In our last two editions of “S.A.L.T.,” we discussed the comment of the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 26:5) made in reference to the opening verse of Parashat Emor. Noting that God instructs Moshe twice to convey to the kohanim their special laws, the Midrash writes, “The beings in the upper world, in whom the evil inclination is not found – a single statement suffices for them… But the beings in the lower world, who have an evil inclination – if only two statements would suffice!”
One possible explanation of the Midrash’s comment is that it refers to the concept of repentance. Unlike angels, who are flawless and never err, we are prone to failure. And thus whereas angels require just a single command, we frequently need two – the original command, and then a second after we fail to comply with the first. The second “statement” mentioned by the Midrash perhaps alludes to the command we must hear even after failure, after we disobey. The Midrash is telling us that although we often make mistakes and fail, the commands remain relevant and binding even then. If we fail to obey the first time, the command is issued a second time. And if we still fail, then the command is heard a third time. And so on. It is understood that we are not angels, and thus from outset, the commands are given multiple times – indicating to us that we can and must rebound from failure rather than assume that God no longer desires our mitzvot once we have fallen.
If so, then we can perhaps also explain why this notion of “two statements” is presented specifically here, in the context of the special laws of the kohanim. Spiritual leaders, perhaps more than others, must be reminded that perfection is not necessary for success. Even if a kohen fails the first time, he still retains his priestly status and is given an opportunity to improve. This message is important not only for the kohanim themselves, but also for the rest of the nation, who must remember not to expect flawless perfection from their religious leaders. While angels are perfect, human beings – even the greatest among them – aren’t. And thus even the special commands to the kohanim are issued with “two statements,” reminding us all that the proper response to failure is recovery, not despair, and that this is true of all people, including those from whom we rightfully expect and demand especially high standards of piety.