SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, Omer 15 - May 7, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Parashat Emor begins with God instructing Moshe to convey to the kohanim the prohibition against coming in contact with a human corpse: “Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and say to them that one shall not become impure to a soul among his nation.”  This section continues with other restrictions imposed upon the kohanim, specifically, on the women they are permitted to marry.

            Noting the seemingly redundant expressions, “Speak to the kohanim” and “say to them,” the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 26:5) comments: “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!”  The repetitious formulation of “Emor…ve-amarta,” according to the Midrash, reflects the fact that human beings, unlike angels, often require multiple repetitions of a command before they are willing to comply – and even then, compliance is not guaranteed.  Whereas the angels immediately and instinctively react to every command they are given, obeying without any reluctance or hesitation, we human beings are insubordinate by nature, and experience a wide range of strong drives and impulses that need to be resisted in the process of observing the mitzvot.  And thus for the angels, a single command suffices to elicit the desired response and compliance, but for us, multiple commands are necessary as we struggle with ourselves and try to overcome our innate resistance to subservience.

            The question, though, arises, why is this message conveyed here, specifically in the context of the laws of the kohanim

            Rav Dovid of Kotzk (Emet Mi-Kotzk Titzmach, p. 297) explained that this message is especially poignant in the context of the kohanim, who served as the nation’s spiritual figures.  One might have assumed that while ordinary people require the double command of “emor” and “ve-amarta,” as we struggle with our drives and instincts, the kohanim, the sacred officiates in God’s Temple, resemble the angels, and respond immediately and without any reluctance to every command.  The Midrash comes to teach us that even the kohanim require “emor” and “ve-amarta,” that even those who have achieved spiritual greatness must struggle.  As human beings, we are unable to act upon our religious obligations with the instinctive compliance of the heavenly angels.  All of us, regardless of how much we grow and achieve, face the challenges placed before us by the yetzer ha-ra, and thus we will all feel reluctance even if we are sincerely committed to obey God’s commands. 

The struggle of “emor ve-amarta” is endemic to the human condition, and will always be an integral part of religious life.  And the Torah thus emphasizes specifically in the context of the special laws of the kohanim, the nation’s spiritual elite, that observance does not always come easily, and is often fraught with difficult obstacles and struggles.