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Giving the First to G‑d

Giving the First to G‑d

A commentary on the haftarah of Emor

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The haftarah for Emor is prophecy from our prophet Ezekiel about the Third Temple. It tells us who will be the Kohanim and describes the laws pertaining to the Kohanim—from how their hair should be cut to whom they could marry. They need to be pillars of the community, teaching laws of purity and impurity, as well as settle disputes. They don’t receive a portion of the land; their portion is the great honor of serving G‑d in the Temple, which is reserved for them and no one else. It tells us that everything that we consecrate to G‑d goes to the Kohanim.

It continues to say that we should give G‑d our first fruits and the first of our dough (challah), which is given to the Kohanim, and that it will bring blessing to the home.

The reading closes by saying that the Kohanim should be careful not to eat from a neveilah, an animal that died without kosher slaughter, or from a tereifah, an animal that was not healthy enough to have survived another year.1

The connection to our parshah is that Emor begins with many of these laws pertaining to the Kohanim, Included is the last one about not eating from neveilah or a tereifah.2 Emor concludes with the holidays, and even though they are not discussed in the haftarah, they are mentioned in the laws of the Kohanim.

Kohen and Levite

The haftarah begins with: “And the Kohanim the Levites.”3 Why are the Kohanim called Levites? Who will serve as the Kohanim in the Third Temple, the Kohaim or the Levites? “

The simple explanation is that it means the Kohanim, which are from the tribe of Levi.

Going deeper, the Arizal4 says that today’s Levites will become Kohanim when Moshiach comes. However, this brings up some questions. In the Yom Tov Mussaf prayer, we say about Moshiach’s times, “The Kohanim will return to their services, and the Levites to their singing and music playing.” On top of that, the Rambam5 tells us that the Torah won’t change when Moshiach comes. So how could the Levites become Kohanim?

The answer is that the souls of Levites will be born to Kohanim. You may ask: If they are born to Kohanim, then they are not Levites anyway, so what is the meaning of the Levites becoming Kohanim?

To understand this, let’s understand the difference between the nature of the Kohen and his soul, and a Levi and his soul.

When Up Is Down

The nature of a Kohen is to be a “man of kindness,” to be giving. The idea of his Temple service was to draw down G‑dliness to the people. They could do this because their souls came from the attribute of water. Just as the nature of water is to go down from the highest to the lowest place and give its sustenance, so was the job of a Kohen to draw G‑dliness from above to the world below, filling the people with love and awe of G‑d.

On the other hand, the nature of a Levi is one of yearning to go higher. Their service was singing and playing music, which created a yearning in others to want to get closer to G‑d. Their souls are from the attribute of fire—always rising, yearning to go up and become one with its source.

The difference between these two types of service is that when you draw G‑dliness down to the people, you inspire them, and for the moment they experience closeness to G‑d. However, when the inspiration wears off, nothing has changed, and the people go back to their old selves. On the other hand, when you create a yearning in the people from below to want to get closer to G‑d, you cause change in who they are. This kind of change is everlasting.

Right now, the job of a Kohen is to draw G‑dliness down to the people, but when Moshiach comes, that won’t be necessary because the world will be full of G‑dliness. The job of the Kohen will then be to create a yearning in the people to become even closer to G‑d. Being that it is not in their nature to do that, G‑d will give them souls of Levites, souls of fire, so it will become their nature.6

There is another tradition regarding who will be the Kohanim. Originally, the first-born son of every family was meant to be a Kohen. But because they took part in the sin of the Golden Calf, it was taken away from them and given to the tribe of Levi. When Moshiach comes, there will no longer be any trace of the sin left in the world. That will once again create an opening for first-borns to become Kohanim.

Didn’t we say that the Kohanim will continue to be Kohanim? So how could the first-borns become the Kohanim?

The Rebbe explains that, at first, the Kohanim and Levites will be serving in the Temple as will be expected. After a while, this question will arise and will have to be dealt with.7

Fat and Blood

About the Kohanim, G‑d says: “They will draw near to Me to serve Me, and they will stand before Me to offer Me fat and blood.”8 Each of us is considered a small Temple, and we are the Kohen of our Temple. What are we meant to learn from offering fat and blood? When a sacrifice was brought, first the blood was sprinkled and then the fat was offered; why are they mentioned here in the reverse, first fat and then blood?

We are meant to offer ourselves to G‑d. The main parts of any offering were the blood and the fat. Blood is the life force of a person, bringing vital oxygen and nutrients to every organ of the body. It represents one’s passion and vibrancy, and the necessities of life. Fat represents pleasure—the things we do not out of necessity, but because we want to.

To be an offering to G‑d, you don’t have to give up your entire existence. You do have to give your blood and fat. Put your passion, energy and pleasure into what G‑d wants, into your Judaism.

Another way of looking at this: Put passion into your obligations to G‑d, which are Torah and mitzvahs. Even when it comes to other things that are not obligations, you can do them for G‑d as well. For example, you could eat, do business, exercise, etc., for the pleasure they will afford you, or you can do them because they will help you serve G‑d better. That is giving your fat to G‑d.

Fat is mentioned first because if your pleasure is for G‑d, then it is certain that everything else is for Him since your actions automatically follow your desires.9

Give the First

After the haftarah tells the laws pertaining to the Kohanim, it turns to us and says, “All first fruits of every kind, and every kind of terumah from all the terumah that you [are required to] give will go to the Kohanim, and you should give the first portion of your dough to the Kohen, so that blessing will rest upon your home.”10

This teaches us that the first of everything should go to G‑d. Not only the first fruits and the first part of your dough, but even other things—like the first hours of your day—should be given to G‑d through prayer and Torah study. And the first years of a child’s life should be given to G‑d by giving him or her a Jewish education. When you give the first to G‑d, you ensure that He is the focus of your life. That causes G‑d to be with you, and where G‑d is, blessing is.

All of this is symbolized by the mitzvah of challah, separating a piece of dough for G‑d. Dough, which becomes bread, is symbolic of sustenance and prosperity. It is also what we eat, nurturing not only the physical body, but our spiritual self as well. The spiritual can only be nourished by something holy. By doing the mitzvah of challah, we make our bread holy. In turn, it nourishes us physically and spiritually, bringing us closer to G‑d.

This mitzvah is done primarily by Jewish women. It was given to them because they are the ones who bring blessing to their homes,11 and they are the ones who nourish the bodies and the souls of their families.12

By giving G‑d our first, our passion, our pleasure, and especially through the mitzvah of challah, we will merit to become a “kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation.”13 And we will soon see the Kohanim serving in the Third Temple, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Footnotes
2.
Why is this basic law mentioned here, when we already know that no Jew may eat a neveilah or tereifah?

Rashi on the Torah (Leviticus 22:8) explains, “[Scripture] warned here, that if one ate a carcass of a clean bird, which does not defile through contact or by lifting it but defiles only when it is swallowed into the esophagus-this person is prohibited to eat holy things.”

In the haftarah (Ezekiel 44:31), Rashi explains, “Since nipping the neck of the bird sin-offering was permitted, which is [tantamount to] an animal that died of itself or was fatally wounded [since it is not the normal method of slaughter], he had to warn them concerning [eating] other creatures that died of themselves or were fatally wounded. So our Sages explain.”
4.
Kitvei Arizal, cited in Tanya, chapter 50.
5.
Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah, chapter 9.
6.
Tanya, Chapter 50. Lekkutei Torah, Parshat VeZot HaBerachah, p. 96c. Likut Pirushim on Tanya from Rabbi A. Chitrik OBM vol. 2, p. 1065 par. 27, and footnote 10, citing the Rebbe’s explanation.
7.
Torat Menachem Hitvaduyot 5751d, p. 155 footnote 17.
9.
Sichot Kodesh 5732b pp. 41-43. Torat Menachem Hitvaduyot 5748c p. 223. Likkutei Sichot volume 3 p. 941.
11.
Another reason why women were given the mitzvah of challah, is to rectify the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, whose fruits Chava (Eve), the first woman, ate and gave Adam to eat f.
12.
Torat Menachem Hitvaduyot volume 23 5718c pp. 84-87. Likkutei Sichot volume 8 pp. 306-309.
Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz—father of seven, husband of Dina, and spiritual leader at Chabad Jewish Center in Temecula, Calif.—has been rendered immobile by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Unable to speak or type, he uses his eyes to write heartfelt thoughts on the weekly Torah portion.

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