His Mercies Are Upon All His Creations      

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Emor, continues to elucidate the major theme of the Book of Vayikra, the sacrificial service and the special laws that pertain to the Kohanim who, alone, were authorized to perform it.  Thus the sedra details the many flaws and blemishes which would invalidate sacrifices.  The Kohain, also, must be in the most appropriate state, physically and emotionally.  He is not permitted to come in contact with a corpse as the encounter with death could make him sad or depressed.  An exception is made for his seven closest relatives as the respect for one’s family overrides the prohibition.  However, the Kohen Gadol (chief Kohen) was not permitted to become impure even for his closest kin.  The only exception is that of a “meit mitzvah” ie. an “abandoned” corpse who had no relatives that were under the obligation to bury him.  The magnitude of the chesed involved in providing for the burial of such a person is so great that it overrides the severe injunction against the Kohen Gadol’s relinquishing his state of ritual purity.

Two important lessons can be learned from this.  First of all, the very high standard of respect we must display toward others is not relaxed when they are deceased.  Respect for the dead which focuses around a speedy and dignified burial is a major tenet of Judaism.  It is not that the corpse has any intrinsic importance.  The essence of man lies in the Divine soul which signifies that man was created in “His Image.”  Disrespect for the body expresses disdain for the soul which was connected to it and indirectly to the Creator who fashioned it.  We also see the supreme importance that the Torah assigns to chesed.  No ritual requirement ranks in importance with the service performed by the Kohen Gadol.  Yet, he must incur ritual impurity to personally attend to the internment of a complete stranger who is of such social insignificance that he has neither relative nor friend to tend to him.  The compassion one displays toward the most lowly and downtrodden people, with whom he has no personal relationship is the most precious because it is not prompted by any selfish emotion.  It is, rather, the purest expression of respect for the Divine image which inheres in man.

A major theme of parshat Emor is compassion.  The Torah is categorically opposed to sadism and cruelty.  It recognizes that there is a proper place for the aggressive instinct such as fighting wars against evil tyrannies.  However, we must seek to be in control of our hostility and to cultivate sympathy and kindness for all G-d’s creatures, including animals.  Thus, the parsha states that an animal cannot be brought for a sacrifice until it is at least eight days old.  Then it says, “you shall not slaughter an ox or lamb together with its offspring on the same day.”  At first glance the insertion of this prohibition in this context is puzzling.  This law applies to any slaughter of animals and not just to those designated for sacrifices.  Why did the Torah see fit to incorporate it in the section dealing with the Temple Service?

The Rambam explains that the reason we are prohibited from killing the mother and its offspring on the same day is that one should be restrained and prevented from coming to a point where we kill the “child” in the presence of its mother.  That is because “the pain of the animal under such circumstances is very great.  There is no difference between the pain of man and the pain of other living beings, since the love and tenderness of the mother for her young ones is not produced by reasoning, but by imagination, and this faculty exists not only in man but in most living beings.”   This idea is communicated to us in the section dealing with sacrifices.  We should not think that engagement in Divine service gives us a license to be insensitive or trample on the rights of others.  The most important characteristic of the Korban is the purity of heart of the one who brings it.  In making an offering to Hashem we implore Him to be merciful and compassionately forgive our sins.  To be worthy of Divine mercy we must strive to develop that quality and display it to all His creatures. That is why we are commanded to refrain from afflicting the mother animal precisely in the parsha dealing with sacrifice.  We thus affirm that it is our duty to emulate Hashem “whose mercies are upon all of His creations.”

Shabbat Shalom