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Introduction To Toras Kohanim


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The Talmud Bavli for Seder Zeraim includes only Masechet Berachos, as the other tractates related to agriculture applied only in Eretz Yisrael and were therefore more fully covered in the Jerusalem Talmud. Similarly, Masechet Nidah is the only volume in Bavli Seder Taharos, with the rest limited to mishnayos.

When it comes to Seder Kodshim, however, Talmud Bavli contains a full set of tractates matching the Talmud Yerushalmi. Our devotion even in exile is also evident by the fact that of all the Midrash books written on the Torah, only The Sifra D’vei Rav, referred to as Toras Kohanim, was written in Babylonia. Rashi and Tosfos, the classical commentaries on Talmud Bavli, are not available for mishanyos Taharos and Zeraim. However Rashi and Tosfos commented on the tractates in Kodshim as extensively as they did on Seder Moed or Nashim. To reinforce Kodshim in our daily lives, the passage “Ei’zehu m’koman” – mishnayos from Masechet Zevachim – are included in our daily siddur. We include the opening section of Toras Kohanim, the be’raysa of Rabbi Yishmael and the thirteen attributes through which the Torah is explicated, in our korbanos recitation to reinforce the inherent connection between Torah she’bichtav and Torah she’be’al peh regarding korbanos.

According to one opinion in the Gemara (Berachos 26b), our daily teffilot are directly connected to the daily sacrifices offered at the same time of the day. According to Tosfos, our Mussaf is a form of “neshalmah parim sifaseinu” (Hosea 14:3), where our teffilot are substitutes for the specific sacrifices offered. On Yom Kippur, the Avodah, the recitation of the order of the korbanos offered during the day, is the central motif of the day. According to Rabbeinu Hai Gaon, there was a tradition to recite the Avodah in Shacharis, Mussaf and Mincha on Yom Kippur because it was so beloved. The Midrash Rabbah quotes an ancient accepted tradition where the education of young children commenced with the study of Sefer Vayikra. Hashem said, Let those who are pure and holy study the Torah portion devoted to purity and sanctity.

With this basis, perhaps we can better understand the Gemara (Berachos 18a) regarding Benayahu Ben Yehoyada. The Talmud quotes (Samuel 2, 23:20) that he performed mighty deeds, he smote the two mighty men of Moab; he went down and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in the time of snow. What was special about Benayahu? The Gemara interprets the latter part of the statement to mean that he studied Toras Kohanim on a cold winter day. He was willing to study Toras Kohanim and to defend it against the mighty nations like Moab that heaped scorn on our tradition and our adherence to the laws of Toras Kohanim. He recognized that we must defend Toras Kohanim no matter how dark and cold the exile environment we find ourselves in, without regard to how absurd it seems to all those around us and how we may be scorned for our devotion to it.

Our Chazal exhibited similar devotion to Toras Kohanim. After the destruction of the second Temple, Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai enacted many takanot to keep the Temple and the Avodah alive in our communal memory. He and others were able to see a future of avodas Beis HaMikdash at a time when few would listen to them, despite the seeming absurdity of hoping for such a future. Bnayahu and Rabban Yochanan were willing to look forward because they had the courage to learn and teach Toras Kohanim in such a dark and foreboding time.

The complete understanding of Toras Kohanim requires adherence and acceptance to both parts of the sefer. For that, the people needed to be educated as to proper ethical and moral conduct. That was the responsibility of the kohanim. Be’ezras Hashem we will discuss that in a future d’var Torah.

About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at ravtorah1@gmail.com.


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