“And G-d said to Moses, ‘say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, say to them…and to his sister, a virgin, close to him because she has never been with a man, he shall impurify himself’.” (Leviticus 21:1)
Many of those who fear G-d think that “The Torah of the Lord is perfect, delighting a soul” (Psalms 19:8), but one who looks at a few details of the laws will see that not only doesn’t the Torah delight a soul, it causes any reasonable soul to rebel.
In several places and on several issues the Torah discriminates against women, making them inferior, less considered and less important than men. This is particularly obvious in our portion, which deals with priests and the priestly families. Not only is all the work of the Tabernacle done by males alone — as Rashi on Leviticus 21:1 writes: “the sons of Aaron and not the daughters of Aaron” — and the women are not honored with even the merest bit of the holy work, go and learn, throughout the portion, of the relationship to a female of the priestly family.
For example, when a female of a priestly family (not a virgin) dies, her brothers do not honor her memory even by participating in her funeral–the Torah forbids it. But when a male of a priestly family dies, all his brothers participate.
Look and see another bit of discrimination between the male and the female of the priestly families, in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 373, section 4: “He does not impurify himself for his engaged sister…and not for one who was raped or seduced.” A priest’s daughter who has been raped and has been through a horrible, traumatic event receives an additional punishment for being a victim. When she dies her priestly brothers may not come, by command of the “perfect” Torah, to accompany her on her final journey. But for a male from a priestly family, even should he be a vicious rapist, the Torah commands that his brothers should accompany him as he is led to the cemetery.
This you should know, that a priest is to impurify himself for his brothers and virgin sister from his father’s side, but from his mother’s side he does not impurify himself at all, as written in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 373:4, “But for his brother and sister from his mother he does not impurify himself.” A priest who has brothers from his father and other brothers from his mother is allowed to impurify himself and accompany his brother from his father’s side to the cemetery, but he is forbidden to give this final kindness to his brothers from his mother’s side. The mother’s sons are not brothers in all matters because of the mother.
In the noble family of priests all the family glory and honor are for the males alone. Come see the matter of marriage:
“And a defiled woman you shall not take” (Leviticus 21:7). In Gemara Kiddushin 77a, “The sages say: ‘who is a defiled woman? Anyone born from a person prohibited to a priest’.” If a priest marries a woman forbidden to a priest and sires two children, a boy and a girl, the boy may marry the daughter of a priestly family while the girl is forbidden to marry a priest.
“A harlot…you shall not take” — again the laws of Moses discriminate between male and female. If a priest takes a woman of a priestly family who is forbidden to him (due to family relationship) she is considered a harlot and may not marry a priest, while the male priest may marry anyone.
And of course it is known that if a male priest divorces he loses nothing and may marry a woman of a priestly family, but a woman of a priestly family who has been divorced may not marry a priest.
And thus, in the priestly families of Israel, not only is the woman not at all included in any of the work of the Temple, the relationship to her is degrading, insulting, and discriminatory. This is why it says in Leviticus 21:8, “And you must treat them [the males] as holy since they offer the food of your G-d; they shall be holt to you, for I, the Lord who sanctify you, am holy.”
About the general status of women in Judaism we will issue a separate article.
But not only the women are discriminated against in matters of the priesthood. The disabled are, too: “No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his G-d” (Leviticus 21:17). This is not because the defect will get in the way of the actual sacred work, but the reason for the prohibition is, as Rashi writes on Leviticus 21:18, “It is not right that he should approach, as ‘Present it now to your governor’ [He is not fit to serve before a flesh and blood ruler, let alone G-d].” It is not appropriate nor fitting that a priest with a defect should work in the Temple, and the perfect Torah, whose ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace pushes aside a priest born with even the most minor defect, for example: “one eye is large and the other eye smaller” (Rashi), and tells him that he is not worthy of serving before the Lord. Today, when the spirit of true mercy is abroad in our world, no enlightened country would write such discriminatory rules in its law codes.
“Man shall look at the eyes and G-d will look in the heart.” We find that the opposite is true. G-d wants to be served by priests “easy on the eyes,” while the laws of secular, democratic countries reject all discrimination based on external appearance, looks “in the heart” and not the form and figure.
We will move on to another issue in our portion: “And from the day you bring the sheaf of elevation offering–the day after the sabbath–you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete” (Leviticus 23:15).
One who looks at this simply and straight forwardly will understand the Scripture as did the Saducees, that “the day after the sabbath” means the day after the Sabbath day. This is not the opinion of Chazal, who explained it as the day after the first holiday of Passover. Certainly Chazal understood that this was a difficult matter and tried to explain it in Tractate Menachot 65b-66a, and found eight separate excuses, one odder than the next. One who wants to prove this should look in the Gemara there. Ravva rejects several of the explanations: “Ravva said, ‘All of them can be refuted except for what the two Tannaim said’.”
We will bring here one example of the eight explanations which the Biblical exegetes adopted. Rashi wrote (on Leviticus 23:11): “The day after the Sabbath–the day after the first holiday of Passover, for if you say the Sabbath which commemorates creation, you would not know which Sabbath it refers to.” Nachmanides wrote on this interpretation, “And truly, this is the greatest of the proofs in the Gemara.”
And you, wise student, look at this claim. “If you say the Sabbath which commemorates creation, you would not know which Sabbath it refers to” and you may rightly ask: why don’t we know which? It is explicitly written that when the harvest time comes and you harvest your crop…and on the morrow bring…it is clear that it is the first Sabbath after the first harvest. And ask yourself about Rashi’s explanation; how do we know that it is the holiday of Passover? Perhaps it is Sukkot? But you know that the harvest time is Passover time, not Sukkot. Another thing–how do you know it’s the first holiday of Passover? Maybe it’s the last day of Passover (as Ravva himself claims in the Gemara).
In the book of Joshua 5:10 there is proof that the children of Israel ate the new grain on the 15th of Nisan and not the next day, as the sages would have it. It is said: “On the day after the passover offering, on that very day, toward evening, they ate of the produce of the country, unleavened bread and parched grain.” Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 23:11, “And a sage from Rome once brought a proof from “the day after Passover they ate unleavened bread and parched grain” and didn’t understand that the passover sacrifice is given on the 14th and the next day is the 15th.”
We have always wondered about the sages who in many places leave aside the plain meaning of the Scripture and say that they have the power to do so, for halacha displaces the Scriptures, as we have said in the portion ofMishpatim. So why did they not simply say that “the day after the sabbath” is the day after the first day of Passover, and halacha displaces the Scriptures, and thereby not need to create far-fetched explanations? Maimonides, in the Laws of Daily and Additional Sacrifices, chapter seven, halacha 11, wrote it nicely: “They learned it from the tradition, that it stands not for a Sabbath but for a holiday” (which means that this law is not derived from the Scripture, but from tradition). And indeed, according to reason and common sense we can not understand it this way; we can only say it comes from tradition.
Another issue: We can’t do without the duplication by the authors of the Torah left us and so confused Chazal. In Leviticus 23:18 it is written, “With the bread you shall present, as burnt offerings to the Lord, seven yearling lambs without blemish, one bull of the herd, and two rams, with their meal offerings and libations, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.” In Numbers 28:26 it is written: “On the day of your first fruits…two bulls of the herd, one ram…”
In Tractate Menachot 45b, Chazal discussed whether the seven sheep written about in Leviticus are the same ones written about in Numbers: “Maybe this is what the Torah meant: If the priest wishes, he may sacrifice one bull and two rams, or if he wishes, he may sacrifice two bulls and one ram.” The KesefMishneh, in the Laws of Daily and Additional Scarifices, chapter 8, halacha one, wrote that there is a disagreement: “And in the chapter ‘The Techelet‘ in Tractate Menachot the rabbis disagreed. Rabbi Akiva’s opinion is that those written about in Leviticus are not those written about in Numbers, while Rabbi Tarfon disagrees with him. And our master [i.e. the Rambam] determined the law as per Rabbi Akiva.” (See what we wrote on the portion of Acharei Mot, and if you check you will see that Maimonides ruled that the ram of the Day of Atonement is a single ram, and it is not an additional sacrifice, yet here rules that the rams are additional sacrifices. There is no end to the confusion.)
It would have been enough had the author of the Torah written in Numbers “aside from the offering of two breads,” and thereby he would have saved us all the misunderstandings and mismatches. These were so bad that Ibn Ezra wrote on Leviticus 23:18, “And an alteration is possible in the Scripture for the first year.” What was written in Leviticus, that they sacrificed one bull and two rams was only for the first year, and afterwards they sacrificed two bulls and one ram. (Perhaps it means that the Scriptures were alterated after they had been in the desert for a year? There are many secrets to Ibn Ezra, and the wise one will understand.)
We will conclude with the uncovering of another secret of Ibn Ezra. It is said in Leviticus 23:40, “On the first day you shall take the product of the hadartrees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees.” Chazal determined that the leafy tree is the myrtle, but in Nehemiah 8:15 it is written, “Go out to the mountains and bring leafy branches of olive trees, pine trees, myrtles, palms and leafy trees to make sukkot, as it is written.” This means that the myrtle is not the “leafy tree” (for they were listed separately), but is a separate species. What did Chazal say about that? In Tractate Sukkah 12a, “How do we know that the myrtle is the leafy tree? [Chazal concluded that the leafy tree written about in the Torah is the myrtle, as brought in Tractate Sukkah 32b]. Rav Hisdasaid that an odd myrtle is for a sukkah and the leafy tree is for the lulav.” (an odd myrtle does not have three leaves growing from the same place, and a leafy myrtle has three leaves growing from the same place.)
About this Ibn Ezra wrote on Leviticus 23:40: “The leafy tree is an argument against our ancestors, for the tree of the myrtle species is not tall, and there are two species, one tall and one short, and the one exiled from the land of the Ishmaelites to the land of the Romans, if he has eyes, will know the secret of this commandment.” The meaning of his riddle is clear: The leafy tree written about in the Torah cannot be the myrtle, for that is always a low bush and never leafy.
But as we have found by Chazal, who combined different people into one (see what we wrote on the portion of Miketz), so we have found that in their folly they have made different trees into one. In Tractate Sukkah 37a, “Rabbah the son of Huna said this is a saying of Rav’s disciples: ‘There are ten types of cedars, as is said [Isaiah 41], “I will plant cedars in the wilderness, acacias and myrtles and oleasters; I will set cypresses in the desert, box tress and elms as well.” So the small myrtle was made into a sort of huge cedar, one of the cedars of Lebanon. We can but wonder at this, for the factual reality did not bother Chazal when they came to explain contradictions and discrepancies in the Scriptures. It is known that every deduction and theory comes from reality (for how shall we check and verify deduction if not against factual reality?). And so, the reasonable scholar will adjust his claim to reality, but the embarrassed believer will adjust reality to his claims, and will not let difficult facts confuse his faith. If so, one who does not care about reality makes the myrtle into a cedar and makes a cedar into a myrtle.
Words of True Knowledge