Emor 5773: A Taste of Kehuna

Taste of Parasha

“Speak to the Kohanim.”  Who are the Kohanim, and why do they have added restrictions?  The following story, as told by Rabbi Yissochor Frand Shlita, sheds some light on the matter. When Rav Shimon Schwab (1908-1995) was a young man, he spent a Shabbos with Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan Zt”l, the Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933). That Shabbos left an indelible impression on the young Rav Schwab, who told many famous stories regarding the events of that weekend. One of those stories contained the following powerful ethical lesson.

The Chofetz Chaim asked Rav Schwab if he was a Kohen or a Levi. Rav Schwab responded in the negative. The Chofetz Chaim (who was a Kohen) told his young guest that it was a real pity that he did not have that status. “Moshiach will soon come and the Kohanim and the Leviim will have a premiere function in the Beis HaMikdash. The rest of the Jewish people will all be excluded. It’s a shame you are not from the Tribe of Levi. You will miss out on all of these holy privileges.”

The Chofetz Chaim then asked Rav Schwab a very strange question: “Why are you not a Kohen?”

Rav Schwab gave the obvious answer. His father was not a Kohen.

But the Chofetz Chaim persisted, “Why wasn’t your father a Kohen?”By this time Rav Schwab grasped that the Chofetz Chaim was leading to a concept that had nothing to do with Yichus [lineage] or genealogy. The Chofetz Chaim asked, “Do you know why your father was NOT a Kohen and my father WAS a Kohen? Because there was once a time in Jewish history, when our teacher, Moshe, called out, ‘Who is for G-d? Let them gather to me.’ My great-great grandfather answered the call and your great-great grandfather did not answer the call. That is why my father was a Kohen and your father was not a Kohen.”

The Chofetz Chaim was not trying to tease, saying “Hah, hah! I am a Kohen and you are not a Kohen”. The Chofetz Chaim did not engage in teasing behavior. The Chofetz Chaim was not trying to “rub in” the fact that Rav Schwab’s ancestor did not respond to Moshe’s call. The point that the Chofetz Chaim was driving home was that sometimes there are occasions in life where the clarion call goes out to rally around G-d’s banner. If upon hearing that call, one rises to the occasion, his actions can have ramifications until the end of time. If one fails to heed the call and does not respond, that too can affect not only the person, but also his children and his grandchildren, for all generations. The point that the Chofetz Chaim was trying to teach to Rav Schwab is that one day he himself might receive such a call, perhaps not in the exact same words, but in a similar way. As a result of the Kohanim’s heightened awareness of their role as servants of G-d, they were given an exalted status Vis-a-Vis their relationship with G-d.  They are commanded to keep to a heightened sense of Kedusha, purity and holiness.  We, in turn were given the Mitzvah of, “Vekidashto,” to make them holy.  We do this by honoring them and giving them precedence.  When we do this, the Chinuch explains, we show that we recognize that service of G-d is of paramount importance in our lives, and that we too are now ready to answer the call of, “Who is for G-d? Let them gather to me.”

Taste of Halacha

Points to ponder:

Does this Mitzvah apply to a Kohen under the age of 13?

Does this Mitzvah apply to a Kohen with a blemish?

Is a Kohen required to respect another Kohen?

Could this Mitzvah be extended to apply to a Talmid Chacham who has devoted his life to the service of G-d?

This issue is dedicated as a merit for the Wolf Family


About tasteofyeshiva

RABBI YAIR FRIEDMAN teaches in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in YES and is the president of Visionary Reading. He was a Rebbi at The Torah School of Greater Washington, and a founding member of the Greater Washington Community Kollel and the owner of Camp Gevaldig LLC.
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