Parashas Emor

Parashas Emor begins with the law that a Kohen may not come near a human corpse except for that of one of his close relatives. The parashah begins with Hashem telling Moshe to convey these laws to Aharon and his sons. The Midrash expounds (Vayikra Rabbah 26:6):
Thus it is written (Tehillim 19:10): “Fear of Hashem is pure, enduring forever.” Said R. Levi: “On account of the fear that Aharon had of the Holy One Blessed Be He, he gained the merit of being granted a certain section of Torah, which will remain unbudging with him, and his sons, and his sons’ sons, throughout all generations. And what section is it? The section prohibiting a Kohen from coming near a human corpse.”
Now, there are a number of other sections of Torah addressed to Aharon, such as the sections dealing with terumos (specific gifts to the Kohen from agricultural produce), tithes, first fruits, the section granting to Kohanim the breast and right thigh of every shelamim (peace) offering, and so on. Why, then, the Maggid asks, does the Midrash single out the section about avoiding corpses as a section that was specifically granted to Aharon and his descendants on account of his fear of Hashem?
The Maggid’s answer involves an analysis of the concept of “fear of Hashem.” Consider the following verse (Hoshea 6:4): “O Efraim, what can I do for you? O Yehudah, what can I do for you? For your devotion is like a morning cloud, and like the dew that goes away in the early morning.” The meaning of the first simile in this verse is clear: The morning cloud represents something that does not endure. The meaning of the second simile, however, is obscure. The fact that dew goes away in the early morning is seemingly not a flaw, for the natural function of dew is to come down in the evening and provide moisture to the ground through the night, and when morning comes the function of dew ends.
The Maggid explains the simile in terms of the two basic types of fear of Hashem. One type is fear of Hashem’s power to punish; the second type is awe of Hashem because He is the source and master of all things. The first type is a fledgling form of fear, while the second type is fear of Hashem in the true sense. Now, fear of Hashem’s power to punish operates mainly when a person is suffering; his afflictions sharply remind him that his fate is in Hashem’s hands. But in times of good, a person becomes complacent and his fear of Hashem fades. We can now understand the simile about the dew. Dew comes at night and disappears in the morning. Similarly, when person’s fear of Hashem is based solely on fear of punishment, his fear is present only in dark times, but when Hashem causes to sun to shine on him, so to speak, and grants him success, his fear vanishes. This idea is hinted at in Tehillim 34:10. In its literal meaning, the verse states: “Fear Hashem, O His holy ones, for those who fear him suffer no lack.” But we can interpret the verse as telling us to fear Hashem in the true sense, so that even when suffer no lack our fear does not diminish. In summary, a person’s fear of Hashem’s power of punishment depends on whether he is suffering or is at ease and successful, and therefore comes and goes with changes in circumstances, whereas fear of Hashem in the sense of awe is independent of circumstances, and therefore stands firm at all times.
Let us now recall the verse from Tehillim that the Midrash quotes: “Fear of Hashem is pure, enduring forever.” We can read the verse alternatively as follows: “Pure fear of Hashem endures forever.” [In the Hebrew, this reading fits very well with the verse.] Read in this way, the verse is stating the principle we just presented: Fear of Hashem that is based purely on awe, without any admixture of personal concerns, endures continually and permanently. We can link our discussion to a Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni, Torah, 855 (cf. Berachos 33b): “The Holy One Blessed Be He has nothing for Himself in His world except for a storehouse of fear of heaven alone.” On the surface, the word “alone” here seems superfluous. But in light of what we have explained, the import of the word is clear: The Midrash is telling us that what Hashem values for Himself in this world is fear of Him that is alone, free of personal considerations.
The Gemara in Berachos 5a presents three steps a person can take when his evil inclination rises up against him. The first step is to involve himself in Torah study. If this doesn’t work, he should recite the Shema. If this doesn’t work, he should call to mind the day of death, as it is written in Koheles 7:2: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for this is the end of all men, and the living person should take it to heart.” Recalling the day of death is a powerful tactic. But when a person must resort to this tactic, being unable to save himself from his evil inclination through Torah and mitzvos, this inability shows that the person is at a low spiritual level. We can see this notion brought out in a story in Berachos 31a. At the wedding of Mar the son of Ravina, the Rabbis asked R. Hamnuna Zuti: “Please sing us something.” R. Hamnuna replied: “Woe to us that we will die! Woe to us that we will die!” The Rabbis asked: “What should we respond after you?” R. Hamnuna said: “Where is the Torah and where is the mitzvah that will shield us?” R. Hamnuna wanted to arouse the celebrants’ fear of Hashem, and to do so he went to the maximum extreme, recalling the day of death. And the meaning of the response that he told the celebrants to recite is as follows: “We wish we were strong enough to conquer the evil inclination through Torah and the mitzvah of reciting the Shema, rather than having to recall the day of death.”
In the beginning parashas Emor, the Torah commands Aharon and his descendants not to involve themselves with the dead. Now, we might be puzzled by this command, since recalling death is an important tool for arousing fear of Hashem. The Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah is meant to explain why the command would not hamper the Kohanim in maintaining a high spiritual level. The Midrash says that Aharon was given this mitzvah in the merit of his fear of Hashem, quoting Tehillim 19:10, which, as we explained, indicates that fear of Hashem in the pure sense endures forever. The Midrash is saying that the Kohanim do not need the tool of recalling death, for their fear of Hashem is pure and therefore everlasting.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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