In Memory Of
Asher Grunfeld, Asher benTzvi Chaim
"To our Dad and our children's loving Saba, we miss you and love you on your third Yahrzeit. May your neshama still receive many aliyot. "
Parashat Emor begins with laws relevant to the Kohanim, starting with the prohibition against their becoming Tameh (impure) through contact with human corpses. Our Sages noted the juxtaposition between these laws and the final verse of the previous Parasha, Parashat Kedoshim, which presents the prohibition of Ob Ve’yid’oni – consulting with sorcerers. The Ob and Yid’oni were oracles that allegedly could tell a person his future and give him advice and instruction by consulting with the spirits of deceased people. The Torah strictly forbids the use of such devices, going so far as to require the execution of those guilty of this offense. The Sages of the Midrash wondered what connection there might be between this prohibition and the subject of Kohanim which the Torah discusses immediately after that of Ob Ve’yid’oni.
The Sages explain that the Torah seeks to allude to the fact that people seeking advice have an address – the Kohanim. In ancient times, the Kohanim had access to the Urim Ve’tumim, a device worn by the Kohen Gadol which would provide answers to questions. We have no reason to consult with Ob Ve’yid’oni, with witches and sorcerers, because we have direct access to Hashem’s guidance, in the form of the Kohanim. And thus the Torah presents the laws of the Kohanim immediately after the prohibition of Ob Ve’yid’oni.
Rav Yehonatan Eibshutz (1690-1764) suggested that for this same reason the Torah focuses here on the specific prohibition of Tum’at Met, forbidding the Kohanim from coming in contact with corpses. G-d wanted to make it clear that the Urim Ve’tumim used by the Kohanim does not derive its power from spirits, like the pagan priests claim to receive their alleged powers. The information relayed by the Urim Ve’tumim was the authentic guidance given by G-d through His chosen tribe, and was not just another form of pagan witchcraft. And thus while the priests of other religions would spend time at graveyards claiming to tap into spiritual forces associated with the dead, our Kohanim are specifically forbidden from coming in contact with the dead. This is meant to underscore the point that their guidance comes from Hashem, and not from imaginary spirits.
This insight should remind us of the importance of exercising care and caution in deciding from whom to seek guidance and advice. Today we no longer have the Urim Ve’tumim, but we do, Baruch Hashem, have great Torah scholars who have the knowledge, wisdom and sensitivity to offer sound guidance to those in need of help. But just as the Torah noted the distinction between the Kohanim and the Ob Ve’yid’oni, we must similarly discern between genuine Torah guidance and unreliable sources. In today’s "Harry Potter generation," magic and mysticism have become in vogue, and there are many charlatans who try to take advantage of this trend to make a quick buck by charging innocent "customers" high fees for making all kinds of promises and predictions. Unfortunately, some of these men give the appearance of being accomplished Torah scholars so people will think they are genuine and authentic. Care must be taken to ensure that we receive guidance, advice and instruction based on authentic Torah wisdom, and not from sources that are very far from Torah-true Judaism.