The Burning of the Kohen’s Daughter

This week’s alumni dvar torah is by Tzipporah Machlah Klapper

Leviticus 21:9:
וּבַת֙ אִ֣ישׁ כֹּהֵ֔ן כִּ֥י תֵחֵ֖ל לִזְנ֑וֹת אֶת־אָבִ֙יהָ֙ הִ֣יא מְחַלֶּ֔לֶת בָּאֵ֖שׁ תִּשָּׂרֵֽף׃
And the daughter of a man who is a Kohen, when she profanes herself in harlotry, she profanes her father; in fire shall you burn her.
Surrounded by psukim about tum’ah (impurity) and kedushah (sanctity), this law sticks out like a sore thumb. How does it relate to the laws of mourning, which precede it? There is no parshah break between it and the preceding psukim, nothing to indicate any topical separation; with its language of chol, profane, it clearly relates to the previous psukim, which ended with kadosh, sacred.
This is easily reconciled by saying that the Kohen’s daughter is bound by her father’s kedushah; in other words, she profanes her father – literally. This is borne out in Sanhedrin Perek Arba Misos, where the issue is discussed at length. In particular, we have this,
Sanhedrin 52a:
היה רבי מאיר אומר מה ת”ל את אביה היא מחללת שאם היו נוהגין בו קודש נוהגין בו חול כבוד נוהגין בו בזיון אומרין ארור שזו ילד ארור שזו גידל ארור שיצא זומחלציו
Rabbi Meir used to say: What can you learn from “she profanes her father”? That if they treated him with sanctity, they treat him with profanity; honor, they treat him with disgrace. They say, “Cursed is he that bore this! that raised this! that this is his offspring!”
This is a halachic interpretation of she profanes her father, as is evident in the next statement:
אמר רב אשי כמאן קרינן רשיעא בר רשיעא ואפי’ לרשיעא בר צדיקא כמאן כהאי תנא
Rav Ashi said: In accordance with whom do we apply the epithet “evil born of evil,” even to evil born of righteous – in accordance with whom? With this teaching.
Kohanim are kadosh, sacred, as the laws of impurity concluded. A kohen‘s daughter who violates sexual prohibitions profanes not only herself but her father, since her crime will be taken as reflective of her father. Her father is in turn a symbol of sanctity, so she profanes the sacred indirectly. For this reason, she is punished harshly.
Rav Ashi teaches that really, all children are symbolic of their parents – the kohen‘s daughter merely profanes a more sacred symbol. The kohen here is cursed because he bore this – her traits are formed after his even in birth – he raised this – her actions are proof of his bad parenting – this is his offspring – his symbol, her, is criminal.
So, do you know where your children are?
Tzipporah Machlah Klapper (SBM 2014) serves as program director for CMTL’s Midreshet Avigayil, an intense summer gemara program for girls.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Comments are closed.