The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40 plus year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation. This article is based on a 1955 shiur entitled the “Role of the Rabbi.”
In a previous article we discussed the composition of Sefer Vayikra and the foundational role Toras Kohanim plays within Judaism in presenting the concept of korbanos. We noted that much of Sefer Vayikra, after the first two and a half parshiot describes the moral and ethical behavior that define the Jew and that are the pre-requisites to bringing korbanos.
Offering korbanos is not a substitute to living a proper life. Hashem does not seek sacrifices from one who offers a korban without repenting and adopting a moral path. Much of Sefer Vayikra presents the kohen as a principal actor in the performance and fulfillment of the commandments that define such a moral and ethical existence. To understand toras kohanim, we must understand the role of the kohen in Jewish life.
Malachi (2:7) says, “For the lips of the priest shall guard knowledge and the people will seek to hear Torah from his lips, for he is a messenger of the Lord of Hosts.” The role of the kohen is not simply to perform the service in the Temple. Rather, it is to teach Torah to Bnei Yisrael and to act as the judges and teachers throughout the land. The Jewish people have survived many tragedies throughout history because of our adherence to the Torah. The Torah is the glue that has held us together. Parshas Emor focuses on the obligations of the people to honor the kohen and how the kohen should conduct himself, while Sefer Vayikra in general focuses on the responsibilities of the Priesthood to the Jewish People, whether in offering sacrifices on their behalf or proclaiming or removing the title of metzorah or other forms of impurity. It is not a coincidence that the laws pertaining to proscribed marriages and relationships are included in Sefer Vayikra, as it is the role and responsibility of the kohen to ensure that the people understand and obey these laws. They can only understand them if they are taught the details and the importance of these laws, a role assigned to the kohanim.
The haftorah for Parshas Emor is taken from Sefer Yechezkel, who describes the future role of the kohen. In addition to describing the familial relationships and the required garments to be worn by the priests, Yechezkel details their role and responsibility (46:23), “And they will instruct my nation to distinguish between the holy and the mundane, between the impure and the pure they will inform them. And they will stand to judge the various disputes between litigants, and they will play a central role in the sanctification and keeping of the festivals and the various Sabbaths (Shabsosy).”
As Yechezkel notes, Torah Education is the critical requirement for the Jewish people. All those who assume the responsibility of leadership must make the teaching of Torah on the appropriate level the focal point of their mission. Suggesting that the beauty of the Sabbath can be experienced by covering the Sabbath table with a “snow white” table cloth will not influence anyone in a society that has been trained to think critically and deeply about difficult technical and meta-physical issues. In the battle to influence our unaffiliated or under-affiliated brethren as to the true beauty of Judaism, we must teach them Torah, show them the deeper meaning and intent behind the commandments so that they can realize the intellectual beauty inherent in Judaism. Rabbis and those that assume the Priestly mantle of education and leadership, must be prepared to study Chumash and Rashi, or Midrash with their congregants, and read between the lines to present the hidden meaning of the verses. These critical subjects are often overlooked and can be more difficult than studying a complicated gloss written by a rishon or acharon. However, their impact on those that are exposed to these subjects can be significant.