Monday, April 25, 2016

The Torah was concerned that the holy cohen gadol at the holiest moment of the year would lust for a married women and pray that her husband die

As we have noted a number of times before - the baalei mussar make a point of saying that the sins of great people are minor things which are described in an exaggerated manner because they are held to a more severe standard than everyone else.

Rav Silberstein notes a case which seems to strongly go against this view and in fact fits in clearly with the statement that the greater the person - the greater is his yetzer.

The Torah (Vayikra 21:14) tells us that a cohen gadol can not marry either a widow or a divorcee. The question is why? He notes that this question was asked by the Baalei Tosfos [the only source I could find is an attribution to Rav Yehuda HaChasid but I couldn't find it in Sefer Chasidim]. The answer they give is astounding and it illustrates the power of the yetzer harah.

"Because the Cohen Gadol would mention the special name of G-d, there was a danger that he might have lust for a married women and he would use the opportunity to wish for the death of her husband. Consequently the Torah prohibited him from marrying a widow and only allowed a virgin"

These astounding words have to be fully understood. We are talking about the holy cohen gadol who was more holy than all the other Jews. He is now standing in the most holy part of the Temple at the holies part of the year - Yom Kippur. And it is specifically at the time that he is mentioning G-d's special name. Is there any situation which surpasses this holiness?

Nevertheless the Torah is concerned  that he is lusting for a married woman at such a time and such a place and that he will take advantage of his situation to use G-d's special name to kill the husband. It is incredible to see the extent of the power of the yetzer harah.

Furthermore we see something else - how great the power of prayer is. That G-d is prepared to listen to even disgusting prayer such as this - whose whole nature is to cause evil to another who is totally innocent.


  1. I have come to a more mature view of such interpretations. On a pshat level it is something we should look at as being clearly true and teaching as above - no man is immune from the yetzer hara, even in the most Holy of Holies.

    Next, it may have some ideological nuance - perhaps the experience with the Tzedukim, who often were the Kohanim in charge of the bayit Sheini, some suspicion remains over the position of the Kohen Gadol.

    On a more Biblical level, we already know that Aharon's sons also committed some kind of Eish Zarah, and suffered, so there was no immunity even at the highest levels of Prophecy and Ruach Kodesh, shortly after Har Sinai.

    Btw, in Yechezkel, we are told that a Kohen can marry the widow of another Kohen - I am not sure what the halacha is, and what are the laws of Yibum concerning a Kohen/Gadol?

  2. Also, I wonder how this might be related to David HaMelech and Batsheva - where the Nach states explicitly that David engaged in relations with a married woman, and then arranged for her husband to be put in the front line in war.
    In David's case, he was not a Kohen, and a widow was not forbidden to him - but even if we take the minimalist view of Chazal, that he didn't sin the way we read it in Sefer Shmuel - he was still (as he states in Tehillim) caught by the yetzer hara. There is a midrash that he wanted to be one of the Avot and asked for a nisayon, and this was when he went on the roof and saw Batsheva.
    Also the punishment dealt to him in the Torah, and which was told him by Nathan, attest to the fact that one one level or other he did sin, whether the simple version or the complex one.
    It is a parallel to the case of the Kohen Gadol.

  3. This is one of the finest posts ever, on this site. Yasher Koach.

  4. It could be that the Cohen gadol has this thought subconsciously as opposed to consciously. He's not an actual horrible person, rather this desire and yetzer hara is rooted deep in his subconscious. As we see the real baalei mussar (specifically r dessler ) have said.

  5. But this quiry should really be asked on the tzadikim who went out for milchemes mitzva and took a got slave for a wife, eishes yfas toar, as we see even David hamelech did.

  6. so this is a new category of prayer called subconscious prayer? What happens when the subconcious prayer contradicts ths conscious prayer - which one does G-d answer?

  7. what differentiates it from other posts in your eyes?

  8. the Or HaChaim asks this question

  9. "Because the Cohen Gadol would mention the special name of G-d, there was a danger that he might have lust for a married women and he would use the opportunity to wish for the death of her husband. Consequently the Torah prohibited him from marrying a widow and only allowed a virgin"

    King Solomon knew well how men lust for women. He writes:

    “My son, listen to my wisdom; Incline your ear to my insight, That you may have foresight, While your lips hold fast to knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey; Her mouth is smoother than oil; But in the end she is as bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to Death; Her steps take hold of Sheol. She does not chart a path of life; Her course meanders for lack of knowledge. So now, sons, pay heed to me, And do not swerve from the words of my mouth. Keep yourself far away from her; Do not come near the doorway of her house Lest you give up your vigor to others, Your years to a ruthless one; Lest strangers eat their fill of your strength, And your toil be for the house of another; And in the end you roar, When your flesh and body are consumed, And say, “O how I hated discipline, And heartily spurned rebuke. I did not pay heed to my teachers, Or incline my ear to my instructors. Soon I was in dire trouble Amidst the assembled congregation.” Drink water from your own cistern, Running water from your own well. Your springs will gush forth In streams in the public squares. They will be yours alone, Others having no part with you. Let your fountain be blessed; Find joy in the wife of your youth—A loving doe, a graceful mountain goat. Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be infatuated with love of her always. Why be infatuated, my son, with a forbidden woman? Why clasp the bosom of an alien woman? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of God; He surveys his entire course. The wicked man will be trapped in his iniquities; He will be caught up in the ropes of his sin. He will die for lack of discipline, Infatuated by his great folly” (Proverbs 5:1-23).

    The Malbim explains (Malbim on Mishley Wengrov, p. 50)

    “There are two levels of meaning here. On the one hand, the description is of the hypo crises and dangers inherent in immorality, whose allurements are so persuasive and apparently harmless. The “strange woman” is also, however, a metaphor for the attractions of alien philosophies. The arguments of heretical writings are deceptively congenial and even seem to have the ring of truth (“smoother than oil” they slip down with the greatest of ease).”

    I’m a כהן. I bless ברכת כהנים every day and twice when there’s מוסף or a fast. Yes, I feel the holiness… I can understand the Bale Tosfot saying that the כהן ”would mention the special name of G-d, there was a danger that he might have lust for a married women…” I try to squelch bad and evil thoughts. Fortunately, Kiddishin 40a

    מחשבה רעה אין הקב"ה מצרפה למעשה But the Holy One Blessed be He does not regard a bad thought, for it says “Had I an evil thought in my mind, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalms 66:18). [Soncino: i.e., when it remained a mere “thought in my mind”, it was overlooked.

  10. What happens when the subconcious prayer contradicts ths conscious prayer - which one does G-d answer?

    Is it possible for a person to lose out or be punished for a single action, while meriting reward for that same action?

    When Moshe was shepherding his Yissro's sheep in the desert, Hashem appeared to him. Moshe hid his face. There is a disagreement between the Tanaim if Moshe was correct for having hidden his face.

    According to Tana in the Midrash who says that Moshe was wrong, that's why he lost out later on.... However, according to the same Tana, Moshe was still rewarded for this same action. It appears that Hashem does take all of our thoughts - both primary, and secondary - into consideration, even while performing a singular action. Moshe was punished/lost out for what he did incorrectly, but was still rewarded for what was correct about his actions.
    Page 12:

    On the same vain, why can we not say that Cohen Gadol's main thoughts and prayers while in the K"K would be noble, righteous and truly concerning for his People. Yet, at the same time he would still have a secondary/subconscious-type of thought, desire and prayer to have the "perfect" wife - who just happens to have married the "wrong" guy already.

    And that may explain why his prayer would be accepted. The complete prayer would be accepted due to most of it being righteous and noble. if he would just go and pray for his desire to get someone else's wife, his prayer would be a lot less likely to answered - unless the husband was very evil.

  11. I think that is addressed by the very end of the Tefila. "Oseh Shalom Bimromuv..." In other words, I have many facets to my being and their wants don't always align, or even dovetail. I am asking for Hashem to reconcile and integrate my prayer and provide me with an answer to my requests that balances my whole inner kingdom.

  12. "He notes that this question was asked by the Baalei Tosfos [the only source I could find is an attribution to Rav Yehuda HaChasid ]. The answer they give is astounding and it illustrates the power of the yetzer harah."
    So who are the they?

  13. Yechezkel (haftorah of 'emor') is something else. It basically refers to the practice of (divorced) cohanim only marrying daughters and widows of other cohanim (said to be cause otherwise you would have stepchildren who couldn't eat at their stepfather's table, who would serve trumot and maaserot, which children of non cohanim couldn't eat.)

  14. A regular Kohen may marry a widow; only the Kohen Gadol may not.

    A Kohen Gadol does Chalitzah, not Yibum.

  15. 1: Yechezkel was speaking of special restrictions for the kohanim of the family of Tzadok; not kohanim in general.
    2: Re. yibbum/halitza, you can look at the mishnayos in the second perek of Sanhedrin and the Gemara there.

  16. Yes, but it is an exception to the rule, so I am wondering if this is how it is in Halacha today?

  17. The_Original_Bored_LawyerApril 26, 2016 at 8:48 PM

    In the Sefer Harerei Kedem, the author quotes R. JB Soloveichik that there is such a kind of prayer -- Hashem listens, as it were, to our inner thoughts and pains, even if we do not articulate them. IIRC, it is quoted on the part of the haggadah which darshens "Vayar es anyenu." Bli neder I will check tonight.

  18. see also this post

  19. The Rambam writes in the end of Ishus that only a mind empty of Torah thinks about Taayva. This is based on the Gemora in Sucah that Torah is the antidote to the Yetzer Hara.

  20. The_Original_Bored_LawyerApril 27, 2016 at 3:19 AM

    I got it right. It is Chelek Beis, the section on the Haggadah. The author also quotes a nice related vort from the Alter of Slabodka.

  21. 1- it could refer to cohanim who were not of high standing, who had bought the right to be the cohen gadol 2- we could be talking about extrinsic powerful negative forces which are also present to counter- balance the kedusha of the kohein gadol's a'voda and they can impact on the kohein

  22. ,תבלין Tavlin-Is not an antidote
    It is a spice - something which makes the food tasty/edible

  23. Thanks, I didn't know that Gemara - is it the same story where the chickens stopped laying eggs?
    Also, this is similar to what Freud - lehavdil, said, about life forces (he probably learned the gemara too).

  24. Which baalei mussar exactly? Please provide a source and context.

    The gemoro gives several examples of Tanoim and Amaroim nearly falling into terrible sins. Don't need Rav Silverstein or Rishonim to point this out...

    I suspect that the point of the ba'alei musar is NOT that ALL sins of the greats can be categorised that way, some can. As the gemoro says 'kol ho'omer dovid chotoh...'. Nach describes that sin akin to Eishes Ish when it was nothing of the kind.

  25. A cohen hedyot can marry a non bat cohen, as long as she is not a gerusha or otherwise non permitted. We do not follow 'yechezkel'.

  26. Yes, it is the same Gemara. That is exactly the/a point of the story.
    I neither know nor care what F said about life forces, whether or not his observations happen to overlap with some of our sages' revelations of the ultimate reality.

  27. “The Torah was concerned that the holy cohen gadol at the holiest moment of the year would lust for a married women and pray that her husband die”

    The כהן גדול administered the oath to the Sotah:

    “The priest shall adjure the woman, saying to her, If no man has lain with you, if you have not gone astray in defilement while married to your husband, be immune to harm from this water of bitterness that induces the spell” (Numbers 5:19).

    My theory is that the Sotah, in many cases, was the saint and victim and husband the louse and perpetrator. The כהן גדול would know how to treat such a fine sexy lady, if only he had met her before she married the louse. The radical feminists claim that the woman is the saint and victim and the man the louse. I see that Rabbi Epstein in his testimony on his sentencing day calls the man the reprobate (depraved, unprincipled), the reprobate (Epstein repeats). Now, these saintly and victimized wives all have reprobate husbands!! Do they ?? What can ORA and other feminist organizations do? The heter to remarry without a get is one idea. Epstein had the idea to knock out the teeth of the louse. What happens when the wife is not the saint and victim and the husband not the louse (a mean and contemptible person) ??? Do the radical feminists say sorry?? Susan’s idea for 30 years is:

    (internet 2012):

    “Supporters of Tamar Epstein, whose ex-husband, Aharon Friedman, refuses to give her a religious divorce, have been pressuring Friedman's boss, U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Michigan, to fire Friedman. They have protested in front of Camp's office, signed a petition at, started a website ( and in February, bombarded Camp's official congressional Facebook page. But Susan Aranoff, director of Agunah International, which supports Jewish women seeking divorces, said social media has little effect because many husbands still are resistant after all the bullets have been fired."

  28. I like that, Yechezkel is a sefer halacha,and we don't rule like him, (until the Moshiach comes).

  29. It's clear from the Gemara in kiddushin that you're wrong. Tavlin is bandage/antidote. The mashal the Gemara uses clearly attests to that. To be koivesh Es yitzro, is to conquer it, not harness it.

  30. “the whole community knew that Aaron had breathed his last. All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days” (Numbers 20:29).

    Hertz Chumash:

    “In later Jewish thought, Aaron is the ideal peace-maker; and Hiller bids every man to be a ‘disciple of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving his fellowmen and bringing them near to the Torah’. According to rabbinic legend, he would go house to house, and whenever he found one who did know how to recite the Shema, he taught him to recite it. He did not, however, restrict his activities to ‘establishing peace between God and man’, but strove to establish peace between man and his fellow. If he discovered that two men [or husband and wife] had fallen out, he hastened first to the one, then to the other, saying to each: ‘If thou didst but know how he [she] with whom thou has quarreled regrets his [her] action!’ Aaron would thus speak to each [husband and wife] separately, until both the former enemies would mutually forgive each other…”

    Sanhedrin 6b

    “R. Eliezer the son of R. Jose the Galilean says: It is forbidden to arbitrate in a settlement, and he who arbitrates thus offends, and whoever praises such a grasping man [ובצע] reviles and scorns the Lord, for it is written, “The wicked crows about his unbridled lusts; the grasping man reviles and scorns the Lord” (Psalms 10:3). [The root-meaning of ובצע is to cut; hence the word נאץ translated, scorns, is taken in the sense of an arbiter in a compromise, when the difference between two claims is split.] But let the law cut through the mountain, [Take its course.] for it is written, “You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike. Fear no man, for judgment is God’s. And any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I will hear it” (Deut. 1:17). For the judgment is God's [And no court has the right to tamper with it.] And so Moses's motto was: Let the law cut through the mountain. Aaron, however, loved peace and pursued peace and made peace between man [husband] and man [wife], as it is written, “Proper rulings were in his mouth, And nothing perverse was on his lips; He served Me with complete loyalty And held the many back from iniquity” (Malachi 2:6).

  31. כך הקב"ה אמר להם לישראל: בני, בראתי יצר הרע ובראתי לו תורה תבלין. ואם אתם עוסקים בתורה - אין אתם נמסרים בידו שנאמר "הלוא אם תיטיב שאת", ואם אין אתם עוסקין בתורה אתם נמסרים בידו, שנאמר "לפתח חטאת רובץ", ולא עוד אלא שכל משאו ומתנו בך, שנאמר "ואליך תשוקתו". ואם אתה רוצה - אתה מושל בו שנאמר "ואתה תמשל בו".
    Where do you see so clearly that Tavlin is bandage/antidote and not spice to make it edible/useable?
    What exactly to you mean by bandage/antidote? What happens to the yetzer horo?
    Why did Chazal find it necessary to bring back the yetzer horo after chickens stopped laying eggs, etc.?
    Do we really want, can we really manage without it?

  32. Um, did you skip the first half of the gemara on purpose? The half that says the mashal with a wound and bandage and on that the gemara says
    כך הקב"ה אמר.

  33. The Gemora at the end of Sucah says Hashem will slaughter the Yetzer Hora in the times of Moshiach. Even if we say like some Meforshim that it means to weaken it, we definitely see that Chazal view it as a conflict. We also see the other Gemoras about breaking or melting the Yetzer Hora by learning Torah. The Yetzer Hora represents something essential for life, but there is a constant battle against it becoming overpowering. This is why it is compared to yeast, not like your comparison to food, because yeast is dynamic and will continue growing if left alone. So it's really the opposite from what you're saying: The Yetzer Haro is in the bread and is always ready to turn it into sourdough if we don't constantly agitate the dough. The Yetzer Hora is the "spice" which makes life more enjoyable.

  34. Yetzer hara cannot be destroyed, it just comes back in more complex guises.

  35. Perhaps before we get carried away with explaining this statement,the source should be researched more carefully.

  36. This is indeed the logic of the Maharsha and others whom I quoted above "The commentaries explained that it's not possible to have killing and slaughtering [applied to the Yetzer Hora], rather nullifying its strength is its slaughtering and killing as the pasuk says "I will remove the stone heart...""


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