How did Aharon merit to be given this law?
(21,1) “And Hashem said to Moshe: Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and say to them - he shall not defile himself for a dead person amongst his people.”
The Midrash says that our posuk can be explained by the posuk in Tehillim 19:10 “The fear of Hashem is pure, existing forever” - because of the fear that Aharon feared before Hashem he merited to be given this parsha, which will not leave him, or his sons, or his grandsons, until the end of all generations. And which parsha is that? The parsha of the dead, as it says, “And Hashem said to Moshe: Speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon”. This meaning of this Midrash is obscure.
But it seems to me that we can explain that the Midrash had two difficulties. One is the repetition - “the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon” - it would have been sufficient just to say the Kohanim, and it would follow that they are the sons of Aharon, since there are no other Kohanim. And secondly, what need is there to repeat “say to the Kohanim…and say to them”?
Let us first preface with what the Alshich wrote to explain the words of the Midrash on parshas Chukas, that Hashem said: Let the mother (the red heifer) come and clean her son. He explained it according to Chazal’s comment on the posuk “engraved on the tablets” - don’t read the word ‘engraved’ as ‘chorus’, but rather ‘cheirus’ (freedom) - to teach that Klal Yisrael at Mount Sinai became freed from the angel of death, but when they sinned with the golden calf, death returned to its place. If so, had they not sinned with the calf there would not be any impurity due to a dead body in the world, and that is why the Midrash says to let the mother of the calf to come and purify the impurity with which her son sullied the world.
Now, Aharon was the main cause of the making of the calf, as it is mentioned clearly in the Midrash on parshas Shemini, and also it is written that Moshe said to him “What did this people do to you, that you brought upon them this great sin?”. Thus, it was through Aharon that impurity due to a dead body came into the world, and had he not repented then it would not have been fitting that there should be given to him the law that he and his offspring should separate themselves from dead body impurity, since, on the contrary, he was the main cause of this impurity of all Klal Yisrael. But since Aharon had feared and repented, then his intentional sins turn into merits, as Chazal have taught us, and that which he had caused to bring impurity into the world for ever, was considered, on the contrary, as if he had brought purity into the world for ever, since it was now considered to him as a meritorious deed. Therefore, he merited that this section would be given through him, which will not leave his offspring until the end of all generations.
However, there is a difficulty. Since the Midrash says “from the fear that Aharon feared”, this implies that he repented only out of fear, and the gemora in Yoma states that when one repents out of fear, then his intentional sins turn into unintentional sins, but not into merits. But the words of the Midrash are very sweet, because the Zohar says that there are two types of fear - there is fear of punishment, which is a very lowly type of fear, as the Rambam writes in his laws of repentance, and there is fear of Hashem’s greatness, because He is the Master and Ruler, and this is the highest level, greater even than serving out of love of Hashem. Therefore, Aharon who repented out of fear of Hashem’s greatness, certainly his intentional sin turned into merit, and it was as if he had brought purity into the world for ever.
And this can be seen in the exact wording of the Midrash, which said, “the fear which Aharon feared before Hashem”, that is, not fear of punishment, but rather fear of Hashem, of His greatness, because He is the Master and Ruler. Therefore, measure for measure, “he merited to be given this parsha, which will not leave him, or his sons, or his grandsons, until the end of all generations. And which parsha is that? The parsha of the dead”. And now it is clear why the Midrash brought at the beginning the posuk “The fear of Hashem is pure, existing forever” as an explanation of our posuk - that is, because Aharon had only fear of Hashem, and not fear of punishment, and not for love of reward, therefore “it is pure, which exists forever”, he merited to be given the parsha of purity, for him and his offspring for ever.
Now we can understand the repetitions of our posuk. “Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon”, that is, even though they are Kohanim, they would not have been fitting to have been given the parsha of the dead through them, but only because they are the sons of Aharon. However, this is referring specifically to the command not to defile themselves with the dead. But, the second command to them (posuk 5) “they shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shall they shave the corners of their beard, nor shall they make cuts in their flesh”, and which concludes, “because they offer up the fire offerings of Hashem, the food offering of their G-d”, for this they do not require the merit of Aharon, but rather they themselves are fitting for this. Therefore it says, “Say to the Kohanim” - the first statement, which is the parsha of the dead, which they merited because they were “the sons of Aharon” - “and say to them” - the second statement, that which is appropriate to them themselves, which is the command concerning bald patches.
The Midrash further writes: Two parshas of purity are written in the Torah, and through whom were they given? Through the sons of Levi, as it is written in Malachi 3:3 “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi”. But why did specifically the sons of Levi merit this?
But according to what I wrote above, it is easily explained, and that is because the main cause of the impurity was the golden calf, but the tribe of Levi were not involved with it - on the contrary, they girded their loins like warriors, to kill those who worshipped the calf, and sought to bring purity to the world for ever. Therefore, Hashem gave to them as their reward the parsha of purity for ever.
And with the above we understand better the posukim of the Torah, which initially addresses the individual, “he shall not defile himself for a dead person”, and afterwards addresses the many, “they shall not make bald patches”. That because the Kohanim merited the parsha warning about impurity of the dead only due to Aharon, therefore it was addressed to the individual. But the warning about making bald patches for the dead was due to the merit of all of them, and therefore was addressed to them all.
And briefly, another way of explaining the Midrash that we quoted earlier - ‘because of the fear that Aharon feared’ - is because the Midrash had a question: Why does it only mention the sons of Aharon in this parsha, unlike other parshas where both Aharon and his sons are addressed? Therefore, the Midrash explained that because Chazal have said that one should not say all the praises of a person in his presence, and because Aharon merited this parsha only because of his great fear of Hashem, so if this parsha had been addressed to him, it would be like saying all his praises in his presence. And so only the sons of Aharon were mentioned in this parsha, and it is permitted to say all the praises of a person not in his presence.
What is the correct way to make oneself holy?
(21,6) “They shall be holy to their G-d, and they shall not profane their G-d’s name, because they offer up the fire offerings of Hashem, the food offering of their G-d, and they shall be holy.”
It is well known that a person has to sanctify himself in all the needs of this world which are permitted to him - that even though they are permitted he has to limit himself in these things as much as possible, as we discussed at length in parshas kedoshim, see there. But certainly one must go in stages. That is, initially a person should be careful with all the positive and negative commandments, and sanctify himself not to transgress the word of Hashem in any mitzvah, and only afterwards should he sanctify himself in those things which are permitted to him, and which are for his needs. But he should not first sanctify himself in things which are permitted to him, whilst he has not yet sanctified himself completely with that which is forbidden, and such conduct would be very contemptible, and completely intolerable.
This is what our posuk is saying: “They shall be holy to their G-d”, that is, initially they shall sanctify themselves in that which is pertinent to their G-d, that which Hashem forbade them to do, in order that “they shall not profane their G-d’s name” - because if they do not do this there will a great profanation of Hashem’s name, “for they offer up the fire offerings of Hashem, the food offering of their G-d”, and if great people like them transgress the word of Hashem, then there will be a great Chillul Hashem. However, if they do keep Hashem’s commandments, then it will be easy to for them to attain a much greater level than this, “and they shall be holy”, that is, they shall be holy even in the things which are related to their needs and which are permitted to them.
Why does a Kohen’s daughter’s adultery profane her father?
(21,9) “And a Kohen’s daughter, if she starts to commit adultery, she profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.”
The language of the posuk - “if she starts to commit adultery” - invites comment, since it could have simply said “if she commits adultery”, and Chazal have already paid attention to this. But it seems to me that we can say as follows:
Chazal said in the gemora Sanhedrin 52a - To whom do we call a wicked person son of a wicked person, even if they are a wicked person the son of a righteous person? To the daughter of a Kohen who committed adultery, as it says “she profanes her father”. And this is the halachah, as brought in Choshen Mishpot, Siman 424, see there. But we need to understand what they mean - why should we call a wicked person who is really the son of a righteous person, the son of a wicked person?
But behold, a person can wicked in one of two ways. Either he was by nature born to be wicked, as it says in Tehillim 58:4 “the wicked are estranged from the womb”, or he was by nature born to be righteous but afterwards due to his evil inclination he became wicked, as Chazal said, “Do not believe in yourself until the day you die”. The difference between the two is that if he was born to be wicked then it is a disgrace to his father, because it shows the evil ways of his father who thus merited to give birth to a wicked son or daughter. As Dovid Hamelech said in Tehillim 51:7 “Behold with iniquity I was born, and with sin did my mother conceive me”. And in such a case, where he was by nature born to be wicked, Chazal said that he is called a wicked person son of a wicked person, even though he is the son of a righteous person, since his natural wickedness proves that the nature of his father and mother caused this.
Now, the proof as to whether if a person is wicked because he was by nature born so or because he became so due to his evil inclination we can know easily from the wicked person himself, because Chazal have said: Thus is the way of the evil inclination - first it says to do this, another time it says to do that, until it eventually it tells you to go and worship idols. That is, the method of the evil inclination is to start with very light sins, and then each time to increase the severity of the sin. Because it is impossible for the evil inclination to tell the Tzaddik suddenly that he should commit a great sin, since he would probably not listen to him. Like the posuk says in Yeshayohu 5:18 “Woe to those who draw iniquity with ropes of nothingness, and sin as if it was with the ropes of a cart”. However, this refers to one who was born righteous, but then starts to become wicked. But somebody who is born wicked starts immediately with severe sins.
This is what the Torah is hinting to us: “A Kohen’s daughter, if she starts to commit adultery”, who immediately starts to sin with the severe transgression of adultery. If she had started with a small sin, and only later committed adultery it would prove that she was born righteous but then sinned due to the seduction of her evil inclination, and her father would not be held guilty for this, but by starting with adultery, this proves that is not due to her evil inclination, but rather because she was by nature born wicked, and therefore this reveals the evil deeds of her father. And so, “she profanes her father”, her actions show that her father is also evil, and so with justification she is called a wicked person who is the offspring of a wicked person.