Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein Courtesy

One of the central themes in this week's Torah reading concerns the special and unique laws and commandments that pertain to the kohanim – the family of Aaron who became the priests of Israel. While the people of Israel did not democratically elect them to serve in that exalted role, they were, rather, appointed to their duties and status by the will of Heaven, as expressed through Moshe.

We have seen earlier in the Torah that there was hesitancy on the part of Aaron to accept his role of priesthood. Nevertheless, at the insistence of Moshe and the direction of Heaven, the family of Aaron became the everlasting chain of priesthood that exists within Jewish society even until today.

It is obvious that the Torah was aware of the pitfalls of choosing the priesthood instead of electing it through the medium of the will of the people of Israel. Later in the Torah, a rebellion was mounted against this notion and Moshe's leadership, and one of the main complaints against them would be that somehow Moshe was guilty of nepotism in choosing his brother Aaron as the first and founding member of the priesthood of Israel. Yet, the Torah did not flinch from establishing Aaron and his family as the priesthood of Israel, and that choice has weathered all storms, and remains valid and vital, even in current Jewish society, thousands of years after Moshe and Aaron are no longer with us.

Truly, human beings have many thoughts, plans, and ideas, but eventually it is the will of the Lord that will prevail and survive. All human choices are, by their very nature, subject to fallibility and mistakes. But the will of Heaven always has the imprint of perfection and infinity upon it.

Aaron and his descendants have a special place in Jewish life. They are entitled to financial support, social favor, and status. The laws that we read in this week's portion still apply to them. In my experience, I have noticed that kohanim possess a special pride in their heritage and in their uniqueness.

Judaism, which always is a meritocracy, nevertheless, creates an aristocracy in the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants. Scholarship, piety and even leadership are fields that are open to each and every Jewish person, without regard to ancestral advantage. However, the service of bridging the gap between God and the Jewish people, between the practical and mundane parts of life, and that of the Temple service with the exalted infinity that the temple was meant to encompass, was a task that was left those that were chosen by Heaven for the fulfillment of that very role – Aaron and his family.

Not every kohen was necessarily fit for the task, nor did he live up to the responsibilities of the priesthood. However, as a group and as a class, it is obvious that even until today, the family of Aaron is deservedly held in high regard throughout Jewish society, and remains a constant reminder of the will of Heaven as expressed in our own societal lives.

Rabbi Berel Weinis a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history. After many years serving as a community rabbi in Monsey, NY, he made aliya and is rabbi of Beit Knesset Hanassi in Jerusalem.

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