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Friday, 9 October 2015

How to become greater than the Kohen Gadol

Daf Yomi Nazir 47


As part of my extra-curricular activities, I serve as the Assistant Chief Examiner for Religious Studies for the Caribbean Examinations Council.   Each year, I sit with a team consisting of Christian, Muslim, and Hindu academics.  While we are all volunteers, the staff-person we work with is Sue from Barbados. 

We were recently setting an exam and one of my colleagues had inserted a sentence that was a little high-powered.
“There’s no way a poor child from Trinidad will understand what you’re asking,” said Sue.  “I grew up as a member of the poor class and when I was in high school I wouldn’t have had a clue what that means.”
“Incredible, look at you now!” exclaimed Ibrahim, the Chief Examiner, “You’re the subject coordinator for the entire Caribbean!”  Despite all odds, Sue had completed high school, her Bachelors and Masters degrees, and was now a proud member of the Barbados middle class. 

Neither a Kohen Gadol (High Priest) nor a nazir may attend the funerals of their deceased relatives.  But they may attend to a mitzvah corpse (a body that has nobody else to take care of it).  If the two of them were on a journey and they found a mitzvah corpse, Rabbi Eliezer says the Kohen Gadol should attend to it, not the nazir.  The Sages say the nazir should attend to it, not the Kohen Gadol.
Rabbi Eliezer said to them: Let the cohen take care of the dead, since he is not obligated to offer atonement sacrifices for becoming impure, rather than the nazir who must offer such sacrifices. 
They said to him: No, the nazir should attend to the corpse, since his sanctity is not eternal, rather than the cohen, whose sanctity is eternal. 

So, a nazir and a High Priest walk into a wilderness and find a dead body.  Who does the funeral?  Let’s hope the cellphone service is good out there, because the shayla (halachic query) isn’t so poshut (simple)!  According to Rabbi Eliezer, the High Priest should handle the body.  The nazir should avoid coming into contact with the body, despite the fact that his sanctity is not eternal, i.e. despite the fact that he was not born holy like his friend, the cohen. 

Isn’t that incredible?  At that point, the nazir is holier than the Kohen Gadol, the man who just last week on Yom Kippur entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple!  The simple nazir wasn’t born into it, he chose to adopt a higher level of kedusha (sanctity).  And now he’s holier than the holiest man on the planet!

Sometimes we tell ourselves that if only we’d been into a different family, to different parents or in a different place, we’d be so much more accomplished.  The Talmud teaches that it has nothing to do with the genetic accident.  You might have been born into the most prestigious priestly family; but one who adopts their own personal sanctity can soar way above.  The nazir from the poor class can become holier than the High Priest from the most elite of families! 

Just like Sue who beat all the odds and determined her destiny, you have the power to achieve greatness, no matter how humble your beginnings.  Au contraire, sometimes it’s those with the humblest beginnings who accomplish the most, because they are forced to develop unbelievable drive and determination, the likes of which are never tasted by those who are handed the good life on a silver platter. 


You were sent to this earth to achieve incredible things.  Part of your mission is to develop your strength of character by overcoming your perceived limitations.  May you merit fulfilling your mission and soaring way above those who never had to fight for the spiritual or material good life!