Our parsha opens with a commandment directed to the Kohanim, warning them to stay far away from any corpse so they do not become impure. This commandment is specific to kohanim; the loftiness of their souls and their bond to the pure life-force of spirituality makes them particularly susceptible to damage by the impurity of death, an impurity born of the absence of this life-force and its spiritual presence. In introducing this prohibition, Hashem tells Moshe “Speak to the Kohanim, the children of Ahron.” The tzaddikim wonder about the seeming redundancy in this verse. Everybody knows that Kohanim are the descendants of Ahron! Why, then, does the Torah need to include the words “the children of Ahron”? It could have simply written “Speak to the Kohanim”!

The holy Berditchover answers with an important thought. Because this particular commandment is founded upon the unique holiness of the Kohen’s soul, it can plausibly result in arrogance. Thinking about his special status, the Kohen may begin to grow proud. A spirit of haughtiness may fill his heart: “Look at how special I am!” He may think. “Out of the entire Jewish nation, Hashem chose me to eat holy foods which are forbidden to others! I am so spiritually elevated that mere contact with death, the absence of spirituality, renders me impure!” Over time, he may come to look down on his brethren, the Levi’im and Yisraeilim.

It was to protect against this sorry eventuality that Hashem prefaced this particular commandment with an important introduction. To the logical mind, it is obvious that an impressive line of yichus – pedigree is, alone, no reason for an individual to grow proud. It is only logical for a person to take pride in personal accomplishments, in effort and toil that resulted in hard-earned success. A well-known quip notes that yichus is a line of zeroes – entirely worthless unless a “one” is placed before it. If one has nothing to show for himself, there is no reason for him to grow proud because of yichus alone.

The Kedushas Levi explains that this is the message Hashem intended to send to the Kohanim in a bid to prevent them from growing arrogant over the special holiness implied by the commandment which follows. “Emor el haKohanim b’nei Ahron”, “Speak to the Kohanim, the children of Ahron”. With these words Hashem is reminding the Kohanim, “There is no reason for you to grow proud over your special status. This status is only a result of your being “b’nei Ahron”, of your having a prestigious lineage; it is no reason to grow proud without your building on it with personal effort. If you  follow in the path of Ahron, your forefather who earned an elevated status due to his efforts, turning yourself into a “one”, then the line of zeros behind you will enhance your success. If not, they remain detached from your experience and, like the zeroes they are, remain entirely worthless.”

Each individual has his own mission in life! Instead of relying on the successes of previous generations, let’s create our own accomplishments!

Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov
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R’ Yaakov Klein is the founder of the Lost Princess Initiative, an author, musician, and lecturer devoted to sharing the inner light of Torah through his books, music, and lectures.

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