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PROBLEM CHILD

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"If a daughter of a kohen will begin with adultery, she desecrates her father -- she shall be consumed by fire" (literal translation of Leviticus 21:9).

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"If a daughter of a kohen will begin with adultery, she desecrates her father -- she shall be consumed by fire" (literal translation of Leviticus 21:9).

After reading through the various laws which were commanded to the kohanim (priests) at the beginning of this week's Torah portion, many of which were designed by Hashem with the intent of producing an especially sanctified group to serve in the mishkan (Tabernacle), one comes across the above verse regarding the adulterous acts of a kohen's (priest's) daughter. Throughout the ages, many commentaries have discussed this extremely perplexing case. What does the Torah mean when it says that she began with adultery; the verse could have been written in a much more simple way. Furthermore, how can it be said that the father has been desecrated by the transgressions of his daughter? Won't people realize that the father was innocent with regard to his daughter's iniquity?

Rabbi Shlomo Klueger, a great Talmudic scholar of the 19th century, answers that the Torah is teaching us an important lesson concerning the responsibilities of raising children. Usually a person's misconduct stems from the continuous temptation of the yetzer harah (evil inclination), whether it be through the inticing promise of physical gratification, the fabrication of "noble" excuses, or a lethal combination of the two. It's method is to seduce one to sin through a gradual process extended over a long period of time. Step by step, day by day, one begins to slip in his conduct, rationalizing by first committing minor offenses, then proceeding to more significant transgressions, and finally arriving at the threshold as he prepares to confront the Torah's most fundamental commandments. The momentum gathered over the many years of gradually compromising principles finally propels one past the sacred boundaries of even the most universally accepted norms and values.

However, this woman was different. "If she will begin with adultery" means that the first sin she committed was the actual sin of adultery. She skipped over the preliminary steps of moral decline. It is therefore impossible to attribute her misconduct to the overwhelming power of the yetzer harah, as its method is one of gradual degeneration. The only source capable of producing such a product must be the flawed upbringing that she received while in her father's home. It is for this reason that her sin has led to her father's desecration (as the verse states) -- the collapse of his own sanctity -- as he himself was responsible for the end product. Whether it be the result of the bad example he may have set by allowing an atmosphere of promiscuity to exist in his household, or the lack of time and effort he dedicated to his daughter's upbringing, she has proven by her quick descent that the problem began at home. The Torah is therefore sending a warning to fathers, and indeed all parents, about the importance of carefully building a nurturing home in which to rear children.

No matter how great the Jewish education a child receives at his local day school or synagogue, the primary responsibility ultimately rests on the shoulders of the loving parents to instill and exemplify the Jewish way of life. These lessons and values that a child learns at the "yeshiva of the home" will forever remain, carrying him through the turbulent twists and turns that life has to offer.

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Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta and is a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is currently a sophomore at Yeshiva University in New York.

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