Disqualifying Blemishes for Kohanim
“G-d spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Aharon, saying: Any man of your offspring throughout their generations in whom there shall be a blemish shall not come near to offer the food of his
“The food of his
All of the commandments that specifically concern the kohanim are designed to uphold the honor of
The Torah first deals with an array of physical defects that disqualify the kohen from performing the services, whether or not he was born with them, and whether or not they are permanent. Furthermore, the most serious of these defects are those that are found on the face. The Torah emphasizes that even though the kohanim, the offspring of Aharon, have a unique, elevated status in the nation, they shouldn’t think that physical blemishes are irrelevant, since allowing a kohen with these blemishes to serve is a desecration of the honor of the Divine Presence in the Sanctuary. The Torah here takes into account the unfortunate reality of human nature. Those who gaze upon a “blemished” kohen while he is performing a service could be so taken aback by his appearance that they might come to detest the very idea of performing the service. If these blemishes are patently offensive to people, all the more so to
A number of blemishes are listed, and the commentators are not in agreement as to the exact nature of some of them. Many of them refer to blemishes on the face, such as blindness, two types of abnormal growths on the eyes, a deformed nose and connected eyebrows. Others include broken, missing or deformed limbs, moist or dry skin eruptions, a concave chest, humpback, and swollen testicles. Abarbanel also makes it clear that the blemishes listed are often general categories; many others are subsumed under them. The Rambam (Maimonides) (Perek 8, Halacha 1, Laws of the Sanctuary) counts ninety different disqualifying blemishes. It is clear that the Torah’s listing is not an all-inclusive list since deaf-mutes and epileptics are not mentioned. They would obviously be disqualified as well. The general principle that is invoked here is that the performance of the Divine service by such an individual denigrates the honor of
Finally, the last verse quoted above states that Moshe spoke not only to the sons of Aharon but to the entire nation as well. This was to insure that the rest of the people would reprimand the kohanim if they did not fulfill their special requirements and obligations.