Parashas Emor

This week’s parashah opens with the following charge from Hashem to Moshe (Vayikra 21:1): “Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and tell them: ‘Each of you must not contaminate himself for a [dead] person among his people.’” The Maggid points out that the phrase “tell them” is not expressed in the usual future form תאמר but instead is expressed as ואמרת, a past tense form with the Biblical conversive prefix vav changing the tense from past to future. Moreover, in expressing His charge, Hashem uses double language: “say” and “tell them.” The Midrash takes note of the double language and remarks (Vayikra Rabbah 26:5): “In heaven, where the evil inclination does not abide, saying something once is enough, …, but on earth, where the evil inclination abides, if only instructions would be upheld after telling them twice!”
The Maggid explains this Midrash and the use of the word ואמרת through an analogy to a doctor caring for a patient. Suppose the doctor instructs the patient, saying: “Don’t eat sharp foods like onion and garlic, because they will make you very sick.” If the patient believes the doctor and follows his instructions, then he will not get sick. He thus will have heeded the doctor in advance of being stricken with illness. But suppose the patient does not listen to what the doctor said, eats sharp foods, and then gets sick. In this case, the doctor’s initial instructions will have not have helped keep his patient healthy, for the patient foolishly disregarded them. Nonetheless, the doctor’s words will have had two positive effects. First, the patient will now believe what the doctor said, and he will understand why he got sick. Second, after this event, if on another occasion the doctor tells the patient what to do, the patient will be careful to follow what he says. Thus, in this scenario, the patient will not have believed the doctor at the outset, before the fact, as the doctor had intended, but he will have believed the doctor after the fact.
Similarly, while the evil inclination leads us not follow Hashem’s instructions at the outset, at least after misfortune strikes we should heed what Hashem told us. In this vein, Yeshayah declares (verses 42:22-24):
But they are a looted and hounded people, all of them trapped in holes, and hidden away in prisons; they have been looted and there is no rescuer – they have been plundered with none to say ‘Give it back.’ Who among you will pay heed to this, will hearken and hear in retrospect? Who gave Yaakov over to plunder and Yisrael to robbers? Is it not Hashem, against whom we sinned? They did not wish to follow His ways, and they did not listen to His instruction.
We can now understand the Midrash about telling twice. Hashem is saying to Moshe: “The first time you instruct the people, your purpose will be to give them advance warning not to do things that will cause them trouble, so that they may avoid the misfortune. If this initial injunction is not enough, then the misfortune will come and they will regret what they did. You should then instruct them us a second time. You will not need to speak about the matter at length; it will be enough for you remind them of what you told them before. If they do not listen to you the first time, at least may it be that they will listen the second time.”
And we can now also understand Hashem’s use of the word ואמרת. Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Mishlei 25:11): “Like golden apples in silver settings, so is a matter spoken of in the appropriate way.” The way a matter is expressed should be tailored to its nature. In our context, the nature of the second telling is to convert the past into the future: that in the future the people should listen when reminded of what they were told in the past. Accordingly, Hashem chose a phrasing that signals the past being converted into the future.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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