Haftarah Parshat Emor
April 27, 2013
32 Iyyar 5773
It is well known that Ezekiel’s regulations for the functioning of the Temple and those governing the behavior of the Kohanim (priests) were stricter than those found in the Torah. For instance, the Torah legislates that contact with the inner precincts of the Temple transfers the status of “holy”. This legislation was intended to protect the sacred precinct from desecration. (See for instance Leviticus 29:37) Ezekiel extended this ruling to the special priestly garments as well: “When they (the Kohanim) go out to the outer court – the outer court where the people are – they shall remove the vestments in which they minister and shall deposit them in the sacred chambers; they shall put on other garments, lest they make the people consecrated by [contact with] the vestments.” (Ezekiel 44:19) (See R. Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra L’Yisrael, pp. 862-3)
Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the ‘Netziv’ – 19th century Lithuania), the famous Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva, interpreted the reason for this legislation differently. I will quote him extensively so that you get the flavor of his reasoning: “The meaning of ‘put on other clothing’ cannot refer to ‘regular clothing’, since it is obvious that he cannot go around naked. And also, what is meant by ‘lest they make the people consecrated’ since it cannot refer to wearing vestments outside the sacred precincts because that is already forbidden? Rather this is how it should be interpreted: ‘put on other clothing’ – you should not wear your regular clothing as if they were vestments, rather when wearing your regular clothes, you should wear them as if you were one of the people. Why? – ‘Lest they make the people consecrated by [contact with] the vestments’ – if Kohanim walk around as if they are wearing vestments, they will cause the people to flee from them, as if they were in the middle of Temple service. This would be improper since this sense of holiness is reserved exclusively for God and not for the self-glorification of individual priests.” (Peirush Ha’amek Dvar – Harhev Hadavar on Leviticus 23:6)
The Netziv is not worried about people being “contaminated” by holiness. His concern is that the clergy might develop for themselves a false sense of status and holiness which will cause people to flee from them and, as a result, from Judaism as well. He urges them and, for that matter, all Jewish leaders to remember that they, too, are just people. If they do, then they will have maximal influence in bringing people around to the One who is truly holy – God.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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