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 Kedusha: Each and Every Day

Parshat Emor

Parshat Emor that we read this week dedicates its first perek (chapter 21) to the laws of kedusha as they apply to the kohanim, specifically. The obligations that the Torah places upon the “priestly class” are meant to help them retain a level of sanctity—one greater than the level demanded of the nation itself. Included in this higher level was the demand that they remain in a total state of tahara when serving in the Mikdash, and, even when not serving the Mishkan/Mikdash, a clearly defined limitation from having contact with the dead. Furthermore, they are also restricted as to what women they may marry and are warned against practicing certain mourning activities.

It is only logical, therefore, that our haftarah reflect a similar theme, which is why Chazal established that the 44th perek of Yechezkel be read on this Shabbat. And, although some of the laws that the Navi teaches contain certain stringencies not found in the Torah itself, we find those differences to be logical ones because—as the Radak explains—the prophet Yechezkel speaks of Kohanim whom are the future attendants in the Third Temple and would, therefore, take upon themselves additional rigors. This understandable behavior would reflect an elevated level of sanctity, which would be fitting for the greater sanctity of the never-to-be-destroyed Beit Hamikdash.

As we have pointed out, all of these final chapters of sefer Yechezkel discuss the “avodah,”—the sacrificial rites—that would be observed in the future Beit Mikdash. HaRav Moshe Lichtenstein points out that these chapters are unique, in that other prophetic messages include prophecies of consolation describing the return of Israel to their land, the rebuilding of destroyed cities, the replanting of lost vineyards and the repopulating of deserted villages. But, although these final perakim of sefer Yechezkel seem to lack these messages of comfort, they are, indeed, the prophet’s message of consolation.

In them, Yechezkel adds to the glorious picture of redemption portrayed by Yishayahu and Yirmiyahu, by reminding us that the return of the Temple service would also be part of the Geula. After all, it is this Navi who often speaks of Hashem’s Shechina—His divine presence, departing from the holy city and it is, therefore, only logical that he now describes the return of God’s glory as an essential part of Israel’s redemption.

I also believe that it is important to note how Yechezkel describes the day-to-day—almost “mundane” rituals in the Holy Temple and not those of a special day or of a unique service. One might suggest that it is precisely this fact, the idea that sanctity would reign and holiness would abound on a daily basis that the prophet is emphasizing. The Navi subtly teaches that the extraordinary impact of the Geula would not be seen only on “special” days and “special” occasions but would become part and parcel of daily life in the holy land. This, indeed, is the goal of Geula: to create an independent state of Israel, living together peacefully in the land of Israel and, thereby, drawing closer to the God of Israel.

It is in this way, that we can become a true “mamlechet Kohanim vegoy kadosh”—one united nation that reaches the level of “Kohanic” sanctity each and every day—as prophesied by Yechezkel.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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