Messages on Leviticus

The priestly code; the rules pertaining to sacrifices, diet, and morality; and the Land of Israel and festivals are discussed.

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23) The Tide is High but I’m Holding On

If your last name is Cohen or Katz, chances are you are a decedent of Aaron, brother of Moses. Twenty years ago, Dr. Karl Skorecki, a nephrologist and researcher in molecular genetics at University of Toronto, conducted a study using a genetic marker to see if people who claimed to be Kohanim(Cohen; decedent of Aaron) are descended from the same person. His results became public and quoted in science journals at the time. About 98 percent of the subjects-people from Ashkenazic and Sephardic backgrounds-were genetically proven to have been descended from the same person. This priestly tribe has taken pride in its lineage; they alone were permitted to conduct the service in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. As such, they have certain restrictions placed on them in order to retain and maintain a certain level of purity. One of these restrictions is that they are not permitted to come in contact with a dead body, unless it is immediate family. The Parsha begins with this decree, but it’s done in a peculiar way.
And G-d said to Moses, Say to the Kohanim [priests], the sons of Aaron, and say to them: no one may contaminate himself to a dead person…(21:1)
Moses was told, “say to the Kohanim” and then “say to them.” Why the redundancy (why the second “say”)? The Talmud comments that although elder Kohanim (Cohens) are forbidden to contaminate themselves with a dead body, it doesn’t stop there; they must also ensure that the younger Kohanim do not defile themselves. The same way parents instruct their children to stay away from harmful things, so too the Kohanim are told to instruct their children to stay away from corpses and anything that might contaminate them.
If we asked parents, ‘who educates your child,’ they would most likely answer that they as well as the children’s teachers educate their children. But there is another, often overlooked, educator. Every child is influenced by two major factors, (1) adults (parents and teachers), and (2) the “street,” the outside environment-friends, acquaintances, peers, social media and the media in general. Sensible parents raise their children in a community that is in sync with their value system. Whatever values they instill at home will be consistent to what they hear in school. In addition, parents will be careful to monitor their child’s friends. If a friend is violent, speaks with chutzpah, steals, or shows signs of other significant character defects, the parents will not allow that friendship to continue. Such parents will not have to say the same things over and over again, because the outside environment will support their value system and code of conduct.
We don’t live in a vacuum. The most valiant and well-intended efforts to give our children a good education- one that consists of studying science, math, language, and literature, should also realize that acquiring fine character traits and a refined personality, as well as pride and a commitment to being Jewish and supporting Israel, can be completely undermined if the child is not surrounded by peers who share the same viewpoint. You might assume that because your son or daughter has attended your Passover Seder since childhood, that it’s a no-brainer that it will always be the case. But what happens if (s)he goes to a school where most the students go out and party on the night of the Seder because they don’t have the same Jewish values as your child does? Another example, one we’ve seen too often, is when a child who was reared in a home committed to Israel comes home after a semester or two in college, and calls Israel an apartheid state run by racists, who stole land from an indigenous population and cast them off to be refugees forever. We teach our children the importance of so many things dear to us, values that our own education and life experience has shown us are real and genuine. Therefore, we should be careful to send them to places and institutions where those values are highly regarded.
This is not to say that one who grows up in a flawed environment is sure to veer from the path set forth in his or her home, nor does it mean that one in a good school and social environment is guaranteed that to follow in the right path. There are no assurances, but the odds are obviously more in your favor if your child’s friends and environment support your own value system than one foreign to it. One would be naïve to ignore this.
Thousands of years ago, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, it must have been a challenge to raise a young Kohen to be careful with regard to bodily purity; it was a daily concern. The laws regulating it are complex and at home, the young Kohen would be taught to exercise caution when getting close to a cemetery or even touching foods or other behaviors that are permitted for all other (non-Kohen) Jews. The challenge was their non-Kohen friends and the other kids they met at the playground, who had no regard for these laws because they weren’t applicable to them. Imagine how difficult it must have been to train the Kohen children not to contaminate themselves, “But Dad, all the other kids don’t have to worry about this stuff, why do I have to?” The adult Kohanim had no choice but to stress over and over again to their children not to become impure, because they couldn’t rely on any help from the outside environment. And this is why the caution regarding the contamination of the Kohanim’s children was stated as “say and say to them.”
If parents want to raise children to be concerned committed Jews to their community and Israel, they need to place them in the right environment. Jewish youth groups, Jewish summer camps, and Jewish education (i.e. after Bar/Bat Mitzvah) are important steps to take, but what if one isn’t in the ideal situation? How do you do to counteract the natural tendency of a child to be influenced by his or her peers? You warn them again and again and again – until you’re absolutely sure they understand your message loud-and- clear. If there are kids in 6th grade smoking cigarettes, parents need to give a clear message and state it over and over. “Megan, don’t ever let me ever catch you with a cigarette; there will be consequences if you do.” “In this house, we don’t smoke; smoking is dangerous.” Whatever your message is, it needs to be stated time and time again and that is why, specifically with regard to the Kohanim, the Torah uses repetitiousness in order to teach its warning regarding the youth. When going against the tide, you have to regularly review the message. When the tide is high, you need to give them something to hold on to.
(Source: Rashi, Vayikra 21:1; Oznayim l’Torah)

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Interested in a one-on-one study? Got a Jewish question you want answered? Is there a specific topic you would like to hear more about? Please contact info@charlottetorahcenter.com and we will make that happen.
Good Shabbos

 

Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Metzora: (Leviticus 14-15)-Shabbos HaGadol Who Are Your Friends?

There’s a unique spiritual illness mentioned in last week’s Parsha as well as this week’s. It has physical manifestations similar to leprosy. Back in Biblical times, a person got it when speaking senseless gossip or unconstructive derogatory speech about another person-even if it was true. The Torah requires a person stricken by it to dwell outside of the Jewish camp; the stones of his house are scraped away and disposed of outside the city.
Why does the house need to be destroyed; it it is an inanimate object, what did it do wrong?
In Jewish consciousness there’s an idea that a person’s actions have influence upon his or her surroundings.  If a person is honest, kind, trustworthy, and other positive traits, his or her environs are uplifted, but if (s)he deceives people, causes rifts in friendships, or does other negative things, those surroundings are negatively affected.  This idea has another aspect too. People are influenced by their environments. Noah’s generation became so wicked that they corrupted the entire world, leaving G-d with no choice but to destroy it and begin again anew.
In the case of the house, its owner so grossly misused his power of speech that it permeated the very walls and foundation of the home, rendering it impure to its core.  It is, so to speak, as if the house has become transformed into a place with the potential to corrupt even pure and innocent people who enter its doors.  As a result, just as in the times of Noah, there is no choice but to seal it off to prevent any further damage from occurring.
Each of us is responsible for making sure we place ourselves in a good environment and that we also continuously work to maintain it. Maimonides (1135-1204) actually codifies this idea in his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah:
It is the inherent nature of a person (lit., ‘it is the way of a person’s creation’) to be drawn, both in one’s attitudes and deeds, after his or her friends and associates, and to act in the manner of the inhabitants of their country. Therefore, a person is obligated to befriend the righteous and to constantly be in the presence of the wise in order that he learn from their acts. One should [likewise] distance oneself from the wicked who go in darkness in order that (s)he not learn from their ways. As Solomon stated, ‘[One who] walks with the wise will become wise, and one who befriends fools will suffer harm’ (Proverbs 13:20). It also states, ‘Fortunate is the person who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked, [and in the way of sins (s)he did not stand, and in the sessions of the scorners (s)he did not sit]’ (Psalms 1:1).
One of the verses (used above that) Rambam uses to buttress his point is from Proverbs. “One who walks with the wise will become wise, and one who befriends fools will suffer harm.” When speaking about connecting to wise people, the verb used is “walks,” because one must be humble around one from whom (s)he can learn and walk with or even behind them. However, when it comes to fools, the verb used is “befriends,” because one can immediately be the equal and friend of a fool, whereas befriending a wise person is a privilege and must be earned. Wisdom is hard to attain but it’s easy to become a fool.
The Midrash uses the metaphor of a perfumery. One who associates with wise people is like one who enters a perfumery. Even if (s)he doesn’t buy anything, a pleasant scent will cling to their clothes when they go outside. So, too, one who hangs around wise people will hear valuable insights that might change his or her life. Even if you can’t participate in the conversation, the mere associating with wise people will make you a wiser person. Not everyone can be wise but all of us can stand to be wiser than we are now.
Where do you get your wisdom? We spend time doing recreational activities such as watching sports, listening to music, working out, hiking, and other enjoyable pastimes. They help us relax and jump off the treadmill of life but is it a source of wisdom for us? Most people understand the importance of taking time off to relax but few understand the need to take time out to get wise and find answers to questions like, “what truly beings happiness to my life?” “Am I able to put aside the smaller pleasure for a bigger pleasure?” “Have I identified wise people in my life? How often do I associate with them?” “How have I changed for the good in the last ten years?”
These are important questions to ask ourselves. In addition, we need to become friendly with people who ask similar questions. We all have potential but it is those rare few who actualize it. The best way to do so is to be wise and surround yourself with wise people.
Good Shabbos
(Sources: Beis HaLevi; Rambam De’ot 6:1; Yalkut Shimoni quoted in Artscroll Tanach Series Mishlei v. 1 p. 240)

Our Standing Offer 
 
Interested in a one-on-one study? Got a Jewish question you want answered? Is there a specific topic you would like to hear more about? Please contact info@charlottetorahcenter.com and we will make that happen.
Good Shabbos

 

Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Shmini (Leviticus 9-11) A Birdseye View

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Shmini (Leviticus 9-11) When enumerating the non-kosher birds, the Torah mentions a bird called da’ah. The Talmud points out that, later on (Deuteronomy 14:12), when the Torah repeats the list of kosher birds, it refers to it as a ra’ah. The Talmud takes note of the Etymological significance of “ra’ah” because […]

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27) The Life You Save May be Your Own

If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter with you, you will support him…(25:35) The Midrash uses a verse from Psalms (41:2) to explain the above verse: Praiseworthy is one who contemplates the needy…But shouldn’t the verse read, Praiseworthy is one who gives to the needy? The Midrash answers its own question by saying that you should look at […]

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5)

Margin When looking at a Torah scroll, there are many components that make it distinct from other ancient texts. One of the most obvious of which are the spaces found before and after paragraphs. Being as a Torah scroll is written without vowels or Cantillation marks (the special indicators of the accent and tune), it […]

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Emor Learn to Live!

For a seven day period you shall live in Sukkot (“booths”). Every resident among the Jews shall live in Sukkot. (Leviticus 23:42) The Torah instructs us to live in a Sukkah for seven days. We eat, sleep, and relax there as we would in our own homes. It isn’t difficult for most people to build […]

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Kedoshim (Leviticus 19-20)

An urban legend claims that someone with a tattoo cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. I don’t know the source of this incorrect myth but Jewish mothers for decades have successfully used it to prevent their teenage sons/daughter’s from getting tattoos. Even though it won’t disqualify a corpse from burial in the Jewish cemetery, […]

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha:Metzora (Leviticus 14-15)

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha:Metzora (Leviticus 14-15) Critical Conversations Part II: The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself Before Speaking This week’s Parsha continues discussing the harmful effects of lashon hara, senseless negative speech. Many people don’t take speech seriously; they freely speak about others without regard for their feelings or the potential damage it can […]