Reaching Beyond Yourself

May 16, 2019

4 min read


Emor (Leviticus 21-24 )

In the opening verse of our parashah, God instructs Moses, "Say to the Kohanim ..."[1] and, in that very same verse, God 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 repetition. The Torah is teaching us that once Moses taught the Kohanim the special commandments that only they were permitted to perform, God tells Moses to repeat the other mitzvos to them, because through the performance of mitzvos, the soul is elevated and attains a new, enhanced state. It therefore follows that when one grows spiritually through the performance of mitzvos, 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.

Mitzvos actually have the power to change us, so if we are consistent in our observance we can attain a much higher level today than we enjoyed yesterday. Herein lies the secret of the miraculous transformation that enabled us, a nation of slaves, to become a Priestly Kingdom in only 49 short days after our Exodus. Every day, we were commanded to count, and as we did so, we shed the dross of Egypt and filled the vacuum with the mitzvos of our God until we came to that awesome moment: the giving of the Torah on the holiday of Shavuos, when God sealed His covenant with us. From this seminal experience, we learned that when we perform commandments, we are not simply adding mitzvos to our portfolios, but we are creating a change in the essence of our beings. What an amazing opportunity for spiritual growth! 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 the 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 yeshivah. Every morning, our grandmother, Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a"h, stood at the entrance to the yeshivah, greeting every child with a home-baked cookie and asking him to make a berachah - to say a blessing over the treat.

My 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 parashah, 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 checkup that he had what appeared to be a malignant tumor, his immediate reaction was to go to 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 remains 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 God's Divine calling.


In this week's parashah, we study the special mitzvos pertaining to the Kohanim as well as to the Kohen Gadol. A High Priest is different from the ordinary priest in that even in the midst of the pain of losing one of his closest relatives, he must still carry on and perform the Temple service and minister to the Jewish people. The Torah states, "And he shall not leave the Sanctuary."[2] This commandment calls upon the Kohen Gadol to bear in mind that his responsibility to the community is so great that he must repress his personal suffering and continue his service to the people.

From this we learn the level of commitment required of our leaders. A leader of the Jewish people must find the strength to transcend his own pain for the greater welfare of the community. The teachings of the Torah are timeless; thus, this level of commitment applies to each and every one of us, for our entire nation is described as "Mamleches Kohanim - a Priestly Kingdom." Thus, in a sense, we are all Kohanim - we are all leaders, for there is always someone in our lives who looks to us for strength and must be fortified.

This lesson applies to every parent, grandparent, rebbi, and teacher. We must always bear in mind that one day, our children, our students, will remember that in time of crisis we remained steadfast in our faith; of course, the converse is also true. If we succumb to despair, that too will be etched in their memories. So let us ask ourselves, What legacy are we imparting to future generations? Will we be remembered for the darkness that we allowed to envelop us or for the faith and hope that we inspired?

It's all in our hands; the choice is ours to make.

  1. Lev. 21:1.
  2. Ibid. 21:12.
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