Friday, May 02, 2014

in the palace of the King

The Midrash Tanchuma explains the prohibition of tumas kohanim with a mashal:

 אמרות ה' אמרות טהורות. דבר אחר, אמור אל הכהנים ואמרת אליהם, הרי אמירה שני פעמים. משל למה הדבר דומה, לטבח שהיה נכנס ויוצא לפני המלך. אמר המלך, גוזר אני עליך שלא תראה את המת כל ימיך, מפני שאתה נכנס ויוצא ורואה פני, שלא תטמא את פלטרין שלי. כך גזר הקדוש ברוך הוא על הכהנים הנכנסים לבית המקדש, שלא יטמאו למת. לפיכך הוא אומר, לנפש לא יטמא בעמיו:

The king’s executioner (I don’t think tabach here means butcher) had to constantly pass back in forth before the king.  After seeing this not-too-welcome sight too often, the king made a decree that the tabach should no longer come in contact with the dead and contaminate the palace.  So too, G-d decreed that the kohanim who enter the Beis haMikdash, his palace, should never come in contact with the dead.

The mashal of the Tanchuma does not seem to fit the facts.  The prohibition of a Kohen coming in contact with the dead applies even today, when we have no Beis haMikdash, even when the palace of the King is gone.  The Midrash Rabbah even comments that this mitzvah was given to Aharon for eternity as a special reward:

 יראת ה' טהורה עומדת לעד א"ר לוי מיראה שנתיירא אהרן מלפני הקדוש ברוך הוא זכה ונתנה לו הפרשה הזו שאינה זזה ממנו ולא מבניו ולא מבני בניו עד סוף כל הדורות ואיזו זו פרשת המת שנא' ויאמר ה' אל משה אמור אל הכהנים בני אהרן:
How then are we to understand the mashal of the Tanchuma? 

R’ Tzadok haKohen explains that the Midrash is teaching us that what was given to Aharon and his children as an eternal reward was not simply the prohibition of becoming tamei; what was given to Aharon and his children was the ability to always be in the palace of the King, no matter where or when one lives.  A palace of a human king may be a physical place with a moat and turrets, but G-d’s palace is a place of spiritual refuge that a person builds within himself.  Even when there is no longer a Beis haMidash, that palace continues to exist.

This also explains the double-use of the word “emor” in the opening of our parsha, “Emor el hakohanim… v’amarta aleihem.  The root a-m-r is soft speech, a whisper.  Tizal ka’tal imrasi” – G-d’s speech a-m-r is compared to dew.  When dew falls you don’t see darkening clouds or drops falling from the sky, but when you wake up early in the morning the grass and tress are covered with moisture.  There may no longer be visible walls of a Mikdash, but the relationship between G-d and the kohanim remains everpresent.    

1 comment:

  1. I always wondered about the issur to be metamei chulin in eretz yisrael and why the prushim were so makpid on tuma and the obligation to be metaheir yourself on a regel even bizmn hazeh. Makes sense.