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No Blemish
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg
The Jewish people were governed by four sources of authority: The monarchy, judiciary (the Sanhedrin), priesthood and prophecy, all of which are discussed in this week’s parsha. Each of these institutions had specific requirements to qualify as a member. Two institutions, the Sanhedrin and the priesthood, had as a peculiar requirement that their physical bodies not be blemished or defective.

This requirement flies against every notion modern people have of not discriminating against the physically impaired. Our society has, correctly, shied away from using insensitive terms to describe a person who lacks certain physical attributes. We use terms such as “physically challenged” instead of the crass epithet, “cripple.”

Indeed, the Talmud was the first to recognize the need to employ a euphemism to describe a blind person. The term is sagi nahor. Literally, it means “great-light.” Chassidic thought explains that the term is accurate because blindness is actually the result of a person having too much energy for his physical body to contain. Thus, a person who cannot see physically often exhibits greater perception than those who can see.

In addition, Jewish law is strict with regard to the way we speak and think about others. The Talmud discusses how the Torah goes out of its way to avoid writing something disparaging about a non-kosher animal; yet, the same Torah excludes physically challenged people from both serving in the Temple and serving on the Sanhedrin!

The explanation regarding the Priesthood and their service in the Holy Temple is that it relates to the uniqueness of the Holy Temple as a place where the physical and spiritual worlds worked in tandem and in perfect alignment. The former was a reflection of the latter. While the rest of the world suffers from a misalignment of the physical and the spiritual, the Holy Temple manifested a world in which the two are mirror images of each other.

By having only Priests who did not possess physical defects serve in the Holy Temple, the Torah is demonstrating what an ideal world is supposed to look like. We are so accustomed to seeing mismatched realities, where the good suffer and the wicked prosper, that we’ve accepted that as normal and call that condition “reality.” Anything different is suspect. For example, if a righteous person is rich and prosperous, some people become suspicious. Where did he get the money from? He must have done something illegal or unethical to attain such affluence. We almost revel in the poverty of our sages and wince at great rabbis enjoying the benefits of this world.

In the true reality things match. While reality is distorted in exile, we must recognize that the distortion is an exile phenomenon and we must never confuse it with the ideal.

Especially now, when we are on the threshold of the Messianic Age, which will begin with the building of an even more glorious Holy Temple than the first two, we must condition ourselves to the reality that true normalcy is the state of the world in the days of Moshiach, particularly, the way things were in the Holy Temple. Normalcy is defined as when the physical and the spiritual are identical twins. In the future, all those with disabilities will be healed, without losing any of their special insight or power. Their impairments will be removed completely and their outside will match their inner spiritual beauty.


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