Spiritual Requirements for Kehunah by Yehuda Feman


Parashat Tetzaveh deals with Hashem’s choice of Aharon and his descendants as Kohanim, and how they are honored with the special clothing in which they carry out their service. The first Pasuk of Perek 28 reads, “VeAtah Hakreiv Eilecha Et Aharon Achicha VeEt Banav Ito Mitoch Bnei Yisrael,” “And you should bring Aharon your brother close to you, together with his sons, from Bnei Yisrael” (Shemot 28:1). Two Pesukim later, we are taught the relevance of the Kohanim’s garments: “VeAsu Et Bigdei Aharon, LeKadsho,” “And you shall make Aharon’s garments to sanctify him” (28:3). This indicates that the purpose of the clothing was to sanctify Aharon. At first, Pesukim 1 and 3 seem to be about the same thing; namely, that Aharon and his sons are Kohanim, and as such, they wear special clothes. However, when one inspects the Pesukim closely, subtle differences between the two become evident. The first Pasuk states that Aharon and his children are separated from Bnei Yisrael to become Kohanim, while Pasuk 3 adds the important detail that Aharon wore the Begadim to serve Hashem. This indicates that there are two different ideas here: The separation of Aharon and his sons from Bnei Yisrael, and the fact that they must clothe themselves in special vestments.

Rashi (28:1 s.v. VeAtah Hakreiv Eilecha) states that the Kohanim began their priestly role only upon the completion of the Mishkan. Rashi’s understanding is troubling for a number of reasons. Firstly, how does Rashi arrive at this conclusion from reading these two Pesukim? Also, since the Pesukim deal with two distinct issues, wouldn’t it have made more sense to first fulfill the requirement to separate the Kohanim, and only then build the Mishkan and prepare their clothing? Why does Rashi believe that both elements of Kehunah were dependent on the Mishkan?

Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, famously known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, provides an insightful answer to these questions. In order for Aharon to become a true servant of Hashem, Moshe needed to bring him to his own level. Therefore, Hashem told Moshe to bring Aharon close to him, by which He meant to aid Aharon in reaching Moshe’s spiritual heights. When Aharon reached this level, he became worthy of Kehunah.

This answer raises a new problem. Moshe Rabbeinu was on an unattainably high level. It would be impossible to require every Kohein to equal Moshe. This concern is made greater by the hereditary nature of Kehunah. Why, then, did Hashem ask Moshe to bring Aharon to Moshe’s level, when Moshe was so much greater than a Kohein needed to be? Why did Aharon need to reach Moshe’s level in order to serve in the Mishkan?

Perhaps there is a comparison being made between Moshe Rabbeinu and a Kohein Gadol. This leads Rashi to conclude that even the first command, to separate Kohanim, would take place only after the Mishkan was completed. Only then could the Kohanim enter a place that contained the Shechinah, a place in which they could attain a status comparable to Moshe Rabbeinu’s. Therefore, Moshe was able to bring Aharon close to his level of Kedushah only after the Mishkan was completed. For only when Aharon could properly perceive the Shechinah could he truly begin to advance to a higher level.

This understanding also helps answer a different question regarding Aharon’s involvement with the building of the Eigel HaZahav. The Mishnah (Menachot 109a) states that a Kohein who participates in Avodah Zarah may not serve as a Kohein. How could Aharon, who was involved in the making of the Eigel HaZahav, be allowed to serve? We can answer based on Rashi that Aharon became a Kohein only after the Mishkan was built, and as such, wasn’t a Kohein during the time of the Eigel HaZahav. This was why he didn’t lose his status of Kehunah.

We may derive an invaluable lesson from the way the Mitzvah was fulfilled. It may seem impossible for anyone to equal Moshe in greatness, even Aharon. But by coming closer to Moshe, Aharon was able to grow spiritually. We, too, must surround ourselves with individuals on a high spiritual level. If we do so successfully, we may achieve heights unreachable on our own.

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