by Rabbi Elkanah Schwartz
When the children of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov succeeded in leaving the bondage of Egypt, they set about on their journey of return to the Land of their Forefathers – and what a journey it turned out to be!
Yes, it was a journey of adventure of 40 years through the desert – but the adventure was more spiritual than physical, although they had some of that also. It was an adventure of achieving spiritual, ethical and moral purity, of striving to reach a level of holiness – to be holy, as ha-Shem is holy. And they found challenges, and these challenges created opportunities.
Following the splitting of the Sea of Reeds to gain exodus from Egypt, they made their way to Mt. Sinai, where they witnessed the giving of the Torah. With it, they learned that spirituality does not exist in the clouds, but down on earth, with real people facing real challenges, and learning how to properly address them. Life, they learned, is to be governed by laws – some understood, others not.
And then, the command: “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst.” (Sh’mos 25:8) The structure of the Sanctuary was defined to the minutest detail: what it was to be made of, the 3 dimensions in size of each fixture, and the relationship in position each fixture had with the other fixtures.
Nor did it remain empty. Various kinds of offerings, each serving a different purpose, were prescribed. And who was to be in charge? While Moshe was the teacher, who brought the Ten Commandments down to the people at Mt. Sinai, it was his brother Aaron who was given the privilege of the administration of the Sanctuary and its program.
These were exercises in the pursuit of purity. And as part of that program, the kosher laws were introduced: which animals are permitted for consumption, and which not. Then there is detailed discussion of the tzora’as and the metzora, and the process of the kohayn determining whether the condition renders the person pure or impure.
The children of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov continued to assume ever greater levels of holiness and sanctity. In turn, this led to a heavy dose of ethical and moral laws.
And now, in this parshah, the Torah turns the process up a notch, discussing the privileged sanctity of the kohayn.
“Let (the kohayn) not defile himself with the dead, except to his kin (Rashi says: his wife), his mother and his father, his son, his daughter and his brother, and his sister.” (21:1-3)
“They shall be holy to ha-Shem, and not profane the name of ha-Shem, for it is the fire-offerings of ha-Shem that they offer, and they must therefore be holy.” (6)
“Speak to Aaron saying: anyone of your offspring who will have a blemish shall not approach to offer the bread of ha-Shem.” (17)
“Any man of Aaron’s offspring who has tzora’as or an impure flow may not eat of the sacred things until he has purified himself.” (22:4)
The bottom line? “I will be sanctified among B’nei Yisroel.” (22:32)
The journey of holiness continues. The B’nei Yisroel are granted mo’adim (appointed times): Shabbos, Pesach, Shevu’os, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos.
At this point, an interruption: the Torah relates a fascinating story which presses Moshe to turn to ha-Shem for an answer.
“The son of an Israelite woman went out, the son of an Egyptian man. They argued in the encampment, this son, and an Israelite man. The son blasphemed, and they brought him to Moshe. Ha-Shem spoke to Moshe: take the blasphemer beyond the encampment and stone him.” (24:10-23)
Everything is a challenge, and every challenge has an answer.
by Rabbi Elkanah Schwartz