Parshas Emor (5772)
Many Jews like to complain about the “double standard” that is often applied by the world at large towards the Jews and the State of Israel. They claim that nobody makes a stink when other people or nations commit certain allegedly unethical and immoral acts, yet whenever Jews or Israel are involved, everyone is up in arms.
I think that the reason why so many Jews are unhappy with this double standard being applied to them is because they are of the belief that we Jews are essentially the same as everyone else and should therefore be treated just like everyone else.
And they are certainly entitled to believe this way. However, this may be many Jews’ belief – but it is not Judaism’s belief. Allow me to explain:
This week’s Torah portion, Parshas Emor, begins with a discussion of the laws of the Kohanim, or priests. The first verse says: “G-d said to Moses: Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a [dead] person among his people …” (Leviticus 21:1).
Many Bible commentators point out the apparent redundancy in the verse, since Moses was told twice to say something to the Kohanim. I believe the answer is that before Moses could give the Kohanim all those Torah laws that held them to a higher standard than the rest of the Jewish people – e.g. they were to serve daily in the Holy Temple, they were forbidden from contaminating themselves to dead people, they were not allowed to marry certain people that other Jews were allowed to marry, etc. – he first needed to build them up and tell them why they were being singled out to live on a higher level.
So Moses first said to the Kohanim: “the sons of Aaron”, i.e. you descend from Aaron the High Priest, who was beloved to G-d and the Jewish people because of the holy and elevated way he lived his life and due to his beautiful character traits, and Aaron’s legacy is part of your essential spiritual makeup.
Moses further told the Kohanim: “They shall be holy to their G-d and they shall not desecrate the Name of their G-d …” (ibid. verse 6). Here Moses is indicating that a
Kohein who acts in an unholy way is desecrating G-d’s Name. This is a reflection of the axiom that more is demanded of people of eminence. The Kohanim are being held to a higher standard than the rest of the people due to their lofty positions as servants and representatives of G-d.
The truth is that we – the entire Jewish people – are also “Kohanim” to the rest of the world. As G-d instructs Moses to tell the Jewish people just as they are about to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai with the lofty mission of being G-d’s representatives and a light unto the nations: “You shall be to Me a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
And since we are to be Kohanim and “spiritual role models” to the rest of the world, it makes perfect sense that we Jews should be held to a different standard than the rest of the world and that more should be expected of us than of others – much like the Kohanim who served in the Temple were held to a higher level than the rest of the Jewish people.
My blessing to all of us is that we realize that we Jews are “the sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah”, i.e. that we descend from truly great and holy people who were beloved to G-d for all of their spiritual accomplishments, and that we carry this amazing legacy inside of us at all times. So that when we are indeed held to a higher standard as Jews by the rest of the world, we will be able to rise to the occasion.