Emor

  • Harav Mosheh Lichtenstein

 

The central theme of Parashat Emor is the motif of kedusha and its various manifestations. The idea of kedusha, as exhibited in the kohanim and korbanot, on the one hand, and the sanctity of time itself (kedushat hazman) as expressed in the holidays on the other hand, is the basic concept which the parasha develops throughout. Though each individual element represents a different aspect of divine sanctity, the overarching concept which informs them all and serves as the unifying principle which forges our parasha into a single entity is the manifestation of holiness within the human world. As the Torah itself proclaims: "ve-nikdashti be-tokh Benei Yisrael Ani Hashem mekadishkhem." Even without attempting in our limited space to enter into the details of the parasha's internal organization or to offer an explanation for its sequence, it may be claimed that there is a distinct topic which organizes the parasha into a single unit and integrates it into the broader scheme of Sefer Vayikra. Clearly the issues of kedusha and mikdash are the connection between Emor and the preceding sections of Vayikra from the opening parashot of korbanot in parashat Vayikra and through the halakhot of the kohanim and holidays in Emor.

 

However, there is one part of the parasha - the concluding section - which doesn't seem to fit at all into this pattern. The topic which it deals with are the halakhot of a person who assaults a fellow Jew, resulting either in murder or bodily injury, or inflicts damage upon his friend's livestock. These halakhot, which detail the punishment of the murderer and establish the requirement of monetary compensation in cases of violent assault, belong to the category of "dinim she-bein adam li-chaveiro" and seem to be totally unrelated to the context of parashat Emor and its topic of kedusha. The logical place for these halakhot should be parashat Mishpatim, the parasha which incorporates within it (almost) the entire corpus of Choshen Mishpat, which deals with the relationships, monetary and otherwise, within human society. Torts, banking, civil law, commercial law, etc. are all dealt with at length in Mishpatim; the inclusion of these issues within parashat Emor is puzzling.

 

Actually, since all of these halakhot do indeed appear in Mishpatim, the question is not only whether they can be integrated into Emor or not, but also the issue of redundancy. All that is stated here has already been written there. Why then repeat the exact same verses? Even were we to grant that the issues of ne'zikin may have a place in Sefer Vayikra, there should still be no need, since they have already been covered in another parasha.

 

Moreover, we must ask ourselves why the Chumash combines the segment of bodily damages with the story of the megadef. The megadef, the blasphemous son of the Egyptian woman, unlike the violent attacker, clearly belongs to parashat Emor. For though, unlike the rest of Sefer Vayikra (with the exception of the Nadav vaAvihu case), his story is a historical episode and not a halakhic dictate, its purpose is to illuminate the concept of kedushat hashem, its importance and gravity, and to highlight the dangers and difficulties involved in observing and respecting it. As such, it is an appropriate, if tragic, sequel to the parasha's directive to lead lives of holiness and a vivid reminder of the need for constant vigilance in this endeavor. However, the transition, or rather the continuity, in the Chumash from God's verdict regarding the megadef to the systematic exposition of the laws of physical assault is extremely difficult, since blasphemy and bodily harm would seem to be unrelated issues.

 

In order to resolve these questions, which mutually reinforce each other, we must adopt an entirely different perspective regarding the issue of violent assault. Though it is true that physical injury is an issue concerning the relationships between human beings and a crime committed against the injured party for which compensation is due, this is not the only element involved in murder or assault, nor is this the aspect which the Torah is relating to in Sefer Vayikra. The point which the Torah is making in Emor is that assaulting a human being is an assault upon God himself. Man was created in God's image and his likeness (demut deyukano) is an expression and representation of the Divine. The Divine Wisdom which willed the entire created world, endowed Man with a unique charisma and entered into a special relationship with him. Not only was Man created in God's image, he also received the essence of his soul directly from God and his existence is by virtue of this contact with his Creator. (See Bereishit 2:7 and Ramban's commentary there.)

 

Moreover, the unique and intimate relationship between God and Knesset Yisrael as His people, expressed and amplified in Tanakh by means of the marital and conjugal metaphor, adds an additional dimension to the Jew as His representative and charge within the created world.

 

Thus, Man, created by God in His image, endowed with the faculties of reason and spirit, is the supreme expression of the Divine presence in the material world, so that he who strikes a blow against fellow man is also striking a blow against his creator. Therefore, the Torah deals with this issue in Sefer Vayikra, in addition to its previous treatment in parashat Mishpatim. There the emphasis was upon the civil element and the injury inflicted upon the assaulted person is treated from the perspective of an injured party seeking compensation and remuneration; here, though, the focus is upon the sinner who has mutilated the divine image and sinned against God. The attack upon a human being is considered an act of chilul hakodesh, which is a prime topic which concerns parashat Emor.

 

This highlights the transition which the Torah makes from the megadef to the person who assaults a fellow human. Rather than being an abrupt and incomprehensible switch from an issue involving the human-divine relationship to a human-human relationship, they are both an expression of a blasphemous act which the Torah prohibits. The transition between the two is smooth and readily achieved, since they both address the same issue.

 

Though we are dealing with this issue at the biblical-parashat hashavua level, it should be added that there are halakhic ramifications as well. The permissibility of suicide or self inflicted wounds, the nature of the payment which one is obligated to give to the injured party, and various other details regarding these halakhot are all a function of this duality.

 

Actually, this concept which is explicitly formulated by the Gemara in Sanhedrin (58b), which states that "ha-soter lo'o shel yisrael ke'ilu soter lo'o shel Shechina" expresses itself in many other halakhic instances, aside from the above-mentioned halakhot of chovel. Thus, the Mishna in Sanhedrin (46a) interprets the prohibition of halanat ha-met (delaying burial) along these lines, explaining that any loss of human life is a loss of the Shechina itself and that any abuse of the human image is a defilement of the Image of God which is reflected within Man. This same explanation is also true of bal tashchit, the biblical injunction prohibiting wanton destruction. It is not only the ingratitude and thanklessness exhibited by unappreciative man towards the bounty awarded him by the compassionate Master of the world, but also the attitude displayed towards the Creator and His handiwork by the vandal which the Torah outlaws. The world is the concrete material expression which embodies the divine ideals as represented to us, and as such is deserving of our respect.

 

In conclusion, we must draw attention to the fact that if our analysis has so far been correct, then we must follow the Torah and ascribe certain value, above and beyond the monetary worth, to animal life. For the Torah did not concthe parasha with the issue of assault committed against a human being, but included in the same group cases of a human striking an animal, and drew a clear parallel between the two. In the same manner that it distinguishes between assault (23,19) and murder (23,21), it distinguishes between "makeh nefesh beheima" (23,18) and "makeh beheima" (23,21). Though the practical bottom line - compensation - is the same in both instances, they are considered separate cases due to the fact that the issue is not an exclusively monetary issue, since there is the fact that he has killed the NEFESH beheima. Any evil committed against God's handiwork reveals Man overstepping his boundary and challenging his God, be it a major or minor infraction.

 

It is this same arrogance and egocentrism of Man that the parasha of "chovel u-mazik" shares in common with megadef and it this which places this parasha squarely within the framework of Sefer Vayikra, since the issue that the Torah is dealing with in this context, as in all of Sefer Vayikra, is the manifestations of kedusha within the human world and our reactions to them. The megadef and the chovel, the ba'al hakorban and the kohen, are all a response to the divine challenge to invest our world with kedusha and are, therefore, coupled together in the same parasha.