by R' Yerachmiel Kram
"She is Defiling Her Father"
"And the daughter of any Cohen, if she profane herself . . .
she profanes her father; she shall be burnt with fire"
The More Severe Punishment of a Bas Kohen
The punishment of the daughter of a Kohen who defiled
herself is more stringent than that of a bas Yisroel:
a married bas Yisroel who committed adultery is
punished with chenek (strangulation), that of a
kohen's daughter who sinned likewise is harsher by two
levels in that she is burned. Chenek is the lightest
of the four death sentences executed by beis din,
while burning is the second most severe.
Why was the Torah so exacting with the punishment of a bas
kohen, devoting a special chapter to her?
The reason for it is the same reason that separate portions
in the Torah are devoted to the kohanim themselves,
and the laws that pertain to them and their obligations.
Precisely because this woman came from such a special home,
more is expected of her, and a sin committed by her is
considered more grievous. She should have been above other
girls without this background.
There is nothing new in this, for the Torah even explicitly
states the special relationship and status given to a bas
kohen: "She is defiling her father." From this verse,
however, we might think that only a debasement of the
priestly status is involved. This debasement is truly bad
enough, but the sin involves another aspect.
The Alter of Kelm places this in a different light by noting
that since she was raised in the holy atmosphere of a
kohen's home, she should have had higher aspirations,
a more highly developed scale of values; she should have been
more exalted and noble.
She should also have been more distanced from sin than her
non-priestly peers. Therefore, her punishment is harsher.
Kohanim are More Zerizim, More Learned and More
The kohanim were unique. From the time that they
rallied to Moshe Rabbenu's cry of, "Mi laShem eilai --
Whoever is for Hashem, gather unto me!" and down to the
generation of the Maccabees, without whose self-sacrifice
Torah would have been altogether forgotten, the
kohanim have been the tribe that teaches Torah to the
people and by whose guiding light all of Israel follows. "For
the lips of the kohen guard wisdom, and Torah shall
they seek from his mouth, for he is an angel of the L-rd of
Hosts" (Malachi 2:7).
This is what the Radak explains:
"For it is fitting for every kohen's lips to guard the
wisdom of the mitzvos and the statutes in order to teach them
to Israel, as it is written, `And to teach Bnei Yisroel all
of the statutes that Hashem spoke to Moshe' (Vayikra
10:11). And it is also said: `They shall teach Your
ordinances to Yaakov and Your teachings to Yisroel'
(Devorim 33:10). Therefore shall Israel seek Torah
from his mouth."
Just as the nation of Israel is exalted above all others, so
is the tribe of Levi separated from the mass of Jewry, with
the kohanim placed at its very center. They are
designated and consecrated beyond the bulk of the people.
This tribe preserved its uniqueness in Egypt, did not sin
with the Golden Calf, and this tribe has been appointed the
general halachic authority of the people. This holds true for
the entire tribe of Levi and not only the inner circle of
kohanim, but the latter are more sanctified and
separate than the rest of the tribe.
In several places in the gemora, we find
kohanim mentioned as alert, energetic and speedy
(zerizim). This does not refer to athletic prowess
such as is connected to the Greek culture of sport, by any
means. What, then, does this trait of zerizus
In maseches Shabbos we learn that if someone wishes to
light a fire before Shabbos [to utilize its heat], he must
ascertain that most of the wood is already ignited before
sunset. Chazal were concerned that if the bonfire was not
burning satisfactorily during the day, those who sat by it
might come to stoke it or rearrange the wood after sunset and
thus violate the Shabbos mide'Orayso.
Nevertheless, in the Beis Moked in the Beis
Hamikdosh, kohanim could sit by the bonfire there and
benefit from its heat and light on Shabbos even if most of
the wood had not been ignited by dusk. Here, too, the
gemora attributes a special attitude accorded to
kohanim: "Kohanim are zerizim" (Shabbos
20a). Rashi comments, "For all of them were bnei Torah
and G-d-fearing and would remember not to adjust the fire
after dusk." The meaning of this energetic awareness is their
strong measure of Torah knowledge and piety which went beyond
the norm of these attributes.
Increased Training Obligates More
The training and upbringing that every son and daughter
growing up in the home of kohanim received was
superior. These were not merely aristocratic families that
preserved a status of nobility but families that breathed a
different atmosphere. Its members were expected to show
greater caution in the eating of kodshim, eating of
terumoh and in their entering the Mikdosh. All of
these required such special care and awareness, that it
became an integral part of their entire lives.
The punishment of a bas kohen is much more severe than
that of a regular Jewish daughter, precisely because of that
special atmosphere in which she grew up. A more intense
upbringing creates different vistas, parameters and norms of
One readily understands that a yeshiva student who is, G-d
forbid, caught eating on Yom Kippur is not judged on a par
with one who grew up in a home far removed from yiras
Shomayim and is caught in the selfsame transgression. The
stature and status of the sinner affects the severity of his
The Covenant in the Tochochoh
In the portion of the tochocho, the Torah's prophetic
rebuke-and-punishment found at the end of Vayikra, we
read the following words, "And I, too, shall walk in
keri and bring them into the land of their enemies;
then only will their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and
then they will make amends for their sin. Then will I
remember My covenant with Yaakov and also My covenant with
Yitzchok and also My covenant with Avrohom will I remember.
And I will remember the Land. The Land also shall be forsaken
by them, and they shall enjoy her Sabbaths while she lies
desolate without them; and they shall make amends for their
iniquity, because, they despised My judgments and because
their soul abhorred My statutes" (Vayikra 26:41-
These quoted verses are unusual. Does not the mention of the
merit of forefathers usually encourage and comfort? Is this
the place to state those words, in the very midst of a
portion of curses which express Divine wrath and
The Sheloh Hakodosh comments that these very words comprise
an inseparable part of the body of the tochocho. The
severity of the sin committed by a well-bred person is far
greater than that of one who had a very lax upbringing. The
mention of the covenant of the Ovos in the very heart
of the Rebuke indicates that it is also a part of the rebuke.
It is an explanation of the stringency of the harsh
punishments which will be visited upon our people if they are
not wise enough to guard the ways of the Torah and walk in
the paths of Hashem. Precisely because we derive from such a
holy lineage is there a harsh retribution; much more is
demanded than of other nations who do not hail from such
The Torah tells us further: "And I shall remember the Land."
I will also remember, says Hashem, the fact that they sinned
in the very palace of the King, a place whose very air
promotes wisdom. Not in vain did Moshe Rabbenu beseech Hashem
to enter Eretz Yisroel, and not for naught did the Gaon of
Vilna leave behind his wealth of precious seforim and
head for Eretz Yisroel. This Land incorporates a special
spiritual propensity, and dwelling in it enables a person to
attain most exalted spiritual levels.
This is why the punishment of Jewry was so accentuated.
Israel stems from excellent lineage and grew up in a rarefied
environment. The verses of the tochocho remind us of
that special spiritual atmosphere which Bnei Yisroel enjoyed
by virtue of their Patriarchs and their Land.
The Maggid of Dubnow illustrated this explanation with an apt
parable that also explains the order of the Patriarchs as
mentioned here. This can be compared to a trial of two
thieves who were caught and brought before the judge. The
first accused was asked his name, address and other personal
identifying facts. As soon as the first offender mentioned
his name, the judge noted that his father was a notorious
criminal who had served a long sentence in a local prison.
The court related to him as a criminal, and the son of a
The second defendant said that his father was a noted rabbi.
The judge passed sentence for both thieves but the punishment
of the second was far greater than that of the first. "Why is
this?" complained the second man. "Our crimes were identical.
Why should my punishment be so much harsher?"
"You dare to ask?" thundered the judge. "What can one expect
from the first man who comes from a family of thieves? He
never knew any better and even deserves special leniency
because of his lax upbringing. But you come from a fine
family, an excellent environment. If you stooped so low as to
steal, your crime is so much greater!"
At this point, a second, older judge spoke up and said, "Why,
I even knew this man's grandfather, who was also an
outstanding person, a symbol of honesty and integrity."
From the spectators in the courtroom rose another voice. An
old man called out, "And I even knew his great-grandfather
who was also a man of fine character and stature."
"In that case," said the judge, adjusting the sentence he had
just written, "in the light of the fact that not only your
father was a fine citizen but you are the product of
righteous, saintly stock, your crime is all the worse and you
deserve a most severe punishment!"
This, explains the Sheloh Hakodosh, is why the order of the
Ovos is reversed, beginning with Yaakov, then Yitzchok and
finally, Avrohom. The Jewish people, sitting on the bench of
the accused in the courtroom of the Master of the World, is
rebuked for not having followed the example of a righteous
father who was the son of a similarly righteous father, who
was the son of another righteous father.
The punishment of such a sinner must be all the harsher!
Abusing the Sanctified Status of the Priesthood
Nevertheless, the text must still be explained according to
its simple meaning. In the letter he wrote to his son, the
Alter of Kelm adds that aside from the exacting demand
imposed on a bas kohen because of the ennobled
environment in which she grew up, this young girl is still
expected to be answerable for having desecrated the Crown of
Priesthood: "She is defiling her father." Her conduct brings
ignominy upon the sanctified stature which her father bears.
"She has violated and abused his honor, for people will say
of him: Cursed is the one who fathered such a one; cursed be
the one who reared her" (Rashi).
We learn from here that there is no comparison between a
layman who commits a sin and a more respected person who
commits the identical transgression, not only because of the
environment in which he was raised but also because of the
actual disgrace of sacred values which were the basis of the
honor granted him. The daughter of a kohen who sinned
is abusing the priesthood which is regarded by her nation as
the highest degree of holiness attainable by mankind
(excepting that of the Kohen Godol himself, which is
all the more sanctified).
We shall attempt to expand on this concept with a vivid
example from real life. We resort again to the two thieves
who were caught in their crime and arraigned before a judge.
This time, however, both the thieves came from prestigious
families. The judge sentenced one to six months imprisonment
and the other, to eight months in jail.
The judge explained: "The first one stole as a simple
citizen, while the second, his collaborator, was wearing his
army uniform, which damaged the image of the army. For
abusing the military, which is a highly revered national
institution, he deserves additional punishment."
The bas kohen who committed adultery is blamed for her
sin -- which is severe to begin with -- but even worse is the
fact of her high status and what it represents. She is
wearing the priestly uniform, so to speak, and through her
sin, she besmirched one of the most sanctified institutions
of the Jewish people.
The Image of Yaakov in the Window
It is in the power of a prestigious father and grandfather,
by virtue of their honorable status, to intensify the
punishment of an offspring who sinned. But it is in their
power, as well, to prevent a downfall, as occurred with
Yosef: "The image of his father appeared to [Yosef] in the
window" (Sotah 36b).
The Midrash tells that Yosef was on the verge of
succumbing to sin with Potiphar's wife. What prevented him in
the end was the vision of his father which suddenly appeared
to him in the window.
Why, then, do we consider the merit of Yosef Hatzaddik to be
so great? It was his father who prevented him from committing
It seems, however, that he himself brought up the image of
his saintly father. The form of the third pillar of the
Celestial Chariot, the third foot of the Divine Throne, rose
up before his mind's eye. Yosef contemplated on whom he came
from, who his father was, and where he had been raised. And
then, as a result of his introspection, the image of his
father rose up before him and he withdrew from the sin.
In the reproof against them, Bnei Yisroel are told
that they foolishly failed to follow in the ways of their
ancestor, Yaakov. Yosef, however, did know how to utilize the
example and to recall the image of his father in order to
arrest his evil inclination.
A great father is not only a factor in bringing about a
punishment; a great father can also serve as a powerful
deterrent that brakes and breaks a strong desire.
This is if one succeeds in being like Yosef. But not everyone
is capable of doing so. We find in the beginning of
Melochim, regarding Adoniyohu ben Chagis, "But his
father never reined him in, saying: Why did you do such a
thing?" (I 1:6). In Ma'ayono Shel Torah, R' Alexander
Zusha Friedman Hy'd mentions that he heard it said in
the name of the Gaon of Vilna: `But his father never reined
him in' -- the fact that he had a great father like Dovid
Hamelech never stood in Adoniyohu's way and never brought him
to `say' to himself: 'Why did you do this?' It never
constituted a deterrent to his evil ways.
Adoniyohu found himself in a situation similar to Yosef
Hatzaddik, that is, beset by his evil desire. But he did not
react the same way and therefore, he forfeited any claim to
The Exalted Conceptions of a Ben Yeshiva
Whatever applies to the Crown of Priesthood also applies to
the Crown of Torah. If a bas kohen is accountable for
the higher class education she received, then a ben
Torah is also accountable for his yeshiva background and
upbringing and for the higher scale of values which he should
We can thus understand the conduct of R' Eliezer Hagodol, of
whom it is told: "It is told of R' Eliezer who was sitting
and teaching the laws of yom tov all day long. When
the first group left, he announced: They are like large
barrels, concerned only with eating. After the second group
left, he declared: These are like smaller barrels. After the
third group left, he said: These resemble pitchers. After the
fourth: They are owners of smaller vessels. Following the
fifth -- these are owners of cups. As the sixth group was
leaving, he said: These are cursed (Beitza 15a)."
His reaction is somewhat puzzling. Can it be that the sixth
group, which persevered longer than the others, should be
thus castigated so thunderously?
Rashi explains that "the beis midrash kept on emptying
out, and this was disgraceful in his eyes." This depletion
was most pronounced when the sixth group left. But there is
another explanation proffered in Yeshivas Novardok-Pinsk by
one of the maggidei shiur, HaRav Yaakov Yisroel
Kanievsky zt'l, later known as the Steipler Rov:
The first five groups showed themselves to be attracted to
the pleasures of this world and unable to toil to any great
extent in Torah. They did not absorb the sweet taste of Torah
study. The sixth group was fortunate enough to imbibe of the
toil of Torah when, suddenly, they succumbed to their evil
inclination and left the beis midrash to eat. By
virtue of their extended stay, they proved themselves to be a
few notches higher and consequently, more was expected of
The Steipler used to conclude that one must learn from this
story the greater demands there are on a Torah scholar. The
more years he has already invested in study, the stricter is
the measure of justice exacted upon him and the more he is
taken to task when he decides to close his holy books and
leave the beis midrash (Pninei Rabbenu Kehillos
Chillul Hashem by a Great Man is Even in Permissible
As we compare a ben Torah to a bas kohen from
the aspect of the superior education they both received, they
are also similar in the second point which we indicated, the
degrading of one's stature.
As the bas kohen is warned not to defame and violate
the Crown of Priesthood which her father wears, the ben
yeshiva is also warned, no less, against debasing the
Crown of Torah which he bears upon his head. His obligation
is great, for with a small discrepancy he is liable to cause
chillul Torah which is tantamount to chillul
"What is chillul Hashem? If a person who has studied
and acquired Torah knowledge and who has attended Torah
scholars does not deal honestly in financial matters, nor
speaks amiably with his fellow man, what will others say of
him? Woe unto so-and-so who studied Torah. Alas for his
father who taught him Torah. Woe unto the teacher who
instructed him. Look how disgraceful his deeds and how ugly
his ways. Of such a person does the Torah say, `This, then,
is the nation of Hashem which was exiled?' (Yuma
The Chofetz Chaim always made it a point to defer in his
speech to a Torah scholar. He used to say that these are like
high-ranking army officers whose position warrants very
proper conduct. For the same reason, he would admonish a
yeshiva student who shaved off his beard even in the
permissible way when the average person might be liable to
think that he shaved it with a razor, which would cause great
This is what the Saba Kadisha of Radin writes in the foreword
to his famous work, Chofetz Chaim:
"This is the wording of the Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvos:
`A person of stature, well known for his blessed activity,
should not indulge in an activity that might be misconstrued
by the public as a sin. A distinguished person should not do
anything that resembles such an act even if it be
permissible, for this is desecrating Hashem's Name. The
gemora in Yoma in the chapter on Yom Kippur
asks: What is considered chillul Hashem? If he asks
the butcher to weigh him a piece of meat and does not pay for
it on the spot.
"And all have written -- the Smag and the Chinuch and the
Yereim -- that when something is permitted by the Torah but
appears to the general public to be forbidden, then one who
commits that act has actually transgressed a lav
mide'Orayso of, `You shall not desecrate My holy Name.'
This sin cannot be atoned for by repentance, nor can
suffering cleanse it, nor even Yom Kippur atone for it. All
of these are necessary, but death is the final cleansing
penance. For when a distinguished person transgresses [a
commandment of] the Torah, the holy Name of Hashem, as well
as His Torah, become profaned by the masses' " (Introduction
about Lavin to Be'er Mayim Chaim 6).
This is how our great figures tested the purity of their
"Hashem Desired to Purify Israel, Therefore Did He
Increase for Them Torah and Mitzvos"
We now are able to understand the words of the Rambam in his
commentary to the mishna. Famous words of Chazal are
quoted at the end of a halocho shiur: "R' Chananya ben
Akashya says: Hashem sought to bring merit to Israel,
therefore did he increase for them Torah and mitzvos, as it
is written: `Hashem desires for the sake of His
righteousness; therefore did He increase Torah to augment
it.' " This is also the final mishna in Pirkei
The Rambam interprets it as follows:
"One of the tenets of our faith in Torah is that when a
person is commanded one of the 613 mitzvos, he should not
interject any mundane motives whatsoever but should perform
it from pure love, as I have explained, and he will merit
thereby eternal life.
"This is what R' Chananya said, that because there are a
great number of commandments, it is inconceivable that a
person should not do at least one of them in his lifetime
perfectly and wholesomely. And when he obeys that
commandment, he is securing eternal life for himself
"To prove this principle we cite what R' Chanina ben Tradyon
asked: `How can I attain eternal life?' And he was asked,
`Have you no merits to your credit?' In other words: Did you
never perform a mitzva perfectly and completely? And he
replied that he once had the opportunity to give charity in
the most perfect way. And this is how he staked a claim for
life in the Hereafter."
The conclusion we must arrive at from the Rambam's words are
very poignant and significant. From the negative we derive
the positive. If he writes that when a person does a mitzva,
he should not interject any mundane motives
whatsoever, that is, even to the slightest degree, but
"should do it from love . . . and he will thus stake a claim
for eternal life," this means that if someone does attach
other subsidiary personal kavonos, he has forfeited
his Olom Habo!
If a person preaches Torah to the public and has the ulterior
motive of aggrandizing himself, his mitzva is blemished. If a
person recites the blessing over his arba minim and
means to flaunt his beautiful esrog, he has also made
his personal motive a partner or collaborator, and flawed the
mitzva. All the 613 commandments are worthwhile even so that
only one of them be performed perfectly, purely, in order to
gain for the person entry into Olom Habo.
The power of this mitzva alone will provide him with eternal
life, and all of the many other mitzvos which he performed
were worth his while if only for that single one. "For the
commandments being many, it is impossible for a person not to
perform at least one of them properly and perfectly."
"And when he does this mitzva -- his soul will be vitalized
with that act."
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