Torah Study Notes 5-3-14

May 3, 2014
p. 819
21:1 A priest may not touch a dead person with the exception of certain next of kin. This has to do with ritual purity. What is not written here, and arguable much is unsaid, should not be construed as instructive – both on rabbinic and scholarly grounds. The scholars note that we may not have all of the writings of the time and there were strong oral traditions as well. These injunctions are part of the 613 commandments even though they do not apply to everyone – only priests. The number 613 is attributed to a Talmudic sage known as Rabbi Simlai. See: Parsing the word “Torah” into the numerical equivalents of each letter actually yields 611. PG: Approximately one half of the 613 are now irrelevant to our lives because they applied to the role of the priests and the First Temple. It becomes a matter of rabbinic discussion as to which of these might apply to a rabbi or to modern life. Similarly, the prohibition against growing in the seventh year. What if one owns no land in Israel? The rabbi’s creating the Talmud had to look at the intent and try to determine what interpretation would result in a covenantal society. Post Talmud the people had to make decisions on their own. Again, all of this as to ritual purity must be distinguished from the cleanliness that might be healthy or medically indicated. See the Isaac Asimov’s ( story about “teaching” at age 15 by determining an individuals natural ability and then loading them electronically with the necessary information. Those who cannot conform to this process are sent to a Home for the Mentally Challenged where in fact they are allowed to be creative. They ultimately become the creators of the machines that teach and leaders of the society.
21:5 “They shave smooth any part of their heads…” It was deemed important to be able to immediately identify a priest.
21:7 No marriage by priests to harlots or divorcees. Note that there is nothing in the Torah as to how marriage or divorce takes place. This is extensively discussed in rabbinic literature. LL: There is no incentive to divorce if a man can just take another wife. PG: Consider the story of David and Michal where she gets upset as to David’s conduct when the Ark is being brought into Jerusalem. David is angry but he does not seek a divorce. Note that a widow is on her own. She does not automatically return to her father’s household.
21:9 More prohibitions as to the conduct of the high priest – some repetitious of the previous but even more limitations and restrictions. He is the only priest who can enter the Holy of Holies. Note that the daughter of a priest, a “bot cohanim” can marry anyone.
21:16 No one with certain physical “defects” are qualified to become priests. PG: There is a passage in Isaiah that directly contradicts this. Isaiah reflects a more pragmatic approach which might have indicated a shortage of priests. These passages in Leviticus are post-exilic when the Temple was being rebuilt and there was a demand for more priests – it was a job for which one competed. It is recognized that the external appearance may be an indication of the internal – such as moral and ethical considerations. Consider how we dress for a job interview.
PG: In the very first verse of this parsha the Hebrew word used is “emor” which is “to talk.” In the last verse the word is changed to “daver.” The difference is a subtle one – the later refers to speaking with authority. It is more than a casual conversation. We are reminded that Moses is constantly translating what he has received from God. LL: All of this ambiguity and lack of clarity makes for much “spirited” discussion.

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