Parshat Emor- Rav Shames
I would like to raise some questions and possibly provide some answers concerning the end of this week’s parsha.
After we have read about the various laws of the Kohanim, the prohibitions of sacrificing blemished animals and dealt with a detailed list of all of the Holidays, we find a very strange passage. Perek 24 opens with the commandment to get olive oil to light the Menora and continues with the commandment to get flour to make the Lechem Hapanim (the Showbread).
The problem with this passage is twofold. Firstly why are these repeated here? We have the exact instructions for both of these issues in Shemot. This question is even stronger when we consider that the section of Vayikra that deals with the Korbanot has ended weeks ago.
In addition, if there is to be a repetition why are these two elements singled out? What is unique about them that warrants bringing them up at this late stage?
The questions above have been disturbing me and I would really like to begin a clear explanation to explain this mystery. However, I must admit that I don’t have the answers. What I would like to do is to point out some interesting facts related to these problems and maybe with your help we can figure it out. (See Rashi, Ramban and Ibn Ezra who are all very sensitive to the issue and a very interesting piece of the Netziv that I can only describe as “Chasidish- Litvish”)
There are two phrases that are used in relation to the oil and the bread in the parsha. Both of them are refered to as “lifnei Hashem” (before God). In the case of the Menora we find it in passuk 3 and 4, and in the case of the shulchan we find it in passuk 6 and 8. The fact that the same phrase appears four times in eight pessukim would seem to be important.
The same phrase is used earlier in the parsha when talking about the Holidays. We find it in relation to the Omer (23:11), the Two Loaves on Shavuot (23:20), Yom Kippur (23:28) and Sukkot (23:40).
Clearly there is a message here. I think that we may suggest that the refrain of parshat Emor is “lifnei Hashem” which follows last week’s refrain of “Ani Hashem” in parshat Kedoshim. We were told that God describes some of the mitzvoth while signing His name next to them in what seems to be a close endorsement of the mitzvoth. In this week’s parsha we are to meet the challenge of presenting ourselves before Him. This can, and must, be done on the special holidays but must be clear as well on an everyday basis which is represented by the lighting of the Menora and the constant bread on the shulchan.
The second unique phrase that appears here is the adjective “Tahor”. The Menora is referred to as “Tahora” (24:4) and the Shulchan as well is refered to as “tahor” (24:6). What is meant by the word “Tahor” in this context? After all aren’t all vessels in the Mikdash pure? In investigating this question it turns out that the adjective Tahor is used in relation to the Menora only and none of the other elements in the Mishkan (31:8 and 39:37). What is it about the Menora that deserves such a title?
Rashi offers two explanations for the term tahor:
- Pure- Not in the sense of ritual purity but rather as “pure gold”. While this would help us vis a vis the other vessels in the mishkan, that were ritually pure as well, we are left with a problem as to why the Aron was not refered to as well as Pure. In addition why would we care about such a detail? Why would the Menora be singled out in Shemot, in the long list of vessels as the one that is pure gold?
- Directly on- The menorah must be lit directly on its surface without propping up something that would separate the oil from the body of the menorah. In the case of the shulchan, the bread should be placed directly on the table without any separation at all. The problem with this translation is that it is a very peculiar use of the word tahor. We never have the word used in such a context. (In the Mishna we find a fascinating use of the word in a similar manner. On Yom Kippur the Kohen Gadol sprinkles the blood of his ox and the people’s goat in the Kodesh Hakodashim, on the parochet, on the four corners of the mizbeach hazahav and then seven times on “taharo shel mizbeach” the surface of the altar. Here we have a use of tahor meaning surface but I am unfamiliar with similar usage in the Torah and it could be that the use of the term in the mishna is a result of our parsha.)
I would like to try to explain a mishna in light of the simple reading of the text where the translation of tahor is “ritually pure”. The Mishna in the end of mesechet Chagiga describes the procedure for purifying the Mikdash after the Chagim. During the Chag al members of Am Yisrael were granted the status of “pure” and the general suspicion that we had of the “am haaretz” as not being learned in the details of purity we set aside for the higher value of unity on the “regel”. However immediately following the chag the utopia ended and all of the vessels in the mikdash were immersed in the mikveh to purify them.
The Mishna states that they would purify them all except the shulchan and the menorah (according to the text we have). In order to avoid having to purify these vessels people were warned not to touch them during the chag (according to Rashi our concern is that inexperienced Kohanim would accidentally defile them, while according to the Rambam our concern is that any of the people may have touched them when they were removed from the Heichal to display them to the people during the Chag).
The rationale given for these two being unique is that they both had functions that could not be suspended, even temporarily, in order to immerse them. The menorah with its lights and the shulchan with its bread had to be in place constantly.
In light of the pessukim that we are studying this week I think we can offer another explanation. It is not simply that the technicalities of the matter do not allow us to have an impure menorah or shulchan. These vessels are by their very definition “tahor” and must always remain as such. The term tahor is not simply a descriptive adjective but rather an integral part of the definition of the vessel.
At this stage I turn to you to offer the answers to the underlying questions that we have not dealt with- Why? What is it about these two that make their purity to central to their definition? I look forward to hearing from you.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Atzmaut Sameach