In this week’s Parsha, the Torah describes the Kohanim becoming sanctified to Hashem. Starting with Perek 8, Hashem briefly tells Moshe what must be done to the Kohanim in order for their new status to be effected. After Hashem has described the ritual aspect of the sanctification, He tells Moshe (in Pasuk 3) to gather Kol Haeidah, “all of the nation, to the entrance of the Ohel Moed, so that they may watch the proceedings. The next Pasuk tells us that Moshe did everything Hashem told him to do and that the entire nation gathered in the entrance to the Ohel Moed.
These two Pesukim are very perplexing, as it is hard to imagine all of Klal Yisrael fitting into the entrance to the Ohel Moed; there simply was not enough room. In explaining this Pasuk, there are two main schools of thought. One is that of the Midrash quoted by Rashi and others, which says that this was one of the times that a “Mameet Machazik Merubeh,” a small area, which should not have been able to accommodate such a large mass of people, was able to, for a short and miraculous instance. This Midrash goes hand in hand with another Midrash, which explains that the reason that all of Klal Yisrael had to be there was so that they would appreciate the holiness of the Kohanim and treat them accordingly.
The other school of thought, that of Ibn Ezra, believes that when the Torah said “Kol Haeidah,” it was actually only referring to the elders and the heads of each Shevet. The Torah Temima explains that according to the Ibn Ezra, this Pasuk describes the actual Halachic appointment, Minuy, of the Kohen Gadol. The Torah Temima quotes a Gemara in Sanhedrin, which says that the Kohen Gadol may only be appointed by the Sanhedrin of seventy-one (men). He then quotes a Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin, which says that in the time of Moshe the elders and the heads of the Shevatim were in place of the Sanhedrin of seventy-one. Therefore, according to the Ibn Ezra, only the elders and tribal leaders were there because this Pasuk describes the Halachic appointment of the Kohen Gadol and consequently there is no problem of all of Klal Yisrael squeezing into a tight space.
There is a Halacha (Sanhedrin 2a) that a king must receive Minuy, appointment by the Sanhedrin of seventy-one, just as a Kohen Gadol must. However, if the son of a king becomes king he need not go through the Minuy process, while the son of a Kohen Gadol does have to go through the “Minuy” process when he becomes Kohen Gadol. Rav Soloveitchik zt”l explained these Halachot in the following manner: When a king dies, his son inherits the kingship in its entirety, and therefore only the first king in a dynasty must go through Minuy. However, with respect to a Kohen Gadol, dies, his son only inherits the Zechut, merit to be a Kohen Gadol, but he never actually becomes a Kohen Gadol until he is halachically appointed by the Sanhedrin.
One can see from this that there are two important criteria necessary to becoming a Kohen Gadol, Zechut and Minuy, and each criterion must come from a separate source. In this light, the Machloket between Ibn Ezra and the Midrashim becomes a little clearer. They seem to be arguing about what type of appointment the Kohanim are receiving; are they receiving the Zechut appointment, or are they receiving the Minuy appointment. According the Midrashim, since the Kohanim never received the Zechut to be Kohanim to begin with, it makes sense that they would need Hashem to give them this Zechut in front of all of Klal Yisrael before they could be appointed. According to Ibn Ezra, an actual Halachic appointment is the critical element, and is what is happening here. This line of thinking however, is somewhat problematic, these two criteria should be indispensable for both lines of thinking; it is impossible to imagine the Kohanim becoming completely sanctified without both a Zechut or Minuy. Therefore, the Machloket can best be understood as an argument over what point in time these Pesukim record, not as a Machloket regarding how the Kohanim were appointed. According to Midrashim, these Pesukim record the point in time in which the Kohanim were given their Zechut and according to Ibn Ezra, these Pesukim are talking about a later time when the Kohanim become fully sanctified. A proof for this idea, is the fact that Rashi understands this whole section that has just been discussed as being chronologically out of place, and that these events really happened before the Mishkan was built. Therefore it would make sense that at that point the Kohanim only needed the Zechut aspect of their sanctification. Ibn Ezra who makes no such comment, is content to understand these Pesukim as referring to Minuy.