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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Emor

The Estate of the Kohanim

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Every society eventually creates an elite that is of great influence and serves as the leadership cadre of the nation and society. Even those societies such as the communes and kibbutz, where everyone was purported to be equal, eventually produced an elite that ruled over those societies. All men are created equal but not all men are really equal. By simply looking around at our social surroundings we are acutely aware of this fact. In this week's parsha the Torah creates for us an elite amongst Jewish society - the priestly family of Aharon from which all kohanim in the Jewish world are descended.The Torah details the special laws that govern this family. And it becomes readily obvious to those who study this parsha that the Torah placed greater demands and restrictions on the leadership elite than upon other Jews. Privelege, rank, honor also bring a heightened sense of responsibility. There is no elite that is truly beneficial to the society that it lives among if it does not sense this greater responsibility for moral probity and exemplary behavior. In discusing the definition of chilul hashem - behavior that is a desecration of Torah values and God's name - the Talmud arrives at a sliding scale of behavior. It is not one size fits all. The great scholar and leader of the elite is guilty of this serious Torah violation if he does not pay his bills in a timely fashion! The so-called ordinary person is not held to this rigorous standard though everyone is charged not to be involved in any activity which can be deemed to be a chilul hashem..

The other side of this coin is that the people of Israel were commanded to give extra honor and deference to the kohanim. Being a kohein one wears a special Godly crown. And it is that heaven granted crown that people are to admire and honor.Since there are no perfect human beings it is easy to find faults and weaknesses within individual kohanim. People would therefore denegrate the kohein whom they felt to be imperfect, for after all did not the prophet himself state that the kohein must appear to his public as though he were an angel of the Lord. Yet respect for the kohein, every kohein, is built into Jewish custom and ritual. His blessings are to be sought, he is to redeem our first born males, he is to have the opening aliya at the time of the public reading of the Torah, he is to lead us in the prayers after meals and he is to be exmpted from tasks of labor and service that often fall upon other Jews. Thus the kohein was charged with the task of living up to his role as an elite leader of his people while the people were charged with the value of giving honor and a place of primacy in Jewish public life to the kohein. Even though there is presently no Temple in Jerusalem that requires the epecial and exclusive attention of the kohanim, their status in Jewish life and society has been preserved throughout our long history. That is ceratinly the reward of the father of the kohanim, the great Aharon.

This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site
Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff
Was the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, the Congregation Darchei Tzedek and also served as a dayan on the Beis Din of Baltimore. Now is a Rabbi in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem. His Shiurim and Q&A can be found on his site:
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