Like an Angel
By Rabbi Label Lam
And HASHEM said to Moshe: ‘Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and you
shall say to them: “To a (dead) person he shall not become impure among his
people…”’ (Vayikra 21:1)
Say to the Kohanim…and you shall say to them: The Torah uses the double
expression of “say” followed by “and you shall say” to caution the adults
with regard to the minors. (Rashi)
The Kohanim - the Priestly cast are to play an important role as living
examples of holiness and purity for the entire nation. Therefore they are
saddled with extra restrictions and responsibilities. We also discover here
that the Kohain parents must make it clear to their children and see to it
that they maintain their spiritual innocence as well. How are the Kohanim to
accomplish this second task?
Tractate Moed Katan (17A) states the following fascinating explanation of a
verse in Malachi, “What is the meaning of that which is written, “For the
lips of the Kohen should safeguard knowledge, and (people) should seek
wisdom from his mouth, for he is (like) an angel of the G-d of Hosts” and if
he is not (like an angel) they may not seek Torah form his mouth.” Can a
Rebbe, a teacher really be like an angel? That’s a tall order. Angels don’t
need to eat or drink or sleep. I assume angels don’t have mood swings
either. They are perfectly reliable and entirely obedient, while a human
being requires material maintenance. How can teacher possibly be expected to
live up to this standard?
The Vilna Gaon in his commentaries on Mishlei writes the following about the
human condition, “A man is called a “goer” (holech) because he must
constantly go from level to level, and if he does not progress he will fall
way down, Heaven forbid, for it is impossible for him to remain on one
level”. An angel, on the other hand is static. He is like a parked car in
comparison to those on the move. It seems there is a greater advantage and
albeit a risk to being a human being. Why then should a Rebbe, a teacher be
like an angel, who is anchored to a certain wrung on the ladder of life and
for all practical purposes stuck!?
On the way to the famous event of the Akeida, when Avraham was to sacrifice
his beloved son Yitzchok, a certain key phrase is employed twice to indicate
the eagerness each had to fulfill what was perceived then as the absolute
ratzon-desire of the Almighty. “The two of them walked together!” The first
time, Rashi explains, is an expression of praise about Avraham who kept pace
with Yitzchok’s excitement, even though he knew clearly what (who) he going
to give up. The second time it says, “The two of them walked together!” is
meant as a tribute to Yitzchok since he became aware of his role in the
sacrifice he continued with unwavering enthusiasm, step by step with Avraham.
Ultimately, thankfully, The Almighty thwarted it and both were credited with
the highest of spiritual achievements. They were willing to give up
everything dear and valuable, reputation, fatherly love, desire for earthly
life, future promises, etc. We are still noshing, thousands of years later,
from the residual merits that great “willingness to do” generated.
Under the radar, and not so easy to detect because it is overshadowed by the
towering heights of its near neighbor is a much less decorated expression of
Avraham’s spiritual stature. It says again after the Akeida, “and they went
together”. This time Avraham after having just exited that all-time
achievement went on the way with his two disqualified escorts who remained
in the parking lot till the event was over.
I heard from Rabbi Hershel Mashinsky ztl., a master teacher for more than 50
years, that this “going together” was greater than the first ones. He was
able to remain humble and connected humanly even after the heights of the
Rabbi Noach Orlowick explains in, My Disciple My Child, by lowering the
level of his learning, and making his sole concern the welfare of his
student a Rebbe is likened to an angel. Outside the classroom the he must be
stretching higher, but in the teaching mode he must be willing to sacrifice
his level just like an angel.
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.