יְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֖ן לֵאמֹ֑ר אִ֣ישׁ מִֽזַּרְעֲךָ֞ לְדֹרֹתָ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִהְיֶ֥ה בוֹ֙ מ֔וּם לֹ֣א יִקְרַ֔ב לְהַקְרִ֖יב לֶ֥חֶם אֱלֹהָֽיו׃ כִּ֥י כָל־אִ֛ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֥וֹ מ֖וּם לֹ֣א יִקְרָ֑ב אִ֤ישׁ עִוֵּר֙ א֣וֹ פִסֵּ֔חַ א֥וֹ חָרֻ֖ם א֥וֹ שָׂרֽוּעַ׃ א֣וֹ אִ֔ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יִהְיֶ֥ה ב֖וֹ שֶׁ֣בֶר רָ֑גֶל א֖וֹ שֶׁ֥בֶר יָֽד׃ אֽוֹ־גִבֵּ֣ן אוֹ־דַ֔ק א֖וֹ תְּבַלֻּ֣ל בְּעֵינ֑וֹ א֤וֹ גָרָב֙ א֣וֹ יַלֶּ֔פֶת א֖וֹ מְר֥וֹחַ אָֽשֶׁךְ׃ כָּל־אִ֞ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֣וֹ מ֗וּם מִזֶּ֙רַע֙ אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֔ן לֹ֣א יִגַּ֔שׁ לְהַקְרִ֖יב אֶת־אִשֵּׁ֣י יְהוָ֑ה מ֣וּם בּ֔וֹ אֵ֚ת לֶ֣חֶם אֱלֹהָ֔יו לֹ֥א יִגַּ֖שׁ לְהַקְרִֽיב׃ לֶ֣חֶם אֱלֹהָ֔יו מִקָּדְשֵׁ֖י הַקֳּדָשִׁ֑ים וּמִן־הַקֳּדָשִׁ֖ים יֹאכֵֽל׃ אַ֣ךְ אֶל־הַפָּרֹ֜כֶת לֹ֣א יָבֹ֗א וְאֶל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֛חַ לֹ֥א יִגַּ֖שׁ כִּֽי־מ֣וּם בּ֑וֹ וְלֹ֤א יְחַלֵּל֙ אֶת־מִקְדָּשַׁ֔י כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה מְקַדְּשָֽׁם׃
The LORD spoke further to Moses: Speak to Aaron and say: No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of hisG”d.
No one at all who has a defect shall be qualified: no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long; no man who has a broken leg or a broken arm; or who is a hunchback, or a dwarf, or who has a growth in his eye, or who has a boil-scar, or scurvy, or crushed testes. No man among the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the LORD’s offering by fire; having a defect, he shall not be qualified to offer the food of his G”d. He may eat of the food of his G”d, of the most holy as well as of the holy; but he shall not enter behind the curtain or come near the altar, for he has a defect. He shall not profane these places sacred to Me, for I the LORD have sanctified them. (Lev. 21:16-23)
מ֔וּם Mum. That’s the word. That’s Mem, Shuruk, Mem Sofit – M- “oo” – m.
It means blemish or defect. It is used in this parasha and some later ones to refer to blemished animals which were unfit to be sacrificed. But here in this parasha, it is also used in a closely connected series of verses (17, 18, 21, 23) to refer to a physical blemish or defect of a human being, i.e. blindness, lameness, broken or odd length arms or legs, hunchbacks, people with growths in their eyes, people with boil scars, or scurvy, or crushed testicles. Any kohanim, any priest who has such a defect may not make the food offering, or go behind the curtain that separates the altar from the rest of the sanctuary.
If you’ve followed the text, you’ll notice I left one defect out. In Hebrew, the word is “dak.” The meaning of this word is uncertain, though it seems to mean thin, shrunk or withered-in reference to a human being. While the Sifra to Leviticus believes it is connected to a defect of the eye as referred to in the following words of the pasuk, the JPS translation is “dwarf.”
(5760, Edited 5777) Those of you who have met me know that I am only 4′-9″ tall. Although technically I am what is called idiopathic short stature or “normal short” I am on the extreme end of that range. I don’t have the determining characteristics to be considered a dwarf or midget. As a child, I was routinely examined, my bone-age tracked. The possibility of participating in a early trial of growth hormone treatment was raised, but not pursued. (Turns out that the efficacy of such treatments is questionable and they had other side effects.)
(5777) I was never particularly interested in being “treated” for my height, or wanting science to make me taller. I know some who went through treatments and have suffered as a result, and not gained much height either. The efficacy of a such treatments was always doubtful. Not to mention the ethics. Why should short stature with no underlying medical cause be considered a condition for which there are treatments like growth hormone therapy or leg-lengthening surgeries? Doesn’t the existence of such things suggest that our society does discriminate based on height? why should it even matter
Nevertheless, my small size does have its problems, believe me. Physical limitations.
(5777 – Why, just today, subbing as a teacher in a social studies class at a middle school, I had to ask a taller student to help me change the date on the board, and ask another student to help me clip up a homework assignment for a student who was absent to a designated spot above my reach. I have never, in my entire life, experienced a single trip to the grocery store when I did not have to step up onto something to reach an item (or ask a passerby for help.) Bathrooms mirrors are often too high, and, pardon me for being earthy, but men’s restrooms without child-height facilities are no fun. Those can grippers designed for elderly folks see everyday usage in my home – as much for retrieving items from the bottom of the washer as for cans in the cupboard. Don’t even get me started on cars, airbags, and all that. There isn’t a car made (unless it’s a van, pickup, or a truck) in which I can see fully over the hood, even with seat cushions. Pulling in and out of a parking space so I can be straightly aligned is constant. (Having a rear camera on my car helps me do it quicker, but I still have to consult the camera to see how skewed I might be to the lines and adjust. The camera just means I can do it faster, and without having to fully back out of the space. Sure, this is routine for me, and maybe I don’t think about it all that much, but there are still moments when I with I didn’t have to deal with it.)
(5760) Even subtle discrimination-intentional and unintentional. Imagine, for a moment, what it feels like to always having to be looking upwards to talk to people, how it feels to always be surrounded by people taller than you. It’s a problem that can be dealt with-but it IS a problem.
(5777 – Though I am certain that there have been occasions in my life when I was treated differently or even discriminated against due to my height, overall, I have had a positive experience in how people react to my height. Working as I have been doing these past months as a substitute teacher working all the way from Kindergarten to 12th grade, plus all my previous years experiences in classrooms, I’ve encountered very few students who gave my height more than a moment’s initial notice. Sure, I’m certain that students, even colleagues and other adults, when describing me to others, mention my height. Being memorable isn’t always a bad thing.)
(5760) Comfortable as I am with my stature, it troubles me to think that, were I a kohen, and, G”d willing, the Beit HaMikdash were rebuilt, I would probably be considered “mum” because I am “dak.” In fact, it troubles me greatly that that our Torah labels human beings as defective at all. Why, if we are all b’tzelem Elokim, would G”d refuse the offering of any human, and especially any kohen?
In recent parashiyot, those hotly debated passages regarding homosexuality have still raised the usual stirred and emotional discussions. I’m not going to discuss those issues, but it does seem to me than an awful lot of discussion takes place about those passages, yet others who are discriminated against, or labeled “defective” by the Torah seem to get overlooked. (Ha-ha, I made a funny. The little short guy made a joke about getting “overlooked.”)
Well, it’s not funny. One who is gay or lesbian often cannot be identified without their own open self-identification of their sexual preference. But one with a “defect,” whether it is a disease or condition or accident that put them in a wheel chair, or caused them to lose a limb, or a genetic factor that caused their body to be dwarfish or disfigured, or have a harelip, or develop rosacea or psoriasis, or even one like myself, who is simply extremely short–our “defects” are out in the open. No avoiding them. There is no “don’t ask, don’t tell” for us. We are discriminated against. And we even discriminate against each other.
(5766-It’s sort of sad to sometimes see various special interest groups seek to gain for their own at the expense of others. There is, sadly, only so much to go around, and when one group gets more, someone else usually winds up getting less.)
(5766-I even wonder if we view people who look different from us as having defects? Surely the Nazis saw it that way. And how does this play into our concerns and attitudes about Latino immigrants, refugees in Darfur, etc.)
Now, please don’t misunderstand. It’s not a matter of “my defect’s worse than yours…” I am not suggesting that gays and lesbians have it easy – for they certainly do not in our society, which discriminates against them, openly and secretly.
(5777 – I guess I’m writing this for future readers next time I revise this musing, but all I can say is: Donald Trump is currently President of the United States. That kinda says it all. We’re headed in full-speed reverse on many of the positive changes in our society over the last 50 years.)
(5760) But in our rush to be inclusive, who are we leaving out? When I was in second grade, everyone in the class got a chance to put the American flag into it’s holder. When my turn came, the teacher passed me by. So I marched right up to her, took the flag from her hands, pulled her chair out from behind her desk, moved it over to the blackboard, climbed up on it, and put the flag in its holder. I don’t recall what, if any, repercussions there were from this incident, but I do vividly remember what I did, and how angry I was at being skipped over because of my “defect.”
While I don’t like to think of my height as a defect, it does present real problems. I can be the victim of discrimination, openly or secretly. As I have alluded to earlier, there are some things I can’t do, some tasks that require special effort, or tools or aids. The same is true, and more so, for those who have far more challenging and difficult issues to deal with than I do. (I will not say that I count my blessings every day that I don’t have some other “defect” to deal with. That’s an attitude that prima facie causes us to discriminate against others who are “less fortunate.” What a negative way to think of the other. Not very Buberian at all. Other people, whatever their challenges, their distinguishing or limiting characteristics, are human beings, deserved to be treated as other “Thous.”)
(5766-I’ll be honest. There are times I have the most shameful thoughts-wishing that I had a “defined handicap” so that I was entitled to the protections and assistance afforded to others through legislation like the American with Disabilities Act. Those are shameful thoughts, and I always feel guilty for even thinking them, knowing that my challenges are minor inconveniences by comparison. Yet I wouldn’t be human if there weren’t times when, after having to climb up on shelves at the grocery, or waiting forever at a counter because I wasn’t noticed, and so on, that I was frustrated enough to wish there were laws to help me out. I’ve little doubt that waiting around in the elevator as an elementary-school-age child for someone tall enough to push the button for the tenth floor where my family lived impacted the formation of my psyche! Still, I am glad I have my Judaism to remind me to not kvetch, and be grateful for all that I have, but not grateful enough to the point where I demean the worth of those with challenges greater than my own.)
(5777 – I just re-read those words and I’m thinking to myself in what universe are Jews not kvetching? A part of me wanted to say that Judaism has done little to remind us not to kvetch, but I’d be being dishonest if I said that. We may have a history of kvetching, but like all things in our tradition, our texts balance our kvetching with lessons that teach us to not be so whiny. (Sometimes, the lessons are obvious (for example, Korach) sometimes less so (for example. Joseph. Oh sure, he had many faults, but he sure knew how to turn something bad into something good – and he didn’t do that by whining and kvetching.) It’s our own fault that we’re too stiff-necked even after all these millennia to know that other than offering some catharsis, regular kvetching doesn’t really help us.)
(5760) I think that all of us want but these simple things: to be treated fairly, not be discriminated against, and to have a place in society where our challenges are not challenges at all.
You know, it troubles me a bit perhaps, that there are synagogues that actively work to be a place where gays and lesbians are not discriminated against, yet, at the same time, there are many more synagogues with only the most minimal handicap accessibility (usually, the bare minimum the code requires, our congregational boards often being good stewards of money, but poor stewards of G”d’s mitzvot.) It’s not a matter of doing one or the other. It’s a matter of doing it all. Inclusivity cannot be selectively inclusive.
(5766-I never mentioned this before, but, back in the days when I was working for North Dakota State University, although it took a few years to actually make it happen, they were quite accommodating when I asked if I could replace the furniture in my office with furniture that was better adapted for my height. And it made a difference when it was finally installed. I will always be proud to have worked for an employer that cared enough about that to address the ergonomics for me.)
(5777 – Things are getting better. Synagogues and Jewish institutions are becoming more aware of the need to be inclusive of those with physical and other challenges. Nevertheless, there’s still a long way to go. (Dare I suggest that synagogues stop treating intermarriage like a handicap they can’t accommodate?))
(5760) I am saddened that it appears G”d instructed us to exclude the defective from certain priestly services. I hope that there is a better or alternate understanding of the plain meaning of the text here, and I pray that it can be found.
(5766-I’m still looking. Haven’t found it yet. Given my penchant for the task of “redeeming seemingly irredeemable” pieces of our sacred texts, I’m surprised I haven’t devoted more effort to that! Oh, one can easily create an apologetic. Judaism is good at that. “Women aren’t second class. They’re already closer to G”d so they don’t need to do all those mitzvot!” Even my two favorite crispy critters, Nadav and Avihu-there’s an apologetic way of looking at their getting zotzed by G”d that basically says that through their deaths they were brought closer to G”d-perhaps G”d was rewarding and not punishing them. That’s one I just don’t buy, no matter how many times sages, scholars and others try to sell it to me. So let’s see-an apologetic for why the “mum” among us couldn’t perform certain priestly functions. Perhaps, as in the apologetic for women, the defect made the person more perfect, and thus the other priests needed to perform these special functions. Nah. Doesn’t work. At least not for me. Of course, it could be read as a lesson for all of us, and especially those of us who have a “defect.” The lesson? That our “defects” really do impose limitations, and we might not be able to do everything that we really would like to do in spite of (or perhaps in spite for) our defects. Nah, that one fails for me as well, even though I sense a grain of truth in it. There is a great apocryphal story in the theater world of a blind college student who insisted that he be allowed to take a course in theatrical lighting design, and that accommodations be made so that he could design lighting for a show. Sounds crazy, on the one hand. A bit over the top. On the other hand, it’s not impossible. And I’ve known a few people who were blind with the most incredible ability to “vision” who could probably come up with a far more artistic lighting design for a show than any sighted lighting designer could.)
(5766-The same apocryphal story is also told in a “deaf student wanting to become an audio designer” version. If you really think about it, it might not seem such a far-fetched idea. After all, with lots of stepstools, gripping tools, ladders, I can pretty much overcome my height deficit. Then again, I can’t ever overcome what I physically look like to other people. Sometimes, that’s the worst part. In my early days of managing theaters, I had a regular patron in a wheelchair who came to shows. They once gave me a lecture that really changed my attitude. “You can’t really know how I feel” she told me. “And I can also tell you that I have mixed feelings. I hate it when it’s obvious I’m in a wheelchair and people rush up to be helpful.” “On the other hand,” she said, “sometimes I really do need and want the help.” I took her words to heart. I began requiring my ushers and other staff to spend some time in a wheelchair as part of their training, to see what it was like trying to get around, to see how they reacted when people noticed them and were helpful. I had them see what it was like to be blind and come to our venue. I made them try and understand and listen to a show through a hearing-assist device. We worked in every way to make everyone feel equally welcome and comfortable. We tried to assist those who needed assistance without making them feel helpless. It was all worth it.
(5777) Now that I’ve built this all up, I need to tear some of it apart. The scholars and various ancient translations disagree on some of the terminology and their meanings. It seems that “dak” the word translated as “dwarf” could possibly mean “no hair on the eyebrows” (i.e. eyebrowless.) In fact, various scholars and sources offer differing understanding of the various “defects” that would preclude someone from participating in the food rituals of the sacrificial services to G”d. (It appears such people can perform other priestly functions, but not participate in the rituals that involve G”d’s bread – extended by understanding to mean G”d’s food. such a priest can eat the food, but is not permitted near the altar to offer or sacrifice the food.)
(5777 We also need to think about the other “defects” besides dwarfism that disqualify a priest from these rituals: blindness, being lame, having one limb larger than normal or smaller than normal, a broken leg, a broken arm, a growth in their eye (cataract?), has a hunchback, scurvy, or crushed testicles. Why these particular “defects?” What is it about them that renders a priest unfit to deal with G”d’s food?
(5777 and here we are all these years later and I still am unable to redeem these few troubling verses. I refuse to simply chalk it off to our ancestors having more primitive views about such things. That’s just lazy, and a bit of a whitewash. That ANY human being who made the march from Egypt and accepted the commandments at Sinai should be discriminated against in this was is atrocious. All the more so for those upon whom G”d has bestowed a hereditary priesthood. G”d’s got some ‘splaining to do as far as I’m concerned because this just isn’t right, fair, or just. (Yes, we can invoke the ineffable G”d, but dear readers, you know how I feel about that. which reminds me, I’ve wanted to find a place to write this in a musing and finally found one. We know the old question can G”d create a rock too heavy for G”d to lift?” well, try this on for size: Can an ineffable G”d think something so ineffable that even G”d doesn’t understand the reasoning? But I digress.)
(5760, edited in 5777) So, for all the mumim and mumot everywhere, the iveyr (blind), the piseyach (lame,) gibeyn (possibly hunchback,) and dak (possibly dwarf, or possibly “no hair on the eyebrows”) my prayer that their troubles and afflictions will be heard, and that our synagogues and homes and schools and institutions will strive as much to include them as it has striven to include others.
(5766-and may we also strive to assist where and as much as assistance is needed, and no more, so that we don’t demean anyone’s sense of self-pride or self-worth.)
(5766-and may someone reading this come up with a way to redeem this irredeemable text that discriminates against priests with bodily defects.)
(5777 Ken y’hi ratson.)
©2017 (portions ©2000 and ©2006) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Emor 5775 – Missing the appointment
Emor 5774 – Lex Talionis (Redux & Revised from 5759)
Emor 5773 – The Half-Israelite Blasphemer
Emor 5772-Eternal EffortII: We Have Met the Ner Tamid and It Is Us
Emor 5771-B’yom HaShabbat, B’yom HaShabbat
Emor 5770 – G”d’s Shabbat II
Emor 5767-Redux and Revised 5761-Eternal Effort
Emor 5766 – Mum’s the Word (Redux 5760 with new commentary for 5766)
Emor 5765-Out of Sync
Emor 5764-One Law for All
Emor 5763-Mishpat Ekhad
Emor 5758-Gd’s Shabbat
Emor 5759-Lex Talionis
Emor 5760-Mum’s the Word
Emor 5761-Eternal Effort