Parshas Emor - Time For an Oil Change

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 05/04/23

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The Kohen,הגדול מאחיו  — who is exalted above his brethrenupon whose head the anointment oil has been poured… (ויקרא כא י)

A Kohen Gadol — the High Priest, must be 'exalted' — possess stature above his brethren to serve in this capacity. Wisdom, wealth, attractiveness, and strength are mentioned particularly. But what if he is short or not physically appealing, is he ineligible as a candidate despite being the most qualified by his character, scholarship, and skill?

The Midrash reveals a most remarkable fact.

You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore, anointed you has G-d, your G-d, שמן ששון — with oil of joy, מחבריך — from among your peers. (תהלים מה ח)

The Holy One blessed be He said, "Aharon you love righteousness — to justify people, and despise finding in them guilt, therefore the Almighty has anointed you."

'Oil of joy from among your peers' — once the oil of anointment descended upon him, if he was short, he would become tall; if he had a pale complexion, it would lighten; if he had a dour looking face, it would become happy, so that he may now be distinguished from among his brethren. (ילקוט תהילים רמז תשנ)

Evidently the 'Oil of Anointment' had supernatural ability to invest the one anointed, with miraculous transformation.

In another Midrash, it extends this same magical quality to the oil of anointment that is employed when coronating Jewish kings. This would explain, the Midrash states, the episode where King Saul dressed David in his own combat fatigues — in preparation for David's ensuing encounter with Goliath — and surprisingly fit him, even though Saul was 'shoulders above' in height of the average man, and David clearly not equal in build to Saul. Although David declined to utilize them and removed them, claiming he was unfamiliar with their use, he evidently suddenly grew, occupying the full volume of the garment. This, the Midrash clarifies, was attributed to the fact that the prophet Samuel had earlier selected David from among all the sons of Yishai as the future king, anointing him with the Oil of Anointment. The Midrash concludes: From here we learn that one who is short and appointed as king will stand tall. Why is this so? Because when one is anointed with the Oil of Anointment, he will become enhanced from among his peers. (ויקרא רבה כו ט)

There has been much ado recently regarding the upcoming coronation of the new British king, ironically this week, and his intention to be anointed with 'holy' oil produced from the olive trees on the Mount of Olives in the holy land. As one observer commented, "In Judaism, anointing with oil signifies the endowment of Divine power, authority, and blessings upon the new king."

I am not sure if the new king hopes to grow a few inches, be granted a more winning smile, or be invested with genuine authority, but with all due respect, sorry to disappoint but it is not a magic elixir.

This transformation can seemingly be acquired even in the absence of oil.

We will be celebrating Lag BaOmer this week, and singing the uplifting piyut, authored by the great sixteenth-century Libyan scholar, kabbalist, and rabbinic leader, Rav Shimon Lavi, entitled Bar Yochai.

בַּר-יוֹחַאי, נִמְשַׁחְתָּ אַשְׁרֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן שָׂשׂוֹן מֵחֲבֵרֶיךָBar Yochai, you are anointed - you are praised! -[with​] oil of joy above your fellows.

This very first sentence echoes that earlier quoted verse in Psalms, where G-d speaks to Aharon referring to the 'oil of joy' and its miraculous qualities.

Although Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai was not a Kohen Gadol, throughout the entire piyut, many parallels are accented, indicating he possessed the qualities of one.

Bar Yochai, sacred oil of anointing​, you were anointed from the holy level, you carry the ציץ קודש sacred frontlet headdress​, your crown is set upon your head… Bar Yochai, בקדש הקדשים — in [the] Sacred of the Sacreds… and fortunate​​ are the [ones who] stand on your secret, weare​rs of חשן תמיך ואוריך — [the] breastpla​te of your perfectio​n and your illuminat​ion.

Rebbi Shimon was likened to the High Priest, who wore the Tzitz on his forehead; who entered the Holy of Holies; who bears the Breastplate upon his heart.

And was 'anointed' with the sacred oil.

The Rama in Toras HaOleh, offers profound and original insights to the nature of the שמן המשחה —the Oil of Anointment. (תורת העולה פרק לג)

Oil is less dense than water. It is for this reason that oil always rises above water. Water, the purveyor of life, is the metaphor for Torah and its engagement in this material world, infusing it with life. Oil, which separates above water, represents the profusion of the eternal and impregnable spirit of G-d that influences all life, that hovers above, providing the necessary tools to reflect that Divine Presence in all that we engage in this material world. In Psalms we read:

Like the oil that is superior upon the head running down upon the זקן — beard, the beard of Aharon, running down over מדותיו — his garments. (תהלים קלג ב)

The beard associated with wisdom symbolizes our intellect defined by Torah, and the 'measure' of our garments alluding to our perfection of מדות — good character, are what merits the 'oil of anointment' to manipulate this physical world to be able to absorb the providence of G-d's hand molding it to reflect His presence more clearly.

The purer and more selfless our engagement on this earth, the more evident is the Providence of G-d.

Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai is the one who taught that famous teaching, that it was due to Aharon's pure joy in his heart upon hearing of his younger brother Moshe's appointment and ascension as leader of the Jewish people, that he merited the priesthood and the privilege to carry the חושן —Breastplate, upon his heart. 

It wasn't merely Aharon's happiness for his brother's achievement that was free of any tinge of jealousy. It doesn't state that Aharon rejoiced visibly for his brother, but simply ושמח בלבו — he exulted quietly in his heart. He perceived a world where G-d's influence would manifest itself, which brought him happiness. It never entered his mind as to the importance of whom it would be, just that the mission of G-d's presence on earth be apparent.

Each one of us are virtual mirrors dedicated to project the Honor of Heaven. If we polish and refine our souls to reflect His Presence, G-d will transform us, both physically and spiritually, to whatever we need to achieve that objective.

The Jewish king as well, if devoted solely to promoting His will alone, will fill the space necessary to bring that noble goal, as evidenced in the episode of young David.

Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai as well, embodied this principle so remarkably. As the disciple of Rebbi Akiva who rectified the failure of Rebbi Akiva's students — who died because they couldn't properly honor their peers — by transforming himself into a model of reduction of self and sole devotion to purveying the will of G-d, he merited to transcend his natural human limitation, attaining breadth and depths of Torah as the world had never seen before.

Perhaps that is the more accurate translation of שֶׁמֶן שָׂשׂוֹן מֵחֲבֵרֶיךָ — the oil of joy he attained 'from' his friends who gave him so much personal delight, since his keen soul observed the greatness each Jew reflected, no matter how far they might otherwise seem. He sought the Honor of Heaven in every fiber of his being, independent of any need for personal attribution.

He discerned G-d peering through each of their souls illuminating this dense world.

May we each devote ourselves to the mission of the Holy Tanna Rashbi, in discovering G-d in each other, meriting to fill up our 'space' purely with G-d's Divine Presence, and being worthy of His providing us the tools to achieve that objective.

The litmus test to determine where we stand in this relationship is how well-oiled we are with joy for one another.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן