Parshas Emor–Spiritual Elevation Through Mitzvot

HaRav Meshulem Halevi Jungreis, Zt”l, was a pioneering Orthodox rabbi in Long Island

In the opening verse of our parsha, G-d instructs Moshe, “Say to the Kohanim…” (Leviticus, 21:1), and puzzlingly, in that very same verse, G-d once again repeats the command, “Say to them…”

Since there is no redundancy in the Torah, we must try to decipher the meaning of this duplication. Moreover, we will discover throughout the parsha that that which Moshe imparts to the Kohanim is not only significant to them, but instructive to us as well. The Torah is teaching us that once the Kohanim receive their “special commands” (which only they can perform), G-d tells Moshe to repeat the other mitzvoth to them because through the performance of mitzvoth, the soul is elevated and attains a new, enhanced state.

It therefore follows that when one grows spiritually through the performance of mitzvoth, one is not simply performing the same mitzvah, but because of one’s new, heightened spiritual state, one brings oneself and the very same mitzvah to a much higher level.

Mitzvot actually have the power to change us, so if we are consistent in our observance then we can attain a much higher level today than we enjoyed yesterday, and this is the lesson that we must bear in mind as we count the Omer, the forty nine days from Pesach to Shavuos, when we were given the Torah. Each day, we keep growing until we come to that awesome moment when G-d sealed His Covenant with us.

As we perform mitzvoth, we are not simply adding more mitzvoth, we are creating a change in the essence of our beings. What an amazing opportunity for spiritual growth has been given to us! What a tragedy not to avail ourselves of it.

Our sages teach us that this double language of “say” has yet another meaning, and that is that the adults must instruct the young. What is puzzling; however is that this command is given to the Kohanim specifically when the Torah is discussing contact with the dead.

Once again, there is a special lesson to be derived from this. When we are overcome by grief at a death, it becomes easy to abandon our responsibility to teach the young; it becomes easy to fall into a depression and forget that little eyes are watching us. Therefore, the Torah teaches us that even in face of pain and suffering, our responsibility to serve as an example to our children can never be abandoned. Our commitment to passing on Torah knowledge must transcend all other considerations.

We have personally witnessed this in the homes of our revered parents and grandparents, who, despite the pain of their Holocaust experiences, devoted themselves to imparting the light of Torah to a new generation. Upon arriving on these shores, our grandfather, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, Zt”l built a yeshiva. Every morning, our grandmother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a’h, stood at the entrance to the yeshiva, greeting every child with a home-baked cookie and asking them to make a bracha – to say a blessing over the treat.

Our father, HaRav Meshulem Halevi Jungreis, Zt”l, was a pioneering Orthodox rabbi in Long Island. Our mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a’h, established the Hineni organization to inspire a new generation to Torah commitment. In the spirit of the teaching of our parsha, they did all this despite their personal pain and the suffering that they experienced in the concentration camps.

But life’s tests are never quite over. When our father learned in the course of a routine check-up that he had what appeared to be a malignant tumor, his immediate reaction was go to the home of his grandchildren and teach them Torah. Only then did he call our mother to inform her of the painful news. This, indeed, has been the imperative of our Jewish people. No matter how difficult or painful our personal situation might be, our commitment to teach Torah must remain unswerving.

Let us then never succumb to the forces of darkness, but rather, let us bear in mind that we have a mission to elevate ourselves and those who are near to us to G-d’s Divine calling.

By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis


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