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יום הכיפורים תשפ"א באתר ישיבה
Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Emor

Emor

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The dangers of establishing a priestly class are apparent to all. It can breed and lead to discrimination against others, corruption, misuse of power and position and an unwarranted sense of hubris and entitlement amongst the priests. In the ancient world all societies had a priestly class. But these priests usually had temporal power as well and were seen as possessing magical and supernatural powers. In a world of idolatry and superstition this naturally gave them additional stature and powers. To a great extent this situation was inherited and sanctified by the Church itself when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Western world. Because of this the Church has suffered scandal and rebellion throughout its centuries and certainly in our day as well. Papal infallibility has only added to the problem already existing because of a strongly entrenched priestly hierarchy that often disdains the public it is meant to serve. Yet no faith can exist without leadership and committed public servants. The Torah recognizes this in this week’s parsha with the special role it assigns to the kohanim - the descendants of Aharon - in Jewish life, especially in times of the Temple. The service of the kohanim and the existence of such a group itself were deemed essential by the Torah to assure a full Jewish life of Godly values and public worship. The kohanim served to bind the disparate tribes of Israel together in the service of God and to give direction to national life and moral goals. The kohanim were the "angels" of God to the people, the guardians of the faith and the teachers of Israel. They were also to always serve as the role models for proper moral behavior and holy probity.

Thus the special laws and standing applied to kohanim as described in this week’s parsha came to serve as a safeguard against their potential abuse and exploitation of power and position. The kohein was not to be the king, he owned no land by right of being one of the tribes of Israel and he was subject to special familial restrictions - all meant to enhance his position of a servant of God and of the people. In Tanach we read that in spite of all of these safeguards the kohanim in both the First and Second Temple period eras and many of them were eventually corrupted by power and avarice. The prophets became the true "priests" of Israel, the moral role models and spiritual leaders of the Jewish nation. The Hasmoneans who were kohanim, in spite of their initial great piety and heroism violated the rules of balance of power ordained by the Torah and usurped the monarchy for themselves in spite of being kohanim. Eventually this led to disastrous consequences for the Jews. The Second Temple saw great corruption in the ranks of the kohanim with the office of the Kohein Gadol being bought and bartered. Thus the rabbis of the Mishna and later the Talmud became the spiritual "priests" of Israel Yet the kohanim have retained their special identity and position within the Jewish world over these many millennia. They are to be respected and we are to be grateful to receive their blessings and services.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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