… it must, to be acceptable, be without blemish; there must be no defect in it. Anything blind, or injured, or maimed, or with wen, boil-scar, or scurvy — such you shall not offer to the LORD; you shall not put any of them on the altar as offerings by fire to the LORD. … You shall not offer to the LORD anything [with its testes] bruised or crushed or torn or cut. You shall have no such practices in your land …
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From a halakhic standpoint, the laws of defects apply both to the korbanot and the people who bring them; both the korban and the Priest must be free of physical defect …
Does this mean that someone with a disability or defect has a lesser capacity to connect with God?
Steinsaltz provides the following explanations. He elaborates on the third, which pivots the meaning of the text.
Performative Perfection: This rule only applies to the Sanctuary and the activities within it. The Sanctuary is a place of splendor and glorification of God, everything in the performance of the ceremonies should be perfect.
Holiness as defined by the Priestly System: There are concentric circles of closeness to the Divine Presence. At the closest level, God requires perfection in all aspects. We do not know how God perceives or feels, all we know what we are obligated to provide in the holiest setting, and that is perfection. (Closeness to the Divine Presence is dangerous and requires strict rules, much like astronauts have the highest level of physical and mental capability because of the danger of space.)
Allegorical: We are being asked to be in relationship to God with all our capabilities, even if those capabilities include the risk of sin. We should not castrate ourselves to avoid the risk of sexual temptation. We should not narrow our knowledge because some knowledge may raise doubts about doctrines of faith. We should not diminish our creativity because we fear it will threaten conformity to social expectations.
The last transforms the meaning of the text! The defect is not something we are born with or acquire through an accident — it is damage to our true self by a misguided attempt to make ourselves acceptable by removing or mutilating something essential to ourselves.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
There are people whose whole approach to religious life is to be crushed and mangled, torn and cut. These people feel that the more they are downtrodden and oppressed, the more exalted and holy they become, and the greater their ability becomes to draw close to God. … God says that the opposite is true … “Crushed and mangled” is someone who suppresses his drives — and along with them his ambition and creativity — which sometimes happens because of misplaced piety. … it is better to live with one’s inclination rather than sacrifice one’s creativity, whether in the Temple or elsewhere. … The Talmud states, “‘Neither shall you do thus in your land’ – even to castrate a dog is forbidden” (Hagiga 14b). Not only is it forbidden to castrate an exalted personality of Israel, but even a dog — an insignificant, lowly creature that wanders around eating carcasses in the street — may not be castrated, because the yoke of God’s kingship does not mean being submissive, “crushed and mangled,” even for one’s animals.
Last week we discussed how some Hasidic sects have developed highly restrictive rules around sexuality. In the Israeli television drama Shteisel, an important plot element is the acceptability of artistic expression in a Hasidic community. What is Steinsaltz telling that community?
you must treat them as holy … [alternate: You shall sanctify him]
Their holiness is because they offer the bread of Hashem and not due to their own essence.
This means that in order for him to be holy he has to be a priest unto you. In other words, it is up to you to see that he conducts himself in a holy manner.
Rabbi Yehudah Leib
the holiness of the priests depends upon [the holiness] of the people Israel.
In this sense, the perfection of the priest comes from the holiness of the people who perfect him, or from the relationship of the priests to the ritual they perform. Perfection is not inherent in the priest.