Parashat Emor אֱמֹר

In the opening verse we notice the sincerity of HaShem’s commandment using two verbs “Emor” (speak) and “VeAmarta” (say and speak on to them) while having Moshe say it twice, to the Kohanim “VeAmarta” and “אמור” (“אמור אל הכהנים” and “ואמרת אליהם”). By the use of both words “וַיּאֹמֶר” and “אֱמרֹ” HaShem elevated the Kohanim to the highest level possible within humanity, of serving Him and Bnei-Yisrael. With these holy implications we see the tremendous responsibility and limitations the Kohanim must obey to, in order to be truly be ready to fulfill their divine obligations. This understanding alludes to Moshe’s promise to HaShem, while he received the Torah. Moshe promised to teach his children (Bnei-Israel), so too the Kohanim must educate their own children with these obligations and rules regarding the work in the Mishkan and Beit-Hamikdash. The Midrash tells us that the “words speak and say” alludes to both the adults and the young (one for each). Our Parasha has 63 Mitzvot, 24 are positive (do’s) and 39 negative (don’t).

Our Sages also taught us that when HaShem says “אֱמרֹ אֶל-הַכּהֲֹנִים בְּנֵי אַהֲרןֹ”, speak/say to the Kohanim and their children, He meant to give them a lesson about sins and punishments. HaShem told Moshe to remind the Kohanim that they must be careful with the little sins, as much as they are with the big sins. We know that HaShem holds Tzadikim to a higher standard than other people, as He is “judging” righteous people with the little things “like a hair strand”. In  Masechet Baba Kama: We see such teachings “מלמד שהקדוש ברוך הוא מדקדק עם סביביו צדיקים הדבקים בו אפילו כחוט השערה”. HaShem commended the Kohanim to always be holy, be ready and be very carful with even the littlest of sins, as they are held to higher standards. It is important to know that when a Kohen is not truly religious, (as today), a Talmid Chacham must have his Aliyah La’Torah first even though he is not a Kohen. Our sages said (in Horayot 3:8) that “A bastard who is a Talmid Chacham (scholar) takes precedence over a High Priest who is an “Am Ha’Aretz” (ignoramus)”.

We learn from the poem of Eshet Chail verse “Vatischak Le’Yom Acharon” “ותשחק ליום אחרון” and she (our soul) will laugh at the time of the last day, an amazing teaching of truly understanding our “final” days. We can never anticipate when our “final Day” (death) when will it come. We learn that Rabbi Yochanan (Ha’Chashmonai) was the biggest Tzadik throughout his life and a Kohen Gadol but in his last days he “left” HaShem. None of his deeds during his holy life counted, and “stood” for him. The last sin was enough to eliminate all his numerous Mitzvot. Rav Moshe Feinstein quotes the Gemara in Masechet Yoma about Rabbi Yochanan and said “if it could happen to  R.Yochanan Kohen Gadol it could happen to him too”. Therefore, we must constantly work HaShem everyday and learn Torah in order to get closer to Hashem so we  remain connected to Him. Only then our Neshamah” (soul) can laugh (“ותשחק ליום אחרון”) and be happy on its last day on earth, and be place in Gan-Eden. It is interesting to point out that the term “who’s laughing now” “Tzochek Mi Sh’Tzochek Acharon” (“צוחק משצוחק אחרון”) is derived from this verse. It is meant to teach us that there is nothing to celebrate yet. The result at the end will determine who really won, who really gained access to Gan-Eden and at what level.

The Zohar teaches us that the reason the Torah writes specifically the words “say to the Sons of Aharon” “אֱמֹר אֶל-הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן” is to teach us that they are different from the “Sons of Levi” or any other sons of Bnei- Yisrael. HaShem wanted to announce to Bnei-Yisrael that Aharon is the ultimate choice to be the Kohen Gadol as he always prompted and increased peace throughout the world.

His humility and modesty made HaShem reward him with the highest honor of Kedusah and Kehunah (holiness and priesthood). Aharon knew how to bring the “light” into the world and had the ability connect the physical world with the spiritual world.

The words “Or” “אור” (light) and “Na’ae””נאה” (pleasant) are both part of his name. HaShem, in creation (genesis) had the “Or” (light) shining from beginning to the end of the world. Since Eve and Adam sinned, He concealed the ‘Light’. Aharon shined this ‘LIGHT’ onto the world with his full trust in HaShem.

In Hebrew this “hidden” light is called “Or HaGanuz” “אור “הגנוז, the “Concealed Light”. We read in Tehilim 31:20, “How great is the good that you concealed to those who fear (awe) you, You acted for those who seek your shelter” (“פָּעַלְתּ, לַחסִֹים בָּךְ מָה רַב-טוּבְךָ, אֲשֶׁר-צָפַנְתָּ לִּירֵאֶיךָ”). The Zohar explains that the ‘Good’ mentioned in this verse represents two types of Light. One is the “Or HaGanuz” that was concealed on the day of Creation for the righteous people of the future. This Light does not get revealed in this world. The second “Good” light comes out of the “Or HaGanuz”. It is the light that sustains the entire world. We also learn from “אִיּוֹב” (Job) “38:15: “The wicked are denied their light”, (“וְיִמָּנַע מֵרְשָׁעִים אוֹרָם”). This “light” will be “concealed light” from the non-believers and evil-doers.

The first commandment in our Parasha HaShem ordered the Kohanim is not to become impure through contact with a dead person, and to have others to tend to one’s burial. The question is asked, why, out of all laws does the Torah begin with this specific one? The answer is: Since the Kohanim were installed as “kings” among the people of Israel and are devoted to serve both HaShem and Bnei-Yisrael at all times, they must then be pure and ready to do so at all times. The word “to them” “אלהם” “Alehem” (speak to them) has two words hidden in it, “EL” “אל” (HaShem) and “HEM” “הם” (them), to teach us that they (Kohanim) delivered HaShem’s words and laws. The Kohanim also made peace among the people too, even while rebuking them. Moshe taught the Kohanim that they must not have an ulterior motive to any rebuke, and if they do, they will become ritually impure. They could be in a situation whereby they get very close to negative people (while rebuking them) and can be influenced by these wicked people  (bribery) and be impure. Moshe made sure that they truly understood the gravity of being spiritually and physically pure at all times. The Kohanim atones to entire Israel, the word ”Kelim” (vessels) “כלים” is the abbreviation for “כהן־לוי־ישראל־מלכות”, Kohanim, Levities, Israel and Malchut  (kingdome) alluding to a complete “vessel” who each part makes it whole.

The Zohar teaches us that upon a person’s time to die and leave this world, three Angels come to him on his sickbed (time of death). He then can see what he cannot usually see in this world. He sees the Day of Judgment, and thousands of eyes looking at him/her. Hashem then asks him for his “deposit” back, the Neshamah he gave him/her at birth. The person, who can give back the Neshamah as purely and clean as it was given to them when he/she was born, shall be happy and merit Gan-Eden. The person who cannot give back the Neshamah as clean as was given to him/her, will see the “Angel of Death” standing before them with his sword drawn in his hand. The “Destroying Angel” (Angel of death) is in-charge of “breaking” the person, and forcefully taking the Neshamah out of the body, separating it from the body with horrific pain. This is the most painful and difficult process for the Neshamah to leave the body. The person does not die until he/she sees the Shechinah (God Holiness). Only then the soul leaves the body, the body remains spiritless and must be buried immediately within 24 hours. If the body remains unburied for 24 hours, a day and night, such extended time causes the body to “weaken” and the soul that left cannot come before HaShem until its body is buried.

According to our Sages, HaShem showed Moshe a prophecy of each of the future generations and its leaders, judges, kings, sages, and wicked people. HaShem also showed Moshe a prophecy of king Shaul (“שאול המלך”) and his son Johnathan who died at the hands of Philistines’ sword, whereas king Shaul committed suicide using his own sword. Moshe was puzzled and asked HaShem why the first king of Israel, shall die by the sword? HaShem told him that king Shaul killed all the Kohanim at the city of Nov (“נוב”). HaShem said to Moshe you should speak to the Kohanim who were killed by king Shaul, for they are prosecuting him.

That is why we the Torah uses double verse “speaking and saying” in the first verse: “Speak to the Kohanim” as they will tell you. Then “Say the Kohanim” as they must teach their children all that needed. The prime sin of King Shaul was not killing the Kohanim in the city of Nov, but not keeping HaShem’s orders to destroy Amlek and all that they had. Shaul was commanded to kill all the nation of Amalek, but he didn’t.  According to Kabbalah, Amalek were “shape shifters” they could change their appearances from human to animals, hence HaShem’s commended to kill all, including the animals.

The Gemara teaches that on the day king Sancheriv (“סנחריב”), king of Assyria approached the cities surrounding Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), his sorcerers told him that this day was the last day that he would be able to conquer Yerushalayim. They urged him to attack the city that specific day to take advantage of his last opportunity. Rav Huna explains that this day was the last day that king Shaul’s sin of killing the Kohanim in city of Nov and it was still potent and could affect the outcome of the war. By the way, king Sancheriv built the city of Ninveh as his capital while fighting the Babylonians, this city originated by king Nimrod who tried to kill Avraham in Ur Kasdim ( the city of demons in Iraq).

The verses in Shmuel I, Chapter 15 tell us that king Shaul was given a definitive command to kill the entire nation of Amalek, including all the men, women, children, and animals. King Shaul had mercy on Amalek and spared their king Aggag (from whom Haman came), thereby violating HaShem’s commandment. The prophet Shmuel came to king Shaul and told him that as a result of this sin, he was unworthy of the kingdom and HaShem would tear the kingdom of Israel from him. We notice that we continue to suffer until today, as a result of this unfortunate incident. Haman and most likely many of the oppressors of the Jewish people are descendants of this Amalekite. They always attack us when we are “far from HaShem” and not fully engulfed in Torah. In my humbled opinion, the word Amalek (“עמלק”) in Hebrew stands for “Am (nation) Mo’el (strays) Lo (not) Kadosh (holy)” (“עם מועל לא קדוש”), when we are not holy we bring Amalek upon us. Amalek was the only nation that refused to obey HaShem’s laws and despite witnessing all that HaShem did to Egypt still went to war against Bnei-Yisrael.  Who is Amalek? Their “founder” and tribal father was Elipaz the son of Eisav, who knew the Torah by studying it with his grandfather Yitzchak and his uncle Yakov, yet he would follow his father’s idolatry. Elipaz, just as Amalek, knew how to “get” to the Jews and how to fight them. They understood that when the Jews are not united with HaShem they can win a war against them.

We also learn from the word “Nefesh” (soul) in the first verse a clear indication that when a Kohen does not follow the laws and the commandments of HaShem, his soul will be “cut” off in both worlds, this world and the next world (“עולם הבא” – Olam Haba). Their holy status among Bnei-Yisrael carries an immense amount of Kedusha and responsibilities along with the highest honor. For that they must never take advantage of their position, as their higher level of Kedusha also carries the highest levels of punishments. The Kohanim must set an example to the entire people of Israel, of the righteous way to live and honor HaShem. And most importantly they must teach their children the divine task and live by example as they are extremely privileged and might stray. We learn about the importance of the Jewish Nefesh, and the acts of “Mesirat Nefesh” (“מסירות נפש”) that individual Jews have carried out throughout the history, and the acts of “Mesirat Nefesh” that were performed by our Patriarchs.

For example, Yitzchak stood primed to sacrifice his life to fulfill Hashem’s command. Throughout history, millions of Jews have done this during wars, the Holocaust, and many others events. Chazal record the story of Channah and her seven sons who showed a true “Mesirat Nefesh” and died Al Kiddush HaShem, sanctifying Hashem’s Name. When her youngest and last son was led to be executed, she cried out to him, “My son! Tell Avraham, your forefather, “You bound one altar; I bound seven altars!” The Kohanim must do everything they can to save a Jewish Nefesh, and to help atone for its sins.

The Torah teaches us that the kohen is only allowed to become impure, by being involved in the burial of his wife and his closest relatives such as his parents, brothers, sons, daughters, and his virgin sister (unmarried). The word “She’ero” (“שְׁאֵרוֹ”) from the verse “כִּי, אִם-לִשְׁאֵרוֹ, הַקָּרבֹ, אֵלָיו” alludes to his wife and closest relatives. A Kohen is allowed to be impure in only one other case and that is in the case of “EGLA ARUFFA” (“עגלה ערופה”). According to Halacha, if a dead person is found between two cities, one must find out where to bury the body. Even if he is a Kohen, he must perform a proper burial even if he becomes impure (“טמא”).

HaShem puts lots of restrictions on the Kohanim since they are the only ones who can perform the highest level in the work of Korbanot (sacrifices) in the Mishkan and Beit-HaMikdash. Without the pure Kohanim, Bnei-Yisrael would not have the ability to atone for their sins. For such divine task, the Kohanim are forbidden to be contaminated with impurity as they will not be able to serve HaShem in the Beit-HaMikdash. The Kohanim (and the Levites) were provided for all their needs by the contributions from Bnei-Yisrael. For that reason HaShem wanted to teach Bnei-Yisrael, that they too are held to the highest “scrutiny” and restrictions by HaShem as they are partners in the work of the Beit-HaMikdash. The tribe of Levi was rewarded with such holy tasks and honor due to their strong belief and commitment to HaShem throughout exile in Egypt and while in the desert. They acted with the highest respect to HaShem and his Mitzvot, even while risking their lives.

  1. The tribe of Levi kept performing the Brit-Milah regardless of Pharaoh’s decree.
  2. The tribe of Levi never gave any gold for the Golden-Calf sin.
  3. The tribe of Levi never bowed to the Golden-Calf.
  4. The tribe of Levi always studied Torah and trusted HaShem’s divine protection.

The tribe of Levi was designated for a special role of Divine Service of the Mishcan and Beit-HaMikdash. The Torah addresses the Levites tribe at the beginning in the book of Shemot, they are set apart from the rest of the Bnei-Yisrael. HaShem points out the heritage of Moshe, as it says, “And there went a man from the house of Levi, and took for a wife a daughter of Levi” (“וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ, מִבֵּית לֵוִי; וַיִּקַּח אֶת-בַּת-לֵוִי”). These people were Amram and Yocheved, Moshe’s parents. In Shemot 2:2 it says about Moshe “he was good” (“כִּי-טוֹב הוּא”). This “Good” alludes to that he (Moshe) was born circumcised. The last letter of these three words is a hint about Moshe’s roll as in the redemption from Egypt, as they spell the word “Yavo” “יבא” (he will come) alluding to bringing about the redemption of Bnei-Yisrael. HaShem tells Moshe not to include the tribe of Levi in the census (counting) of the tribes, and the Torah lists no name as their leader. Their function was not to defend the camp or to participate in the conquest of the land of Israel, but to guard the Tabernacle and its holy vessels from human defilement. Any outsider, who encroaches on their holy task, shall be put to death. They were to serve HaShem, the Kohanim and Bnei-Yisrael.


Yoram Dahan

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