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Home » Emor

Emor: Meaningful Choices

Submitted by on April 29, 2007 – 5:01 amNo Comment | 3,016 views


“He was in love with a Jewish woman. She was as Jewish as he was, but there was a problem. She was a convert and he was a kohein, a member of the priestly family.” (1) When I gently informed him that Jewish law forbids the marriage between a kohein and a proselyte, he was crestfallen. “Why did G-d arrange for us to meet and fall in love if he did not intend for us to marry,” he moaned.

He had a point. We are confronted constantly by tempting, but absolutely forbidden, relationships. We are forbidden to marry out of the faith, yet we are surrounded by people of all faiths. A kohein may not marry a convert, divorcee or widow, yet such love stories abound. Physical contact during and after menstruation is forbidden even between husband and wife, yet such temptation is integral to married life.

Why does G-d surround us with forbidden temptation? Wouldn’t our job be easier if G-d arranged for us to meet and be attracted only to those, who are permitted to us?

Overcoming Ourselves

Of course it would be easier, but we would be unable to make meaningful choices because our choices would be stripped of all meaning. Think of an infant, who drinks only from his mother’s breast. Should the infant be lauded for self discipline? The infant isn’t given a choice; its mother’s breast is its only option.

Consider the chipmunk, who is surrounded by many species, meaningful choices innerstreambut who mates only with its own. It is passionate with its partners, but it doesn’t choose to mate with its own species. It is by nature and instinct attracted only to its own species. Unlike the infant, the chipmunk is surrounded by many options, but it is not attracted to them. Because it doesn’t struggle with temptation its choice holds no meaning.

Only humans are afforded multiple options and are attracted to them. Only humans exercise freedom of choice in making their selection. When choosing the permitted option over the attractive option we subdue our inner animal and live by cognitive choice.

Multiple options are not intended to tempt us away from the choices G-d wants us to make. They are intended to activate our humanity. It requires human intellect to explore the many options and the respective promises each holds. Only the intellect can overcome personal predilection for the sake of meaningful reward. Only the intellect distinguishes human from beast.

Demarcating Lines

On a deeper level, our “no” to the forbidden enhance our “yes” to the permitted.

Consider the process of building a home. First land is surveyed and acquired. Then materials and supplies are purchased. Foundation is poured, walls are built and a roof is installed. Once a floor is laid down and plumbing and electricity are installed, the furniture can finally be delivered.

Contrast this with the nomad. When he wants to bed down he simply unpacks his sleeping bag and lays down. Why do we go to the effort of building a home before laying ourselves to sleep?

During his journey to his uncle’s home, Jacob camped in the desert. Before he laid himself to sleep Jacob gathered stones and cordoned off a circle around his sleeping area. Why did he do that? Couldn’t he have simply laid himself to sleep without cordoning off the area?

Defining Ours

It is only through defining what does not belong to us that we can define what does. When the entire desert is ours, then no specific spot belongs to us. Only when we demarcate the borders around our home and say, “that does not belong to me,” can we point to our home within those borders and say, “this does belongs to me.”

This home is mine because it belongs to no one else. This home is mine because it contrasts with the public grounds outside. To define anything as my own, both extremes are required. The public must have access to that which lies beyond my borders and must also be excluded from that which lies within.

Intimate Circles

The relationship we share with our spouse is special precisely because it is unique. This relationship is not and should not be shared with anyone else. No one, but our spouse, is permitted into this special chamber of our hearts.

This too requires borders that demarcate where others may enter and where they may not. If you and your spouse were the only human beings on the planet, your relationship with your spouse would not be special. If you were married to every person on the planet, your relationship with each spouse would not be unique. It is only special when other people, with whom you could have shared such a relationship, are excluded from the relationship. You can only belong to your spouse when others, who could have, do not.

(This is why flirtation is never innocent. Sharing a flirtatious moment with anyone, but your spouse, invites that person into a circle that was formerly reserved for your spouse alone. Once a stranger is invited, the circle can no longer be cherished the way it was; it is no longer unique to the two of you.

There may still be a chamber within your heart, devoted to your spouse alone. You are not prepared to substitute your marriage for meaningless flirtation, but you have narrowed that private space that once belonged to the two of you. Your spouse now feels uncomfortable with you and even resents you because you’ve invited someone into a spot, your spouse thought was reserved for the two of you. (2)

Meaningful Devotion

The Kohein’s mandate is to serve G-d. As such he is excluded from certain relationships. The creator determined which relationships enhance the Kohein’s ecclesiastical devotion and which distract him from it. However, the kohein cannot belong to the priesthood unless options are made available to him.

Had G-d prevented  the Kohein from meeting anyone he was forbidden to marry, his devotion would have been meaningless. He would not have chosen the priesthood, it would have been foisted upon him. Similarly, had G-d prevented the proselyte, who chose to embrace Judaism and its restriction against certain marriages, from meeting anyone she was forbidden to marry, she would have been denied the opportunity to cherish her choice.

This is why G-d permitted that young Kohein and proselyte to fall in love. It wasn’t cruel on G-d’s part to tempt them with forbidden fruit. On the contrary, it granted both an opportunity to endow their religious choice with meaning and their devotion with honor.

Making the choice that G-d wanted them to make enabled the Kohein and the Proselyte to define their relationship with G-d. It underscored the depth of their devotion and highlighted their respective responsibilities to the divine master plan.


  1. Leviticus 21: 7. Bab. Talmud Yevamos, 81a.
  2. Manis Friedman, Why Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore, Beis Channa Press, Minneapolis MN,1990, pp. 58-65.

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