Parasha Inspiration – Emor

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־משֶׁ֔ה אֱמֹ֥ר אֶל־הַכֹּֽהֲנִ֖ים בְּנֵ֣י אַֽהֲרֹ֑ן וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ לֹֽא־יִטַּמָּ֖א בְּעַמָּֽיו: כִּ֚י אִם־לִשְׁאֵר֔וֹ הַקָּרֹ֖ב אֵלָ֑יו לְאִמּ֣וֹ וּלְאָבִ֔יו וְלִבְנ֥וֹ וּלְבִתּ֖וֹ וּלְאָחִֽיו: וְלַֽאֲחֹת֤וֹ הַבְּתוּלָה֙ הַקְּרוֹבָ֣ה אֵלָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־הָֽיְתָ֖ה לְאִ֑ישׁ לָ֖הּ יִטַּמָּֽא: לֹ֥א יִטַּמָּ֖א בַּ֣עַל בְּעַמָּ֑יו לְהֵ֖חַלּֽוֹ:

And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: Let none [of you] defile himself for a dead person among his people except for his relative who is close to him, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, and for his virgin sister who is close to him, who was not [yet] with a man for her, he shall defile himself. [But] a husband shall not defile himself for [a wife who causes] his desecration, [while she is] among his people. Leviticus 21:1-4

This week’s Torah portion contains a listing of the Moadim, the designated times of Hashem. This is the section that is studied most often. However, the beginning of the portion contains a very important insight, the rules affecting the conduct of a Kohayn and someone who has passed away, a dead body.

Because the Kohayn is separated for Hashem, there are restrictions regarding the Kohayn visiting a grave site. The Kohayn is simply not allowed to do this. There are exceptions to this rule for immediate relative’s gravesites. Other than for immediate relatives, a Kohayn is not allowed to become contaminated intentionally by coming near a dead body or gravesite. Whose graves may a Kohayn visit? Immediate family is defined as mother, father, brother, son, daughter, unmarried sister, and wife. The portion makes it clear that a husband may contaminate himself at the wife’s grave, but that this leniency does not extend to contaminating himself by a wife’s Niddah. In other words, while she is alive, a Kohayn’s wife must not cause his contamination, but if she has passed away, he may contaminate himself to visit her gravesite.

This is the reasoning that determines who is to stand for the mourner’s Kaddish. The rules for mourner’s Kaddish apply to both yahrzeit and for those saying Kaddish in the first year since the passing of a close relative. The close relative is defined as being those relatives for whom a Kohayn is allowed to contaminate himself and visit their gravesite. Therefore, who stands for Kaddish? The answer is provided in the text, those mourning a mother, father, son, daughter, brother, wife, or unmarried sister. A married sister’s husband stands for her, as well as her mother and father, but not her brother.

These are the only people for whom we should stand and recite the mourner’s Kaddish. The congregation knows that anyone standing for the Kaddish is mourning the passing of one of these immediate relatives. If one has had a close friend or an important person to them pass, and they wish to honor them with the recitation of the Kaddish, they may sit and quietly recite the Kaddish in the honor of the person they are remembering. But, it is important that one does not stand in this case. This way the congregation knows precisely who is mourning a direct relative. Shabbat shalom.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.