In today’s daf (Yoma 13b) we are taught the principle that כהן גדול מקריב אונן – meaning that while a regular Kohen who has just suffered a bereavement among one of their seven closest relatives (mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, spouse) is exempt from serving in the Beit HaMikdash, a Kohen Gadol is expected to continue his service.
Of course, for many of us this is an incredibly hard concept to understand, and even Rav Soloveitchik acknowledged that in such instances, ‘halacha intervenes frequently in the most intimate and personal phases of our lives and makes demands upon us which often impress the uninitiated as overly rigid and formal’, and he categorised this law, as well as the law where a shiva is cut short due to a festival, as being examples of ‘emotional catharsis’.
Yet while the experience of כהן גדול מקריב אונן may have rarely applied in practice, and while only some people have had to experience the incredibly difficult pull of emotions when a shiva has been cut short, it is important to note that the principle underlying the law of כהן גדול מקריב אונן applies beyond that of mourning – as Rabbi Baruch Sorotzkin explains in his ‘Etz HaDa’at’ (on Vayikra 21:12):
‘Just as the Torah demands this from those who carry the crown of priesthood (Keter Kehuna) …so too, a similar demand is placed on those who wear the crown of Torah (Keter Torah) – which is actually considered to be more important than the crown of priesthood. Therefore, someone who has reached the level of the crown of Torah needs to remain focused, so that what occurs in their life does not distract them from their pursuit of growth in Torah.’
On a personal level, since starting Daf Yomi there have been many days when it has been a challenge to make time for learning the daf, and certainly a challenge to find the time and create the headspace to write something of use about the daf. Of course, this does not mean that there haven’t been distractions. But what it has meant is that by committing to Daf Yomi, I – like so many others around the world – have committed themselves, at least in part, to ‘remain focused, so that what occurs in life does not distract from the pursuit of growth in Torah’.