The Torah assigns the exact Mishkan-related tasks to be performed by the families of Gershon, Kehat, and Merari, the sons of Levi. A census reveals that over 8,000 men are ready for such service. All those ritually impure are to be sent out of the encampments. If a person, after having sworn in court to the contrary, confesses that he wrongfully retained his neighbors property, he has to pay an additional fifth of the base-price of the object and bring a guilt offering as atonement. If the claimant has already passed away without heirs, the payments are made to a kohen. In certain circumstances, a husband who suspects that his wife had been unfaithful brings her to the Temple. A kohen prepares a drink of water mixed with dust from the Temple floor and a special ink that was used for inscribing
Thrust Upon Him?
“…for his father and his mother and his brother he may not contaminate himself” (6:7)
While he still lived in London, Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky, zatzal, would give a shiur (class) every Friday night to non-religious young people. After the meal he would welcome them into his home and teach them something from the weekly Torah portion.
When it came to the parsha of Ki Teitze he spent the whole week pondering how to explain the “yefat toar” — the halacha that allows a Jewish soldier in battle to have realtions with a non-Jewish female captive.
How was he going to explain this controversial concept to his young pupils?
Try as he might, he could think of no suitable approach. Friday night arrived, and still no shiur had materialized in his head. He davened that
Later, with his students seated around the Shabbat table, Dayan Abramsky said: Before we open the Chumashim, I want you to know something: From what we are about to read we will see clearly how the whole of the Torah is obligatory upon us.
He explained. “From this week’s Torah portion we learn that the Torah never demands that which is beyond a person’s ability. In a situation where it is impossible to hold back, the Torah permits us to follow our instincts. It must be then, that everything that the Torah does demand of us is certainly within our capabilities. And if the Torah itself understands the limits of human endurance and permits that which is beyond Man’s power to withstand, it must be that everything that it commands is within our power to do.”
We see a similar concept in this week’s portion. A Nazir, someone who accepts upon himself a greater level of abstinence than the Torah requires, is not allowed to become spiritually impure through contact with a dead body, even to bury one of his parents or siblings. A kohen, however, despite his elevated level, may become spiritually impure to bury his immediate family.
Why the difference?
A kohen does not accept upon himself his higher level of holiness — it’s thrust upon him. Thus there is a possibility that when faced with a situation that may be beyond his endurance — like not being able to bury his parents — he may not withstand the test. Understanding this, the Torah permits him to compromise the sanctity of his priesthood.
The sanctity of a Nazir is not thrust upon him. It’s something that he willingly submits himself to, and thus the assumption is that he will be able to withstand the test of following his commitment to the end.
- Sources: Sefer HaChinuch and a story heard from Rabbi Naftoli Falk