Out of Order!

The Parsha begins with special laws pertaining to Kohainim – priests.

Kohanim, because of their distinction that they serve in the Temple, are commanded to maintain an extra level of purity. One of these laws is that they are forbidden to come in contact with a human corpse. Contact with a corpse would make a Kohain ritually impure and would preclude him from entering and serving in the Temple and from partaking in the priestly gifts.

However, the Torah mandates that a regular Kohain must come into contact with the corpse of his seven closest relatives; his wife, mother, father, brother, unmarried sister, son and daughter.

But the Kohain Godol – the High Priest – must always retain his pristine level of purity and is forbidden from coming into contact with any corpse even of a relative.

Women connected to the Kohainic family are permitted to attend a funeral, for the Torah specifically states this is a law for “the sons of Aaron the High Priest.”

Interestingly, when the Torah lists the relatives to whom a regular Kohain must become impure to when they die, it lists his mother before his father. Yet, when the Torah lists the relatives which the Kohain Godol is forbidden to defile himself, it switches and first lists his father and then his mother. Why?

To gain understanding, let’s explore another law where the order in which one’s parents are listed is changed.

The Torah states two obligations which children have toward their parents; Honoring them and Revering them.

Honoring one’s parents includes serving them courteously, while reverence deals with the level of respect one has to give his parents, such as not contradicting them.

In regards to honoring parents, the Torah first mentions the father and then the mother, yet regarding the Mitzvah of reverence to parents, the Torah first states the mother and then the father. Why?

The reason given in the Talmud is that in each law, the Torah first mentions the parent that a child may feel a bit more challenged to either honor or revere.

A child generally fears his father more than his mother. (Just wait till Daddy comes home.) The Torah therefore places the mother more prominently to emphasize that the child be mindful of the reverence he must display to his mother, which doesn’t come as naturally as his reverence toward his father.

Similarly, a child’s general makeup is to honor his mother more than his father. The Torah therefore places the father more prominently, to emphasize that the child be mindful to honor his father, for it does not come as naturally to him as towards his mother.

We can suggest a similar idea to address our question why the order of the parents of the Kohain and the Kohain Godol are switched.

The Torah mandates that a Kohain becomes impure to his deceased relatives. But perhaps one may think that since his mother had no impact on his becoming a Kohain, for the lineage of the Kohain is patrilineal, therefore he may not become impure to his mother. The Torah therefore places the mother first to stress that yes, a Kohain has to become impure to his mother when she passes away. (For the same reason, the law that a Kohain is to become impure to his deceased wife is the first to be mentioned.)

As for a Kohain Godol, who is forbidden to come into contact with the corpse of any relative, the Torah specifically places the prohibition of his father first. This is to highlight that even though his father is the one who bestowed upon the son the privilege to be a Kohain, even to him, the Kohain Godol cannot become impure.

We see that the Torah’s places greater emphasis on areas which don’t necessarily come naturally to us, showing us that G-d acknowledges man’s shortcomings. He gave us the Torah as a model and manual to improve on our weaknesses and challenges. Torah study refines our thinking so that we can recognize G-d’s perfect view, direction and perspective. This is the ultimate prescription to enable us to reach and achieve perfection and excellence!