Cohanim are our designated agents, presenting the fire-offerings of the people to Hashem. Coupled with this hallowed employment they are charged with specific laws to further and protect their holiness. Their particular regulations fall into two main categories; avoiding contact with the human dead and a list of women whom they may not marry. The Cohen Godol is further elevated and thus further limited in these two spheres.
In the midst of these instructions it states “If a Cohen’s daughter becomes desecrated through adultery she desecrates her father; she shall be burned in fire”. This is a departure from the standard applied to the rest of the nation; their daughters are not burned. Everyone is exhorted to avoid adultery, it is such a central concept that it was prominently engraved on the two tablets, but why is the Cohen’s daughter singled out for a different punishment? Additionally in what way does this impact her father’s priesthood “she desecrates her father”? Why is this an impeachment against his Cehunah?
All Jews are enjoined to emulate Hashem and be holy (Vayikra 19:2). So how does one become holy, what is the method to inject holiness into one’s life and interactions? Rashi, (ibid) notices a sequence and uncovers a pattern which carries holiness in its wake. This leads him to make the following statement.
“Wherever one finds a barrier against sexual immorality, one finds holiness”
Rashi marshals three proofs to this theory, to quote one as an example:
“a woman who is a prostitute or one who was profane [they shall not marry] I, the Lord, Who sanctifies you” (Vayikra 21:7-8).
Distancing from licentiousness is the starting point for Kedusha. All development in holiness must originate by taming one’s voluptuous craving. But it doesn’t just begin there. All further development in Kedusha is measured by control in this area. The power one exerts over the sensual is the yardstick with which to measure how truly holy is one’s life. More abstention and control translates into more Kedusha.
The Cohen is the divinely appointed agent of the people. He is nominated to be the minister who “offers up the food offering of your G-d”. Because of his sublime celestial duties he is expected to attain a higher level of holiness than the man of the street. In light of the above this is to be interpreted that the Cohen is supposed to be further distanced from sexual immorality.
If the daughter of a regular Jew were to commit adultery, she has demonstrated poor execution of her free will. This is also a blot on her family, how could she possibly have developed into a harlot growing up in an atmosphere where this should be seen as an impossibility. Some minute flaw has been exposed. If the daughter of a Cohen is to commit adultery, it is far worse. Not only is this a stain on his household but this is a blemish on his priesthood. His life’s occupation professes holiness and abstention from lasciviousness and now his very own child has dabbled in the contrary.She has desecrated her father.
Reb Yehuda the Prince, also known as Rebbi, is famous for documenting the oral law and as editor of the Mishnah. Tradition has a singularly reserved honor for this legendary personage and he is reverently referred as Rabbenu Hakodosh – the Holy Teacher. How did Rebbi merit this accolade? The Gemorah (Shabbos 118b) explores this topic.
Rebbi himself had an exchange with his students regarding this very issue. His very own students asked Rebbi “Why do they call you Rabbenu Hakodosh – our Holy Teacher?”
He dutifully replied “In all of my days I have never stared at my Milah”.
The Talmud challenges this basis. Reb Yosi too was extremely modest and could similarly testify about himself that he had never stared at his Milah. Now if this was true of Reb Yosi, he too, like Rebbi, should have been called “Hakodosh”.
Answers the Gemara, Reb Yehuda the Prince had an additional practice. In all of his days he had never placed his hand below his belt. That is why he was known for posterity as Rabbeinu Hakodesh – our Holy Teacher.