Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Iyar 5763 - May 7, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
"She is Defiling Her Father"

by R' Yerachmiel Kram

"And the daughter of any Cohen, if she profane herself . . . she profanes her father; she shall be burnt with fire" (Vayikra 21:9).

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 Devout

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 entail?

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 behavior.

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 sin.

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- 43).

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 retribution?

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 great ancestors.

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 criminal.

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 the sin!

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 rule.

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 have acquired.

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 them.

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 Yaakov).

Chillul Hashem by a Great Man is Even in Permissible Things

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 Hashem.

"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 86a)."

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 chillul Hashem.

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 deeds.

"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 Ovos.

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 thereby.

"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."

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.