The Torah in Parashat Emor warns the kohanim against partaking of hallowed food – sacrifices or the teruma portions received from the rest of the nation – in a state of tum’a (impurity). After presenting the basic laws relevant to this prohibition, the Torah commands, “They shall protect My charge and not bear iniquity on its account…” (22:9). The simple meaning of this verse is that the kohanim are warned to protect “My charge” – the Mikdash and all its components, with which they have been entrusted – by preserving the sanctity and purity of everything associated with the Temple, including the hallowed food.
Rav Yisrael of Modzhitz, in Divrei Yisrael, offers an additional insight into this exhortation. The word “mishmarti” (“My charge”), he writes, could be understood as referring to that which God must protect. Meaning, God here commands the kohanim, His helpers and emissaries, to do their share to protect that which God Himself is responsible for protecting. And the famous verse in Tehillim (121:4) describes God as “shomer Yisrael” – “the guardian of Israel.” Thus, when God commands the kohanim to protect “mishmarti,” the Divrei Yisrael writes, He instructs them to protect His people, Am Yisrael. He then explains, “ve-lo yis’u alav cheit,” which the Divrei Yisrael understands to mean, “you shall not bring sin upon it” – that the kohanim must not look to find fault in the people. As the people’s religious figures, the kohanim should be modeling positivity, noticing all that is good and noble about the people, rather than viewing them harshly and critically. They are to “protect” Am Yisrael in the sense of protecting the nation’s honor and dignity, looking favorably upon their fellow Jews instead of finding reasons to criticize them.
The Torah here urges the kohanim to maintain rigorous standards of purity as part of their responsibilities as stewards of the Mikdash. Often, the more focused we are on growth and self-improvement, we also become less forgiving and more critical towards others. Our concentrated efforts to identify and address our own failings can easily lead us to scrutinize other people, as well. The Divrei Yisrael here teaches that as we strive for high spiritual standards, we should judge others more favorably, not less. Our process of self-scrutiny should make us less scrutinizing of the people around us. The more we think about ways we can improve, the less we should be thinking about ways other people need to improve. We ought to aspire to “protect” God’s “mishmeret” – His beloved nation, by recognizing our nation’s unique qualities and potential, instead of condemning our fellowmen for their failings. And we are to uplift our fellow Jews not through harsh criticism, but by improving ourselves so we become models for them to follow.