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The Blemished

Bechorot (7:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 days ago

With the beginning of seventh perek we make the transition from learning about mumim (blemishes) that invalidated korbanot (offerings) to those mumim that are significant for kohanim - that would prevent them for working in the Beit HaMikdash. The first Mishnah teaches that all the mumim that applied to korbanot was also significant for humans. The Mishnah then continues with additional mumim that only apply to kohanim.

The Gemara (43a) derives these additional mumim from the pasuk: "Any man from among the offspring of Aharon the Kohen who has a blemish shall not approach to offer the fire-offerings of Hashem..." (Vayikra 21:21). Note that this pasuk is preceded by four pesukim that already list the various mumim. The Gemara understands that this pasuk adds additional mumim as the those where the individual appears different from the "offspring of Aharon". How are these additional mumim different? The Gemara explains that if a kohen with one of the explicit mumim performed avodah it would be considered invalid. If however a kohen with one of these additional mumim performed avodah, the avodah would still be valid, despite violating a positive commandment (according to Rashi). The Gemara adds that there are additional issues which render a kohen invalid for avodah due to maarit ayin. In other words, if the such a kohen performed avodah, it would still valid and no mitzvot would be violated. Nevertheless, the Chachamim forbade a kohen from performing avodah in such cases due to the appearance be perceived as being not quite right.

What is the issue with a mum in korbanot and with kohanim?

The Sefer HaChinnuch (275) explains the people are impacted by the appearance of those that act before them. Therefore, "...it is therefore truly fitting that the messenger, on whom atonement depends, should be a man of grace, handsome in appearance and fair in features, and pleasing in all his ways -- that the minds of men may be drawn to him." Similarly, when the Sefer HaChinnuch (277) explains the prohibition of a kohen with a mum entering the heichal, he explains, "at the root of this mitzvah lies the purpose to magnify the glory of the Beit HaMikdash and its splendour. Therefore, it is not fitting for a blemished, disfigured man to go in there. For it is a place of wholeness, perfection..."

Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 1:3) however presents a different understanding. Rav Hirsch initially cites Malachi's rebuke of the kohanim that offered blemished korbanot. By doing so, Malachi states, "in your speeches the Table of G-d is represented as being one which is rejected with disdain by others, and that which it garners is such the eating of which is contemptible." Rav Hirsch explains that instead of representing Hashem and the Beit HaMikdash as the very highest, that demands the best, they degraded it as "a home for those that can not find a home elsewhere."

More sharply, the Rav Hirsch cites Hoshea (10:6) who rebukes the kohanim, "when the people mourn over it, their parsons rejoice thereat". Rav Hirsch explains as follows:

They and their sanctuaries speculate on the pain and grief of the "believers". It is not the vivacious and happy ones who go to their halls. It is the blind, the lame, the sick and the week who wend their way to their alters. Not as the ruler of fresh pulsating active life, and of the joy of life, but the consoler for what they have to endure and suffer and do without, is what religion is for them. Not so is the G-d of His Temple which Israel is to bear through history as the G-d of the whole humanity. The Sanctuary of His Torah demands the full complete life with nothing left out, nothing missing, and promises in exchange a rich full life in which, even death and pain lose their sting. So just as the priests serving at Israel's Alter of the Law have to be without wound or mutilation, so, must the animals be without wounds or mutilation and vigorous undamaged if they are to serve as the means by which humane beings celebrate their entry into, and progress in, the "covenant of nearness of G-d" on the Alter of His Torah.

May it be Hashem's will that we can all soon return to the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash to serve in full health and perfection.

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