Vayikra/Leviticus 21:17 and 21 describe that a person (who is a kohen) and has a physical defect can't bring offerings made with fire and can't approach to bring near the food/bread for G-d. This reminded me of a verse a little bit earlier, Vayikra 21:6, which teaches that the kohanim should be holy for HaShem and shouldn't defile/profane His Name. Offerings made with fire, food for their G-d they bring near, and they shall be holy.

It seems that when a kohen has 'a defect in his holiness' he defiles/profanes the Name of HaShem. This seems to be a good reason not to have such kind of defect (in other words; a good reason to watch out that one doesn't get unclean, defiled or in any way profane the Name of their G-d in their representation of His Holiness).

But what do these physical defects has to do with this? And why can't they bring these offerings in order to represent His Holiness?

Appearance from the Torah's perspective, is surely insignificant , especially compared to character. Why, then, would the Torah exclude a perfectly decent kohen from performing the service simply because of a physical (seemingly superficial) physical defect/blemish?

  • 2
    "If you offer a blind [animal] for a sacrifice, is it not evil? Were you to offer it to your governor, will he accept it from you or will he show you favor?" (Malachi 1:8)
    – ray
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 7:01
  • 1
    The problem is that the audience will be distracted. This is why only visible blemishes are included. So, the question is really more: Why is the avodah in the Beis haMiqdash not a good time for training people to get over it? Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 21:55
  • Note that it's not limited to Kohanim. In the times when Bamos were permitted, Yisraelim could not offer when they were baalei mumin, either. (I think.)
    – DonielF
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 16:16
  • @DonielF that's a nice addition, but the qestion remains as to why they were denied to come close.
    – Levi
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 17:46
  • I know. I'm just pointing that out.
    – DonielF
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 17:47

2 Answers 2


Rav Hirsch explains the concept of מום at length in Vayikra - Emor 21:17

The entire explanation is too long to put here, but I will try to give a brief summary. I have been asked to edit in the English for the Hebrew used by Rav Hirsch.

First, he points out that there are three different classes of מום which have different effects and reasons

  1. an actual מום which would prevent an animal from being brought on the מזבח. This would cause any קרבן (Korban - sacrifice) that such a kohen brings to be pasul. One concept is that the kohen represents the person who is bringing the קרבן and as such, he must be seen as

being of the same level of godliness as that to which he is to raise the human being who is represented in the offering ...

A person is to regard himself as being brought as a korbon and as such, the kohen must also regard himself as a korbon and subject to the same rules.

It is evident then that he appearance of the כהן המקריב (the kohen who brings the sacrifice) must not be in any way a contradiction of the character that makes the קרבבן (sacrifice) worthy of הקרבה (being brought on the altar).

  1. שאינו שוה בזרעו של אהרון (That he is not like the normal descendants of Aharon) He must be seen as a normal member of the family and not afflicted with deformities (that would still not make the קרבן considered פסול (unfit). Here he does not make the קרבן invalid, but he still is עובר (violates) a מצוה (commandment), whether a לאו (negative) or an עשה (positive) (it is a dispute which).

It is not the afflicted and the infirm, not the blind and the lame, the disfigured and crippled, the broken and the sick, for whom the Jewish Altar is erected, so that weary, burdened humanity can drag itself up to it to find compassionate consolation or even miraculous healing. It is life in its completeness, in its freshness and its strength, which there is to gain consecration to an active life of God-serving deeds, and therebye acquire the everlasting freshness of youth and unbroken forces of life.

THe kohen must be shown (at the time he approaches the mizbeach) as being a representative of the family after Hashem has poured His blessings upon the Bnai Yisrael and be seen as such a representative by those bring the animals.

  1. םשום מראית עין (because of mar'is ayin - appearance), these should not do any עבודה (service), but if they do so, it is כשרה (kosher) and they have not transgressed in any way (Bchoros 43a & b).

THe kohanim must be the representatives of and the exemplars of the promise of Hashem to brife life and health to those who serve Him.

כי אני השם רופאך (I am Hashem your Healer) And it is this promise and the conditions attendant to it which priests and offerings have continuously to illustrate and give a a clear idea of in the Sanctuary of this Torah.

That is why it must be perfect complete men - not בעלי מום (those who have a defect) - who have to perform the offerings.

The kohen is to represent that which everyone strives for and, since people form their ideas of the spiritual from what reaches their eyes, the kohanim must always strive to appear to be like the goal that is being approached.

Rav Hirsch summarizes this concept and finishes

It is in its harmonious, healthy and attractive aspect, not deformed or unpleasant, that Man is to picture life in the proximity of Hashem.

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    +1, but I recommending editing in English for Hebrew words that appear.
    – msh210
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 3:04
  • @sabbahillel what do you think of this? I found it somewhere online and wondered how this piece of information fits in: I wondered what you think of this: 'The Kli Yakar explains that the Torah wants us to understand that the blemish is usually reflective of a flaw which already existed inside the person. That is why it says IN HIM first and then the blemish. However, to make sure that no one thinks that the laws of the blemishes do not apply to people who are born with them, the Torah also states it the opposite way, A BLEMISH IN HIM.'
    – Levi
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 19:43
  • @HopefullyHelpfull Interesting, thank you. Might connect withtzara'as as a punishment for lashon hara. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 15:41

Rabbi Adam Mintz explains,

Your question this week is a troubling and difficult one. It is also a question for which most of the medieval explanations will not satisfy our 21st-century sensitivities. The classic explanation teaches that the kohen represents the people to G‑d. However, he also represents G‑d to the people. In this second role, it is vital that he be “perfect,” without spiritual or physical imperfections. This explanation resonates with a world that considered physical deformities as blemishes, and felt that such people could not assume positions of leadership.

In the same column, Rabbi Eli Popack offers an interesting answer based on his understanding of the Zohar:

It is indeed true that the disabled have greater merit than the rest of us; and for precisely this reason they cannot work in the Temple....G‑d is present in the entire world, but in the Holy Temple His glory is open and manifest. Since the souls within handicapped bodies are avatars of G‑d’s hiddenness, of the temporary victories that the enemy achieves in their attempt to obscure the divine reality, their service in the Temple would be inappropriate.

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