I was intrigued by a question on this website about the reason behind the given commandment that a ba'al mum can't approach to bring a offer made of fire and the offer of bread/food of his G-d, and can't enter within the veil, nor approach the altar (see the passage of Leviticus 21:16-23).

Looking for answers and explanations from a historical, practical, spiritual point of view of why a ba'al mum can't enter the santcuary, I stumbled upon one verse of this passage:

אַ֣ךְ אֶל־הַפָּרֹ֜כֶת לֹ֣א יָבֹ֗א וְאֶל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֛חַ לֹ֥א יִגַּ֖שׁ כִּֽי־מ֣וּם בּ֑וֹ וְלֹ֤א יְחַלֵּל֙ אֶת־מִקְדָּשַׁ֔י כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה מְקַדְּשָֽׁם

but he shall not enter behind the curtain or come near the altar, for he has a defect. He shall not profane these places sacred to Me, for I the LORD have sanctified them.

Lev. 21:23

I'm not asking how the physical characteristics are involved with the denial of doing this part of service, but rather what the actual profanity is. Is this situation "profane" because of the mum, or because the priest disobeyed a commandment?

  • 2
    Note mum doesn't mean disability. It means bodily blemish. We also don't let an altar that's missing a piece be in service in the Temple.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 14:10
  • avoda is like a spectacle aesthetic standards are important like in cinema
    – kouty
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 14:54
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Offerings made by fire and food/Bread for HaShem Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 15:15
  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Physical defect vs. defect in Holiness
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 16:12
  • I am reviewing this question to help decide whether it's a duplicate. If it is, it would duplicate the question cited by @mevaqesh, and not sabbahillel. However, I do not think that it is a duplicate. This question is based on that one, and asks what the profanity is (either the mum or the disobedience), not what do physical characteristics have to do with service, and is thus not a duplicate. Hopefully Helpfull, if you could edit your post to 1) include a link to the "question on this website" that you saw, 2) edit to emphasize the difference, I think your question will be improved.
    – MTL
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 17:39

2 Answers 2


Okay please read the verse carefully -- if he came in to do the priestly service, he would take mikdashai, "my holy things" -- plural, and make them chol -- mundane, or non-holy. The Talmud's interpretation, as cited by Rashi, is straightforward: if a non-kohen tries to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial animal (or perform other critical steps to process it), it's mundane (chol); it doesn't become kodesh, a holy sacrifice. The only way a sacrifice becomes holy is if the procedure is done according to the law, and the law requires a male kohen who does not have a major blemish. Thus the verse reads:

A kohen with a deformity is allowed to eat sacrificial meat, but he can't do the sacrificial processes in the Temple; if he were to do so, those sacrifices would not be holy.

The issue isn't walking around the Temple, and his presence does nothing to the Temple's sanctity. It's his eligibility to process sacrifices. (And it's unrelated to his intent, if that's your question; e.g. if he processed a sacrifice thinking he was eligible, it would still not be a kosher sacrifice.)

As for why a kohen with a deformity is unfit for sacrificial duty, Lord Sacks suggests that the Temple had to be so focused on life that we don't want to draw people's attention to our own fragility and mortality then (unlike some cultures that made death a big part of their ritual).

Now that can still trouble many readers, but it's a lot more of a limited statement than I think the way you were reading the verse ("a disabled person walking into the Temple defiles the Temple!").

  • that's not the way I was reading this verse! I just noticed that a person with a bodily blemish couldn't approach to bring those sacrifices, because he couldn't profane these places which are sacred to HaShem. Not asking how the physical characteristics were involved with the denial of doing this part of service, but rather what the actual profanity was.
    – Levi
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 9:05

Rav Sampson Rafael Hirsch (on Parshas Emor; Vayikra 21:17) explains (in part) that Hashem is asking the blemished Kohen to avoid service, because the world will look at the Temple as a place for losers, or the desperate seeking mercy and salvation only. This will "profane" the Temple. The profanity here is that the "awe" of the Temple will be lost because the masses will say that religion is great for the handicapped or abnormal, but not for people with a "real life". Those with obvious problems seek out religion. But if you have a vibrant life already, why turn to G-d?

Hashem so to speak is asking the blemished Kohen to "please abstain" so as to save the Temple from losing its effect on society. The whole, healthy Kohanim dedicated to the service of Hashem, will show the people that serving Hashem is a vibrant lifestyle that grants all blessings.

It is also good to notice that Hashem does in fact award the rights to eat holy food to a blemished Kohen. He is just commanded not to be an official employee. Therefore there is nothing against the blemished Kohen. It is just what the lesser members of society may think and how their attitude would be affected.

This is how Rabbi Tzvi M. Feldheim of Denver- Toras Chaim (Lakewood) explained Rav Hirsch to me.

I hope this helps.


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