The Challenge of Kehunah by Yehoshua Segal


The beginning of Parashat Emor presents certain laws that pertain to the Kohanim. The Torah states, “VeKidashto,” “And you shall sanctify him“ (VaYikra 21:8). Chazal understand this to mean that we must give special honors to the Kohein. This is the basis for giving a Kohein the honor of leading Birkat HaMazon, and why the Kohein receives the first Aliyah when the Torah is read. The Gemara discusses the case when there is no Kohein present to receive the first Aliyah. The Gemara states, “Nitpardah Chavilah,” which literally means, “The bundle is separated” (Gittin 59b). This means that when no Kohein is present to receive the first Aliyah, it does not necessarily go to a Leivi or any other specific individual. Rav Soloveitchik explains that we don’t require giving the Kohein Aliyah to a Leivi because it would diminish the honor we give to the Kohein.

One might question the fairness of the idea that the Kohein is granted higher honors than a Leivi or a Yisrael. In truth, there are many restrictions placed upon the Kohein, along with the privileges. In this week’s Parashah, we read that a Kohein may not come into contact with a deceased body, he may not marry a divorcee, and when the Jews first entered Eretz Yisrael, land wasn’t given to the Kohanim, while it was granted to all other individuals. These few examples show that even though there are many privileges granted to the Kohanim, Hashem gave them disadvantages as well to “even the playing field,” so to speak, with the rest of Bnei Yisrael.

No matter who we are, we are all unique, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and we all have different Mitzvot that we are commanded to do. The Torah recognizes this by showing us that even the Kohanim, who have special privileges not granted to the rest of the nation, also have restrictions placed upon them. We learn from this that we all must do our part and use our own special talents to better serve Hashem. With that, Klal Yisrael will all achieve the status of a “Mamlechet Kohanim VeGoy Kadosh,” a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

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