in parshat emor, God instructs moshe regarding all the rules and regulations that distinguish the life of a cohen from that of an ordinary bnei israel. and these rules are not to be taken lightly. the cohen gadol (high priest), in order to maintain his ritual purity, is unable to be around the deceased bodies of even his own mother and father. the cohen’s choice in women is limited only to virgins. want to say a last good bye? step away and remember your position. fall in love with a divorcee or a widow, you’re out of luck.
and yet with the burden of these restrictions in place to ensure that the cohen serves God only in the holiest of states, we learn that a cohen “אשר בו מום, who has a defect” (vayikra 22: 18) is disqualified from doing the very work outlined in the job description of the cohen. not only that, a “defective cohen”, be he blind or lame, hunchback or dwarf, is unable to enter behind the curtain or even come near the altar.
the passage that discusses the cohen with a defect, who on one-hand is held to the higher standards of purity like the rest of the cohanim, yet on the other, unable to join into the very work that defines their unique role to God, uses the word מום (defect) five times. with regard to offering up unblemished animals or first fruits, i can understand God demanding only the best. however, here, where actual human people are concerned, the emphasis on a “defect” that precludes you from doing the work you were created to do, strikes me as hurtful if not cruel.
didn’t you make me,
in your image? defective,
unfit to serve you.
may we feel included in our communities and fulfilled in our work,