Question: Sefer Chareidim (ch. 67) cites a Midrash that Eliyahu once testified that a certain kohen who begged G-d for righteous sons merited to see all of them serve as high priests, and none of them died during his lifetime. Where exactly is this Midrash?
Answer: Rabbi Elazar Azkeri, of the chachmei Safed, a contemporary of the Beit Yosef and the Ari Hakadosh, authored Sefer Charedim. It was first published in Venice in the year 5361 (1601 CE).
The Chafetz Chayim, in his Mishnah Berurah (end of siman 156), notes that there are many timely mitzvot, both positive and negative, that are found in the four orders of the Shulchan Aruch. Others, however, are not included. These mitzvot can be found, though, in sefarim that list the commandments, including those of the Rambam, Semag, and Chinuch, and Sefer Chareidim. Its author, Rav Azkeri, compiled from the Rishonim who preceded him those commands relevant to our time (when we do not have the Holy Temple or karbanot). In addition to listing the mitzvot, the author explains such matters as emunah and teshuvah and offers moral lessons. All the above has rendered this sefer one of great importance and one that is highly regarded by some of our greatest sages.
Let us now examine the text in question (in chapter 67 of Sefer Chareidim), which concerns the requirement to pray for oneself and one’s children to be saved from the yetzer hara. First the author discusses the importance of praying for oneself, and then he continues: Just as there is a requirement to pray for oneself, so too a person must pray for one’s offspring to fear G-d, as the Midrash relates that Elijah once testified that a certain kohen who begged G-d for righteous sons merited to see all of them serve as high priests, and none of them died in his lifetime.
Before we turn to the source of this Midrash, we are faced with an obvious difficulty. The difficulty does not relate to the kohen’s relentless effort in behalf of his sons, which, it would seem, were not in vain. Rather, the difficulty is how they all served as high priests during his lifetime without any of them dying before their father. The only way this scenario could have occurred is if some sort of pesul, ritual defilement, occurred to each son, rendering him unfit for service as the high priest.
Avot states that one of the miracles that occurred in the Temple was that the high priest never experienced a seminal emission, which would have defiled him. Rashi explains that an emission would have been unbecoming, a matter of disgust. However, coming into contact with a sheretz or the spittle of an am ha’aretz (one ignorant of the laws of tum’ah) is not unbecoming even while it also disqualifies the high priest from service.
Perhaps this explains how this kohen was able to have several sons serve as the high priest without any of them dying in his lifetime. Each one apparently became contaminated, requiring him to be replaced. In such a scenario, the Gemara (Yoma 12b) concludes that both the original kohen and the replacement kohen would have the sanctity of a high priest (see Rambam, Hilchot Avodat Yom HaKippurim 1:3) even though only one of them could serve at a given time.
The improbability of such an unusual scenario occurring aside, we are also faced with the additional problem of lack of support in recorded history for this incident as reported by Sefer Chareidim.
(To be continued)