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What do the special laws regarding the priestly tribe have to do with leadership?

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Emor” (Leviticus 21:1–24:23), and it focuses heavily on the laws relating to the priesthood. The priestly class, known as the “Kohanim,” is subject to a number of rules and regulations that other Jews do not have. These extra rules are in order to highlight and remind the Kohanim of their holier status.

For example, a Kohen is forbidden to come into contact with the dead. This law is observed meticulously even nowadays. The only exception is for the Kohen’s immediate relative -, and for the funeral and burial, only. As such, a Kohen may attend the funeral of a parent or spouse but he may never again return to visit the grave.

The opening passage to all the “Kohanic” laws reads as follows, “And God SAID to Moses… “ (VAYOMER…). The commentators quickly note the oddity of this wording, as most such passages in the Torah open with the words “And God SPOKE to Moses…” (VAYEDABER).

It is explained that “said/vayomer” represents gentle communication while “spoke/vayedaber” represents a harsher communication.

There are times in life when we must relate to our spouses, children and co-workers with “vayomer” speech, while at other times, “vayedaber” speech is called for. The same is true for God when He communicates with us.

So why is it that in this passage God seemingly changes His “tone” to the more gentle “vayomer”? In fact, considering that the passage is about to present some very challenging and restrictive laws to the Kohanim, one would think that a “vayedaber” tone would be in order to better ensure that the Kohanim take their special laws seriously.

It is explained that Kohanim are the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people. They were the teachers, the early rabbis, and they ran the Holy Temple. One with such enormous responsibility must be at peace with his lot. He must enjoy what he does. He must not feel limited, restricted or underprivileged.

This is why God opens the somewhat restrictive Kohanim passage with the “soft touch.” God wants the Kohanim to realize that these restrictions are a privilege, not a burden. So, too, we are told that speaking gently helps the speaker’s words enter into the heart of the listener – something we should all keep in mind.

These thoughts and ideas apply to all modern-day leaders, such as rabbis, teachers, parents and the like. The job isn’t always pleasant and glamorous. But if God put you in a position of leadership and influence, remember it is a “vayomer” posting, not a “vayedaber” posting. God puts people in a place of leadership because they have what to offer and are able to handle the sacred responsibility of guiding others. It is out of love and in a gentle manner that God puts leaders in their positions. It is not a punishment, it is not a “vayedaber.”

May God give all of us who are in positions of leadership the ability to be a trustworthy and competent shepherd, and may we lead with love – just as we were appointed to leadership with love.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.



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