Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger - The Kohein: Made of Honor - Parshas Emor 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Emor 5778.  Enjoy!

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Emor 5778
The Kohein – Made of Honor

As the Jewish people, Hashem’s bride, walk away from Egypt and toward the acceptance of the Torah under the chuppah of Har Sinai with our chosson, Hashem, we may feel unworthy, shy, and hesitant. But the truth is that in Yiddishkeit, neither a chosson nor a kallah walk to the chuppah alone. They must each be accompanied by the best man and maid of honor, respectively. Who is Hashem’s “best man?’ Who is our maid of honor?

According to the Zohar HaKadosh, Moshe Rebbeinu is called shushbina d’Malka, Hashem’s “best man.”  On some level, Moshe Rebbeinu escorts the Holy One to His encounter with us. But the Jewish people, who felt so defiled by their immersion in the forty-nine levels of impurity of Egypt, still need to be escorted to the foot of Sinai by someone less “intimidating” than Moshe, who was on such a lofty level that he subsequently had to cover his face with a veil because of the shining light emanating from his face.

The Zohar therefore says that the one who encouraged and escorted the demure and shy Jewish people to the chuppah was Aharon HaKohein.  He was there to encourage the kallah to recognize that that she was fit to approach her chosson and receive the kesubah – the Torah, Hashem’s wedding contract with us. That is the deeper meaning of what the Mishna in Avos (1:12) says about Aharon: “lover of peace, pursuer of peace, lover of all people who brings them close to the Torah.” Aharon was the one who escorted us to Sinai to bring us close to the Torah.

That is why one opinion in the Gemara (Yuma 19a) calls the kohanim “agents of Hashem.” Hashem sends Aharon and his descendants, the kohanim, to bring us close to Him. When a Jew comes to a kohein to bring a sin offering, he pours out his feelings of guilt and the secrets of his heart to the kohein. And that kohein encourages the Jew to recognize that he deserves to be in Hashem’s house, that he is loved and welcome in the chosson’s home.

This is the message of the beginning of our parshah, which says, “Speak to the kohanim, the children of Aharon, and say to them, to a life among his nation, he shall not defile himself” (Vayikra 21:1). The Tosher Rebbe zy’a, teaches regarding this passuk that the kohanim were responsible to ensure that no one among the nation become defiled. He teaches that the word for defiled (יטמא) is related to a homonym (יטמע) which means “mix,” as this word is used by the Gemara, “so that he should not become mixed [יטמע] among the nations” (Kiddushin 20b). The kohanim escort every Jew back to the chosson and back to holiness.

Today, the tzaddikim and leaders of the generation take on the role of the kohanim in our lives (Megillah 22a). They are sent by Hashem to us to escort us back to Hashem, to take on the responsibility to ensure that no Jew is written off from holiness. No matter how far a Jew has strayed, our tzaddikim and mashpi’im may not give up on anyone. They must work with all the effort they can muster to ensure that no Jew is left behind (see II Shmuel 14;14).

On a simple level, the passuk in our parshah teaches that a kohein may not come into contact with any dead body. If a Jewish person’s body requires burial, others must attend to the task. But as for the kohein, “to a life among his nation, he shall not defile himself.”  Rashi is bothered by a question on this passuk. Why must it specify “among his nation?” He explains that this phrase indicates that the prohibition against contact with the dead only applies if the body is “among his nation,” i.e., being attended to by other members of the nation. If, however, a body is left alone with no one to ensure a proper burial, then the prohibition against contact with the dead does not apply. What do we learn from this today?

The tzaddikim and leaders’ responsibility to ensure that every Jew knows he or she is wanted and needed as part of the totality of the Jewish people exists primarily where no one else is there to ensure that someone is not left behind. If someone has family, teachers, rebbeim, friends, or teachers who are actively working with this person – if he or she is still “among his nation” – then the kohein of the generation is less accountable. But when a Jew feels like he is thrown out, abandoned, ownerless, and alone, it is then the obligation of the tzaddikim ensure that he or she is escorted back to Hashem, who is sitting on pins and needles, so to speak, waiting for His messengers to bring His kallah back to Him.

One of the most famous kohanim was the tzaddik, Rav Shlomo HaKohein from Radomsk, the Tiferes Shlomo zy’a. He once arrived, with great fanfare, to the city of Cracow. While visitors to a city normally go to the rav of a city, the rav of Cracow, Rav Shimon Sofer zt’l, the son of the Chasam Sofer zt’l, came to greet the Tiferes Shlomo upon his arrival. Rav Shimon approached the Radomsker deferentially, at which point Rav Shlomo’la asked, “Why are you the rav of Cracow?” Rav Shimon stood silently, waiting to hear what the Tiferes Shlomo would say. The tzaddik then explained:

What is the purpose of a tzaddik in a city? The answer is in the Gemara (Kiddushin 40a). It asks a question about the passuk which says, “Say of the tzaddik that he is good” )Yeshayahu 3:10). The Gemara asks, “And is there a tzaddik who is not good?!” Can a “tzaddik” be a thief? What is the passuk adding? By virtue of the fact that a person is called a tzaddik, by definition, he is good. The Gemara answers that the passuk comes to exclude a tzaddik who is good toward Heaven, but bad toward other people.

But this explanation is also lacking. The person described by the passuk is, after all, a tzaddik. If this person behaves badly toward other people, he could not, in the first instance, be described as a tzaddik. When the passuk describes the possibility of a “tzaddik who is not good,” it must mean a tzaddik who lives only for his own service of Hashem, but does not, through his study of Torah and service, work to improve other Jews’ health, spiritual connection, livelihood, and general wellbeing.

Such “not good” tzaddikim are those who, like Nadav and Avihu, “died through approaching before G-d” (Vayikra 16:1). They worked to approach G-d by themselves, without attempting to bring other Jews with them. These “leaders” are described as “dying” through their self-absorbed effort to approach G-d because they are not deserving of their positions within the Jewish people.

Do you know why you were made rav of Cracow? Was it to rule on the kashrus of dairy spoons accidently used to stir a pot of meat? There are ten rabbis on every block in Cracow who can rule on such matters. You were chosen by Providence as rav of the city to bring down livelihood, health, blessings, children, encouragement, and strength to every Jew in the city. You were chosen to be a tzaddik about whom people can say “He is good” – not only toward Heaven, but to the Jewish people.


All of us in the small minority of Jews who still have a connection to Hashem and the Torah despite two thousand years of exile and concealment can also have some part in being the kohanim of today, Hashem’s messengers sent to bring our brothers and sisters who feel lost, alone, abandoned, defiled, and full of guilt back under the chuppah – back under the shelter of the Holy One, our chosson who never stops waiting for us. May Hashem cause everyone who feels pushed aside and abandoned back under the wings of the Divine Presence with the arrival of Moshiach and the revelation of the complete redemption, may it be soon in our days.

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