Parshas Emor Speaking of PraiseBy Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d told Moshe, "Speak (emor) to the priests, the descendants of Aharon,
and tell them (v'amarta) that none shall defile himself [by contact with
the dead] among his people (Vayikra 21:1)
Says the Midrash Tanchuma:
The word "amirah" appears here twice. To what can this be compared? To a
royal butcher to whom the king says, "I am decreeing that you should never
see a dead body Š because you come and go here Š and you should not defile
my palace." Thus, The Holy One, Blessed is He, decreed on the priests who
enter the Temple often that they should not become defiled by the dead.
(Tanchuma, Emor 1)
It's a nice little analogy, except, questions the Pri Tzaddik (Emor 1), if
it is an accurate one too, should not the prohibition exist only during
Temple times -- which it does not? Furthermore, how could the priest defile
the Temple anyhow, if, halachically, (like any Jew) he wasn't even allowed
to enter the Temple during times of spiritual defilement?
It is a good question, but his answer is even better, and will probably
change the way most kohanim view themselves, and how they are viewed by the
rest of us (no, I am not a kohen Š)
"The answer is based upon what is written in the Midrash Rabbah and Midrash
Tehillim (Mizmor 19) with respect to the verse, "The fear of G-d is pure
and stands forever Š" Because of the fear that Aharon had before The Holy
One, Blessed is He, as it says, "I will give to him fear and he will fear
Me." (Malachi 2:5), he merited and was given this parshah, which will never
be taken away from him or his descendants ever. Which parshah is this? The
one about avoiding contact with the dead, meaning, that most other mitzvos
will only apply for the priests while the Temple is standing, but the
mitzvah to avoid defilement will continue even then Š" (Pri Tzaddik, Emor,
From there, the Pri Tzaddik proves that G-d, because of Aharon's fear of
Him, made a promise to him and all of his descendants after him, that He
would always dwell in the PERSONAL Bais HaMikdosh of the kohen -- his own
heart -- even after the national Bais HaMikdosh was destroyed. As it says,
I am G-d Who dwells within Israel Š (Bamidbar 35:34)
For, within the heart is the holy Mishkan, and this is the meaning of, "My
Mikdosh you shall fear."
And this is the reason why, concludes the Pri Tzaddik, while even today,
when the Bais HaMikdosh has yet to be re-built (it should happen soon in
our time), that kohen still must be careful not to become defiled by
contact with the dead, except for the times it is permitted by the Torah.
Hence, according to this explanation, unlike the rest of us, the kohen
still retains much of his sanctity even during non-Temple times. This is
even reflected in halachah, where the kohen is often honored at times such
as leading the bentching after meals. As well, one is not supposed to ask
the kohen to do menial tasks (such as taking out the garbage) Š unless, of
course, you happen to be the kohen's parent.
The son of a woman of Israel, who was [also] the son of an Egyptian man,
went out among the Children of Israel; the son of the woman of Israel
fought with a man of Israel. The son of the woman of Israel uttered the
[Tetragrammaton] Name [of G-d] and cursed, and they brought him before
Moshe. The name of his mother was Shlomis bas Divri from the tribe of Dan.
As Rashi points out, the blasphemer was the son of the Egyptian who Moshe
killed back in Egypt when he caught him beating a Jew:
He [Moshe] looked this way and that way, and when he saw that no one was
there, he smote the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. (Shemos 2:11)
But it was not just any Jew the Egyptian had beaten:
He beat a Jewish man: He lashed him and beat him; he was the husband of
Shlomis bas Divri, upon whom he had set his eyes. One night, he made him
[the husband] get out of the house, and then he [the Egyptian] returned to
her, she thinking it was her husband. The man returned to his house and
sensed what had happened, and when the Egyptian realized that he suspected
him, he beat him all day. (Rashi)
So, it seems as if this Blasphemer was bad news from the beginning, which
raises a question that can apply in many cases throughout history: Was it
his fault? Can we expect anything more than a crooked tree from a crooked
So, the Arizal explains what is going one behind the scenes here, which
helps with the unusual language of the posuk as well ("son of a woman of
Israel," "man of Israel," etc.). Apparently, according to the Arizal, the
Egyptian was the reincarnation of the evil part of Kayin, and when the
posuk refers to the son as the "son of an Egyptian man," it is indicating
that this evil went from father to son. Therefore, he cursed the Jew in
this week's parshah using the Name of G-d, because:
And he smote the Egyptian ... With what did he [Moshe] kill him? The rabbis
say that he mentioned the [42-letter] Name [of G-d] and killed him. (Shemos
Rabbah, 1:29; Zohar, Emor 106a)
Wait -- the drama does not end there. As we know from so many other places,
Moshe himself was the reincarnation of Hevel, Kayin's brother whom he
murdered. How fitting it is, then, that Moshe was in a position to rectify
history and carry out the capital punishment of the Egyptian, or rather,
And why did Kayin kill Hevel in the first place? The Midrash speaks of
Kayin's jealousy of his brother, and jealousy is always a powerful motive
for killing. However, though the possukim in Bereishis (4:5-8) seems to
indicate that Kayin's jealousy was purely over Divine acceptance of his
brother's sacrifice, and Divine rejection of his own offering, the Midrash,
as always, adds other crucial information:
An additional twin sister was born with Hevel. This one [Kayin] said, "I
will take her because I am the firstborn." This one said, "I will take her
because she was born with me." For this reason, it says, "And Kayin arose
upon Hevel his brother and killed him." (Bereishis Rabbah 22:7)
In other words, the real source of jealousy was over Hevel's additional
twin sister (Kayin was also born with a twin sister). And therefore, to be
consistent with all that the Arizal has revealed so far, and to make the
circle complete, who must have Shlomis bas Divri have been for the Egyptian
to specifically want her?
That's right -- the reincarnation of Hevel's additional twin sister!
Hence, among the many lessons that can be learned from all of this is, when
people find themselves in pivotal historical positions, they have to wonder
what is really going on -- behind the scenes. Our bodies we recognize, but
our souls are mysterious entities that remain so for most of us, at least
most of our lives.
But you never know, and because it is so hard to know, we have to try and
rise above our slices of time and look at our lives, the lives of our
leaders, and the "life" of our nation in a larger historical context. One
person's PERSONAL vendetta against Torah and those who uphold her can be
history's way of setting that soul up for its tikun -- either the hard,
destructive way, or, through eventual teshuvah:
... He [Caesar] sent Niron upon them [the Jewish people]. When he arrived
there, he shot an arrow to the East, and it landed in Jerusalem; to the
west, and it went and landed in Jerusalem; to all four Heavenly directions,
and it went and landed in Jerusalem. He said to a child, "Tell me a posuk,"
and he recited, "I have given my revenge through Edom (Rome, in this case)
at the hand of the Children of Israel." (Yechezkel 25: ). So he said,
"Evidently, The Holy One, Blessed is He, wants to destroy His House [the
Temple] and wants to 'clean' His hands through the perpetrator!" So,
instead, he deserted and went and converted [to Judaism], and from him came
[the great] Rebi Meir! (Gittin 56a)
What a bizarre ending to an already bizarre story. Nebuchadnetzar, at the
time of the destruction of the First Temple, had similar foretellings of
success, but read the signs differently. Rather than retreat,
Nebuchadnetzar, like so many other anti-Semites of the past and present,
took Jewish vulnerability as an invitation to successfully attack! Niron
not only didn't attack, but, he went and joined the ranks of the
vulnerable, an act that, in the eyes of many, would be called "suicidal"!
However, a small piece of information at the end of the story puts matters
into perspective: from him came Rebi Meir! Rebi Meir?! The great Rebi
Meir?! The one of whom the Talmud says was such a deep thinker that the
greatest of his generation could barely fathom his thoughts?
And to think -- all because a few arrows persisted upon landing in Jerusalem!
Fascinatingly, the gematria of "Niron" (50+10+200+6+50) is equal to 316.
The gematria of "Meir" (which means to "emanate light"; 40+1+10+200) is
251. The difference between the two is 65, the numerical value of
"Adon-ai," the name of G-d that alludes to His working in history behind
the scenes, and "Hallel," which reveals G-d's hiddenness in history, and
praises Him for being with the Jewish people from behind those scenes (and
"Hillel," the great rabbi of Temple times who was successful at making
Judge not the "sea" of history by its seemingly placid surface, at least
not without taking into account the stormy undercurrents that dictate,
ultimately, the direction in which the water flows.
If a man causes a blemish to his fellow -- as he does, that is what shall
be done to him: break for break, eye for eye (ayin tachas ayin) ...
"Our rabbis have explained that this does not mean actual infliction of the
blemish [to the offender], but rather, monetary compensation [for the
blemish that was caused]. We estimate his value as a slave [in perfect
health and the offender pays the difference]. This is why it uses the term
"to give," that is, to indicate something that is given from hand-to-hand
(i.e., money; Kesuvos 32b; Bava Kamma 84a)." (Rashi)
However, even though the Talmud can find a proof for its departure from the
literal meaning of the verse, which, normally, we don't accept so readily
(Shabbos 63a), still, the question remains: Is there any indication in the
posuk itself that "ayin tachas ayin" means monetary and not bodily
So, I found in a sefer (which I have quoted before) called "Nitzutzei
Shimshon," a similar discussion, and he points out that the Torah's usage
of the word "tachas" is out of the ordinary. In other words, if the Torah
really meant "an eye for an eye," it should have said, "ayin b'ad
(bais-ayin-dalet) ayin" -- the word "tachas" means "underneath," as if to
say, "an eye for UNDERNEATH an eye."
And, in the Hebrew Aleph-Bais, what is "underneath" each letter of the
Hebrew word for "eye" (ayin)? After the letter "ayin" comes the letter
"peh"; after the letter "yud" comes the letter "chof"; after the letter
"nun" comes the letter "samech." Put them together in the proper order, and
they spell: chof-samech-peh, or, "kesef," which means "money"!
The only question is, what do we gain by such vagueness? Is was not TOO
long ago that people who either didn't know or accept the Oral Law
literally cut off the hand that stole, or, inflicted the offender with
similar bodily damage to that which he caused. Why risk it?
Because, G-d is more merciful than we are. With the exception of capital
cases, G-d does not permit us to cause bodily harm to another, even though
doing so would be quite "fair," especially when the harm was done with
intention. This is why the connection is made between the word "eye" and
"money," to tell us just this point.
In other words, just like the blood of the Sin-Offering is to atone for our
own blood, which deserves to be on the altar and would be on the altar had
it not been for Divine mercy, so too is our money to atone for our eye, or,
whatever limb we should pay for the damage we caused. "Don't think," the
Torah is warning, "that it is only money you are paying for the damage you
caused; the money you are paying should be your OWN eye, or LEG, or
whatever, and would be, if not for G-d's mercy. Therefore, take care of
other people's limbs as well!"
Praise G-d! Give praise, servants of G-d! Praise the Name of G-d! (Tehillim
These words are not only the first of this tehillah, they are also the
beginning of a series of Tehillim (113 - 118) that make up the Hallel
prayer said on Holidays and Rosh Chodesh.
Who wrote them? According to the Talmud (Pesachim 117a), the Jewish people
said Hallel upon merging from the sea after experiencing redemption and
witnessing the drowning of the Egyptian army. The Talmud then goes on to
cite the various occasions that the Jewish people had occasion to say
Hallel as well, indicating that most of Hallel, at least, dates back to the
time of Moshe Rabbeinu.
The word "hallel" can also mean "light," as the Talmud points out (Pesachim
2a), creating a strong connection between the concept of praise of G-d, and
that of light. Hence, the power of Hallel specifically, and Tehillim in
general, giving us good reason to praise G-d every chance we have. The
result is not only reward for the praiser in the World-to-Come, but
increased blessing for him and the world here and now.
Give praise, servants of G-d! Praise the Name of G-d Š
This is, perhaps, the reason why this is the first paragraph of Hallel, for
it refers to the Jewish people as servants, which we were to Pharaoh in
Egypt. Lest we lose sight of our reason to praise G-d, we are immediately
reminded of our humble beginnings. No one sings louder than a freed slave;
no one praises like a person whose slavery turns to freedom.
Praise the Name of G-d!
Why not just praise G-d Himself? This allows to remember at a time that one
becomes "drunk" with gratitude to G-d that still, a distance must be
maintained between us and the Creator of the Universe. As much as He allows
us to relate to Him, even applying human traits to His behavior, still, we
must recall that He is G-d -- Unlimited and Undefinable -- and also
deserves our awe and fear.
As well, according to Kabbalah, it is through the use of Divine Names that
G-d emanates His light down to the Lower Worlds. It is through the usage of
such names that Kabbalists reach high into the Divine "program" for
creation and affect rectification. It was with the 42-letter Name of G-d
that Moshe Rabbeinu performed the miracle of killing the Egyptian in Egypt,
and other great miracles as well.
From the rising of the sun to its setting, G-d's Name is to be praised Š (3)
As the Rokayach and other Kabbalists point out, creation only took place
during the six days of creation during daylight hours -- from sunrise to
sunset. This is why the word "vayechulu" (Bereishis 2:1) is written
"chaser," that is, without the "vav" it might normally have; without the
"vav," the gematria of the word is equal to seventy-two (6+10+20+30+6): six
days times 12 daylight hours of creating.
As the Rambam points out, one of reasons for the spectacularness of
creation is to inspire awe in man, and to make him appreciate the extent to
which G-d made a "stage" upon which to act out his free-will decisions. It
is difficult to praise G-d for the night, a time of hiddenness and
contemplation. It is the daytime that brings to life and light the many
myriad of details of physical existence for which G-d must be praised daily.
High above nations is G-d Š (4)
Is this not the struggle today within the Jewish people? There are those
who place the nations above G-d (if they still believe in Him at all), and
dance to their tune and answer first to their call. And, then there are
those who know that the nations will have to answer to G-d, and that no one
is above Him, and follow the Torah in spite of the pressure applied from
the nations around.
He transforms the barren wife into a glad mother of children. Praise G-d! (9)
We'll leave the deep and holy explanations of this verse for now, for, they
constitute quite a few divrei Torah, at least!
As "natural" as childbirth may be, it is one of the biggest miracles of
physical existence, if not the biggest. No where is this clearer than when
a couple is told by a doctor that naturally-born children are, for them,
impossible -- only to find out one day (sometimes fifteen years later!)
that the diagnosis was completely wrong -- miraculously wrong!
Furthermore, it is one thing to bear children, it is another thing to
survive childbirth, to do so in happiness, and to raise them this way as
well. All of it takes tremendous help from G-d, from conception to raising
children (as one rabbi put it: raising children is 75% help from G-d, and
25% help from G-d). That we are as successful as we are, and survive to
talk about it, is reason enough to praise G-d -- the ultimate use of speech