compare this to two thieves, both members of distinguished families who were brought before a judge for sentencing. One thief was sentenced to six months, while the other was sentenced to eight months in prison. “Why?” asked the defense attorney. “Why was one punished more harshly than the other?” The judge, who was a perceptive man, replied, “The thief who received a six month sentence carried out his thievery while dressed in the regular street clothes of a common citizen. The other one had the gall to wear a policeman’s uniform when he stole. He deserves a harsher punishment.”

While having an illustrious lineage can serve as the basis for greater censure, it can also serve as a sentinel protecting one from sin. We find that when Yosef HaTzaddik was confronted by Potifar’s wife, what ultimately saved him was the d’mus d’yukno shel aviv, his father’s image, which appeared to him. Yosef merited to have his father appear to him to save him from sin. Why did Yosef merit this unprecedented favor? Horav Yerachmiel Kromm, Shlita, explains that Yosef never forgot from whom he descended. This awareness accompanied him, guiding him throughout life. Thus, he was able to “call upon it” when he needed it.

This phenomenon did not necessarily affect others in such a positive manner. We find that Adoniya ben Chagis, David Hamelech’s rebellious son, did not make use of his unique lineage. In Sefer Melachim I, 1:6, the pasuk says, “All his days his father had never saddened him (by) saying, ‘Why have you done this?’ Horav Alexander Zusha Friedman, zl, writes in his Maaynah Shel Torah that he heard the Gaon, zl, m’Vilna cited, explaining that the phrase, “his father never saddened him,” means that the fact that he descended from such an illustrious and distinguished father did not sadden him during his sinful behavior. It did not arouse within him a desire to repent. He never asked himself, “How can I, David Hamelech’s son, act so reprehensibly?” He did not care. One who disregards his esteemed forebears does not deserve to benefit from their merit.

The idea that one’s background plays a pivotal role in what is expected of him has compelling ramifications upon anyone who has been privileged to receive a full Torah education. One who has spent his life in a yeshivah, who has been exposed to Torah leaders of the highest calibre, having imbibed Torah in an environment that is sacrosanct and conducive to spiritual ascendancy – has an enormous responsibility. He is the proverbial “bas Kohen.” He is viewed in a different light by others, and he should similarly view himself in a different light. Everything that he does, every activity, regardless of its significance, is measured on a more elaborate and demanding scale.

Indeed, it is only the gedolim – those who are greater or who have had a stronger, more sophisticated education – that are held accountable for even the little infractions. Why? Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, gives the following parable to shed light on this theory. A soldier must maintain his uniform in excellent condition. His pants must be creased and, certainly, no buttons may be missing from his jacket. A soldier who disregards his uniform denigrates the army in which he serves. On the other hand, one who has deserted his position, who is AWOL from his battalion, will not be held in contempt for a missing button on his jacket. He has to answer for a much more serious grievance. We are all soldiers in Hashem’s legion. There are those who stand at the forefront of the battle for Torah, and there are those who have, regrettably, distanced themselves far from the front line. Some have even deserted the unit completely. Ostensibly, defining one’s infraction will be commensurate with his standing. A soldier is disciplined for a missing button. A missing soldier has much more for which to answer. The button is the least of his problems.

When an ox or sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain under its mother for seven days. (22:27)

Chazal derive two significant laws from the Torah’s wording. The word yivaled, is born, teaches us that only an animal that is born through a natural birth is eligible to be a sacrifice. One that is born through a caesarian birth, however, is not eligible as a sacrifice. Also, since it must remain “under its mother,” an “orphaned” animal, which has no mother, will also be excluded. Let us attempt to analyze the reason for these invalidations. An animal born by a caesarian section has no physical blemishes. There is nothing noticeably wrong with it. Yet, as a korban, it has been excluded as if it were blemished. Why?

Horav Tuvia Lisitzin, zl, cites the Talmud Shabbos 127b which teaches us an important lesson that sheds light on the above question. “Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: ‘We may stimulate pity to a ritually clean animal on Yom Tov.’ In other words, we may attempt to arouse the maternal instincts of an animal for its young on Yom Tov. How was this performed? Abaye said: ‘A lump of salt was brought and placed in its womb, so that it might remember its travails during childbirth and have pity upon its young.’ Yet, this applies only in the case of a clean animal, but not for an unclean one. What is the reason? An unclean animal does not spurn its young. If it does spurn it, it does not take it back.”

We derive from Chazal that there is an intrinsic difference between a beheimah temeiah, ritually unclean animal, and a beheimah tahorah, clean animal. It is possible to stimulate compassion only within the emotions of a clean animal. An unclean animal is missing the maternal instinct of compassion for its child which is inherent in mothers. An unclean animal will not take back its young once it has distanced itself.

We understand now why the Torah has prohibited us from eating an unclean animal. An animal that can lose all feelings of compassion for its own young is an animal from which we should not partake. It leaves an impression that will affect our own psyche. Likewise, we find that there are certain fowl that we are not permitted to eat. They are birds of prey that plunder and kill. They have no compassion and are thus not suitable for Jewish consumption.

There is an added level of compassion that is to be derived from Chazal. The pain of childbirth creates a sense of pity and compassion within the mother for its young, to the point that later on the pain caused by a lump of salt in its womb will engender its feelings of compassion as its remembers the pangs of childbirth. This raises its feeling of maternal love for its young, a feeling that can be aroused only within an animal that has endured the normal pains of childbirth. An animal that has delivered its young through a caesarian birth will not have this feeling. There was no natural birth; therefore, something is missing in the loving relationship between mother and child. The bonding that is generated through birth is not present. Therefore, an animal delivered through a caesarian birth is invalid as a korban. It may be eaten as chullin, non-consecrated flesh, but not as a korban. It is missing that “extra” emotion that elevates it, rendering it worthy of being sanctified as a korban.

This idea may also be applied to an “orphaned” animal. An animal whose mother died during birth did not experience the maternal love that is initiated through this process. Thus, it is deficient in nature and not valid to be used as a sacrifice. It is noteworthy that when the Torah invalidates an animal from being consecrated, Chazal are able to delve into the inner workings of an animal’s nature in order to conjure a rationale for its impediment. Everything is based on reason. We are limited, however, in our ability to comprehend the full depth of the underlying catalyst for the Torah’s decrees. We observe because we believe. The reason which we do offer is only to provide some form of rationale for human comprehension.

When you slaughter a feast Thanksgiving-offering to Hashem. (22:29)

Rabbi Fishel Todd David Hamelech says in Sefer Tehillim 107:21,22, “Let him give thanks to Hashem for His kindness… and let them slaughter Thanksgiving-offerings, and relate His works with joyful song.” The Midrash asserts that with the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, all korbanos will become batel, nullified, except for the Korban Todah, Thanksgiving-offering, which will never be negated. In an earlier Midrash, Chazal state, “He who has an ox, let him offer an ox as a sacrifice; he who has a ram, let him offer a ram; he who has a sheep, let him offer a sheep; he who has a dove, let him offer a dove; he who has fine flour, let him offer fine flour; he who has nothing, let him bring words, as it says in Hoshea 14:2, ‘Take words with you and return to Hashem.'” What are Chazal teaching us via the above statements?

Horav Sholom Yosef Elyashiv, Shlita, explains that when Hashem performs miracles for a person, after he is saved from death, survives a chronic illness, or is spared from an injury, he is obliged to pay gratitude to the Almighty for His beneficence. In the time of the Bais Hamikdash, he would have offered a Korban Todah from an animal or fowl that he could afford. If he was very poor, he would have offered fine flour. In any event, he would have brought a Thanksgiving-offering in tribute to Hashem. Now that there is no option of offering a korban, the individual brings “words.” What is the meaning of bringing “words”?

Rav Elyashiv cites the Talmud Shabbos 33b in which Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said that since he had been miraculously saved, he felt that he should do something for the community as a form of gratitude to the Almighty. He asked, “Is there anything that requires mending?” He was told that there was a place where there was a safek tumah, doubtful ritual uncleanliness, a grave of bones having been lost there, which causes a problem for the Kohanim who have trouble circumventing it. Rabbi Shimon rendered judgment concerning the area, whereby part of it was rendered clean and part it was marked as off limits to Kohanim.

We see from here that when Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai decided to mend something for the community, he focused on an area which was a safek, had doubtful tumah. He did not feel it was necessary to concentrate on an expanse which was clearly unclean, because the people knew to distance themselves from that place. The spiritual danger was apparent.

Chazal say that when the world was originally created, Hashem gazed upon the actions of the wicked in contrast to the actions of the righteous. When the Torah writes in Bereishis 1:2, “When the earth was astonishingly empty” this is a reference to the deeds of the wicked. In contrast, when Hashem said, “Let there be light” (Ibid 1:3), the Torah refers to the actions of the righteous. In pasuk 4, the Torah writes: “And G-d separated between the light and the darkness.” This means that Hashem distinguished between the actions of the righteous and the actions of the wicked. Was this necessary? One can plainly see the difference between night and day: darkness and light Rabbi Fishel Todd.

Rav Elyashiv explains that the connotation of the word erev, evening, begins immediately after midday – when it is still light, when the sun is practically still in middle of the sky. Likewise, boker, morning, begins with rising of the morning star – when it is still pitch dark outside. It is regarding this ambiguous time – when it is considered dark, even though it is light, and it is considered light, even though it is dark – that Hashem separated light from dark and delineated the actions of the righteous from that of the wicked. This is the time when people err. These are the people and the actions about whom one can easily err. This is what Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai mended. He took a place that was in doubt, a place where the community could err, and he clarified it.

Why did he do this? Because he had received Hashem’s miracles. His gratitude was zikui harabim, bringing merit to the masses. When one sustains a miracle, when he has been blessed by Hashem, he should pay his gratitude with “words” – with zikui harabim. By enlightening the masses to the dangers of maasei reshaim, the actions of the wicked, by clarifying what is really “light” and what is really “darkness,” by reaching out to the alienated, the unaffiliated and those who have never even been there, we are offering our Korban Todah to Hashem.

And the seventh day is a day of complete rest… you shall not do any work; it is a Shabbos for Hashem. (23:3)

The words Shabbos l’Hashem, “A Shabbos for Hashem,” defines the way we should view this holy day. It is Hashem’s day. To desecrate it is to undermine Hashem, to show disrespect to the Almighty on the day that He designated for Himself. All too often we forget, and think that we are in charge; we make decisions; things must go our way. We forget that we are here as guests of the Almighty. He issues the orders; He makes the decisions; things go His way. Once we learn to accept this, the experience of “life” will go so much easier. It is Hashem’s world; we just happen to live here. Shabbos is His day which He wants us to celebrate with Him Rabbi Fishel Todd.

Shemiras Shabbos, Shabbos observance, has been a staple of our faith from its very genesis. Throughout the generations, people have sacrificed their livelihood, disregarding the opportunities available to them if they were to desecrate the Shabbos. It was Hashem’s day – not theirs. The commitment that these people had made did not go unnoticed by Hashem. Aware of their dedication, He repaid each one at the appropriate time. I recently came across the following story.

It was just days before World War II, prior to Germany’s attack on Russia. The citizens of the city of Bendin were notified by the Russian Army that every person, regardless of age or position, must carry identity papers with him. Whoever was caught without papers was to be sent immediately to Siberia. This obviously was a difficult decree for the Jewish population, since it meant that on Shabbos when they walked to shul, they would have to carry their identity papers. The Bendiner Rav rendered a halachic decision that since it involved pikuach nefesh, a matter of life and death, it was permitted to carry the papers to shul on Shabbos. All the Jews of the city listened to the rav, except one Jew, who refused to carry on Shabbos, regardless of the halachic dispensation.

His family begged him to either not go to shul or to carry the papers with him. He emphatically refused. “Do you want to go to Siberia?” they asked. “If that is to be my punishment, so be it. I will not carry on Shabbos.” he replied.

Rabbi FIshel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd

During Krias haTorah, the Russian soldiers barged into the shul and demanded that each of the worshippers present their identity papers. They went from one to the other, searching, checking, looking for anyone who had the temerity to ignore the government’s decree. The only one who did not have papers was the one Jew who had refused to carry them to shul. He was immediately dragged out of shul, his family later rounded up, and, that night, they were all placed on a train to Siberia.

It was a long and grueling trip, especially with the knowledge of what awaited them at their destination. During the entire trip, the man tried to calm his family, “I do not believe that because I observed Shabbos, I will suffer. You will see that Shabbos will protect us.” Because they were sent out that night, they were not in town the next day when Germany attacked Russia. The Germans gathered all the citizens of the community and took them to their infamous concentration camps. They took everyone, except the Jew and his family, who were on their way to Siberia.

They survived the war and are today distinguished members of the Bnei Brak community. Shabbos protected them.

In way of a postscript, this is not the place to discuss the halachic position concerning this individual’s refusal to carry his papers to shul. The rav had permitted this activity. In this case, the man was unnecessarily putting his life in danger. Was it really Biblically considered to be carrying? Obviously, this was not an open and shut case. The purpose of the story is only to demonstrate a Jew’s commitment to Shabbos – and the reciprocity that he received.

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