Pop Quiz: What was placed on top of the loaves of bread in the Mishkan?
Rabbi Reuven Semah
"Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a [dead] person among his people" (Vayikra 21:1)
Our perashah begins with a series of laws that apply to Kohanim. A Kohen has a special sanctity, and because of this sanctity, he is limited as to whom he may marry. A Kohen must preserve his sanctity and is not permitted to become tameh, ritually impure, by coming in contact with a dead body. When a Jew passes away, his body becomes tameh. Our Sages give us an insight into the reasoning of why a Jew becomes tameh when he passes on. Hashem wants us to understand the importance of a live person. He is important because he possesses a soul which comes from Hashem. As soon as the soul leaves the body, the body becomes unimportant - so much so that the body even becomes tameh, impure, because it no longer has its soul. The impurity only comes because there was once extreme holiness there. When the holiness leaves, it creates a vacuum which is filled by a negative spirit of impurity.
It is interesting to note that the law is that even a Jew who has totally abandoned his religion also becomes tameh when he dies. This tells us that he must have had that special holiness while he was alive which created a vacuum at death. Even a Jew who is heretical and anti-Torah becomes tameh at death.
This is an important message for us. We may not give up hope on any Jew. He still has that spark of a soul that is holy. It is still possible to rekindle that spark and bring him back completely. Maybe, with the help of Hashem all will understand the true mission of life, that this life is a hallway to bring us to everlasting life in the next world. Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Yaacov Ben-Haim
"Be among the students of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace" (Abot 1:12)
Rav Haim of Volozhin comments: "You should want there to be peace between you. Although you are of the opinion that the other has sinned against you, nonetheless, you be the one who pursues peace, and do not wait until your friend appeases you" (Ruah Haim).
The Sages have said (Pesahim 113a), "There are three whom the Holy One, Blessed is He, loves - one who does not get angry, one who does not get drunk, and one who overlooks the bad others have done him." The common denominator shared by these three is that they control their lives with their intellect. They do not allow external stimuli to get the best of them. Especially fortunate is one who is not kindled by the fire of wrath that burns within him, but snuffs it out instead. One who tries to silence his opponent through shouting and angry behavior will generally accomplish nothing but intensification of the quarrel. From there, the quarrel may spin completely out of control. You can't put out a fire with gasoline.
A Jew who overlooks slights, acts with humility, and responds with a kind word, even acknowledging that the other is right and that he is wrong, will find that with time his adversaries will come down from their perch. Eventually, they will recognize that he is in the right and regret their past actions. Let us keep in mind what a wise man once told his son: "One who cannot put up with one thing, will have to put up with many. One who does not remain silent will be silenced by others."
"They placed him under guard to clarify for themselves through Hashem"
Why does it say "mishmar - guard" and not "sohar - prison"?
According to the Torah penal system, there is no such thing as prison.
The only time prison is mentioned in the Torah is in regard to Yosef's imprisonment in the foreign land of Egypt.
The Torah is interested in swift punishment so that the violator will quickly repent and not repeat his iniquities. At times, it uses servitude, but this in intended for rehabilitation and not punishment. Prisons do very little to improve the character of the incarcerated, and on the contrary, often they become more corrupt during their stay. "Mishmar" means protective custody. Since the Jews did not know how to deal with a blasphemer and were waiting for instructions from Hashem, in order to make sure that no one took the law into his own hands, he was placed under guard in the interim.
The same is true in regard to the man who desecrated the Shabbat. The Torah states, "vayanihu oto bamishmar (Bemidbar 15:34) - they placed him in custody for it was not clarified what should be done to him." This, too, was necessary in order to prevent people from harming him by taking any action on their own.
When Yosef accused his brothers of being spies and held Shimon as collateral that they would return, the Torah says, "vaye'esar oto le'enehem - he imprisoned him before their eyes" (Beresheet 42:24). As the Viceroy of Egypt, he followed the rules of the land and placed an alleged spy in prison. However, since Yosef knew the Torah's negative opinion of prison, he did this only "before their eyes," and as soon as they left, he released him and treated him royally. (Vedibarta Bam)
[It is customary to study Pirkei Abot (Ethics of the Fathers) during the six weeks between Pesah and Shabuot, one chapter every Shabbat.]
"Rabbi Hanina, the deputy to the High Priests says: Pray for the welfare of the government, for without it men would swallow one another alive"
(Pirkei Abot 3:2)
Why was Rabbi Hanina called "the deputy to the Kohanim" in plural, and not in singular, "Segan Kohen Gadol"?
According to the Gemara (Yoma 9a) the first Bet Hamikdash, which lasted 410 years, had only 18 Kohanim Gedolim. The second Bet Hamikdash, which lasted 420 years, had over 300 Kohanim Gedolim, including Shimon Hasadik, who was Kohen Gadol for 40 years, and Yohanan, who was Kohen Gadol for 80 years. The High Priests were so numerous during the second Bet Hamikdash because the Roman government decided to sell the position of Kohen Gadol to whomever would pay the exorbitant price. Since they were not sadikim, they would usually die on Yom Kippur when they went into the Kodesh Hakodashim - Inner Sanctuary.
Rabbi Hanina was a great sadik and a deputy to the Kohen Gadol. Normally, after the death of the Kohen Gadol he would have been appointed to the position. However, the Roman government always sold the position of Kohen Gadol, and Rabbi Hanina remained an assistant to the new Kohen Gadol. Thus, he was "Segan Hakohanim - a deputy to many Kohanim Gedolim."
His students complained to him that the system was corrupt and that measures should be taken against the government. To this, Rabbi Hanina responded, "If the government is undermined, there will be a breakdown of law and order, and the situation will actually worsen. It is better to pray for the welfare of the government, that it will forsake its corruption." (Vedibarta Bam)
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