The Source of Sanctity

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Emor, deals with the special code of behavior that applies exclusively to the Kohanim who alone are permitted to perform the ritual service in the Holy Temple. The tribe of Levi was singled out for distinction because of their zealous opposition to any and all forms of Avodah Zara (idolatry). This accolade manifested in the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf, when the Levites joined with Moshe and executed judgment against all those guilty of participating in that cardinal sin–regardless of any personal associations with them.

As a result of their heroism in opposing idol worship, the tribe of Levi was designated to be responsible for the services of the Holy Temple. Aaron and his descendants were assigned to be the Kohanim, who served in the primary role of the service, and the remainder of the tribe of Levi were selected to perform secondary functions. One of the obligations of the Kohanim is to bless the Congregation by reciting the verses of the Torah specifically designed for that purpose.

It is interesting to consider the blessing uttered by the Kohanim in conjunction with that Mitzvah. They say: “Blessed are You Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has Sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron and has Commanded us to bless His nation Israel with love.” The usual formulation for blessings of Mitzvah is, “Who Sanctified us with His Commandments and Commanded us,” yet here the Kohanim proclaim, “Who Sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron” (Sotah 39a). Why do we deviate from the standard form, and what exactly is the “holiness of Aaron?”

In my opinion, there is an important teaching here. The sanctity of the Kohanim derives from Aaron. Thus, every Kohen descended from Aaron is not an independent “operator” but conceptually a representative of Aaron, and each Kohen, in some way, partakes of the holiness with which Aaron was endowed. In other words, had there not been an Aaron, who reached an exalted level of sanctity, the institution of Kehuna (those who serve in the Temple) would have remained with the firstborn, who had been sanctified by Hashem when He spared them in Egypt.

What was it about Aaron that qualified him for such a special status? The greatness of Aaron was that he “loved peace, and pursued peace.” He strove to remove strife from Klal Yisrael (The Congregation of Israel) wherever possible. He would engage people who were hostile to each other, and seek to restore positive feelings between them. Aaron would also make great efforts to establish tranquility between husband and wife; and when necessary, put aside his own ego, if that was essential to the task. As a result of his great dedication to the well-being of the entire nation, he was more beloved by them than even Moshe.

The devotion of Aaron to the harmony of Klal Yisrael stemmed from his profound Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel). This is a very significant ideal and not so easy to achieve. It is not an ordinary emotional response to certain individuals whose character you happen to like. Aaron loved all Jews because of their identity as G-d’s Chosen People. The Torah attests to the fact that Hashem loves the Jewish People and the blessing we recite before the Shema in the evening prayers concludes, “Blessed are You Hashem Who Loves His nation, Israel.” The true lover of Israel is the one who seeks to emulate the Love of the Creator, Who loves the Jewish People because they strive to achieve their Divine mission.

Perhaps this explains the conclusion of the blessing that the Kohanim recite before they bless the people, “Who Commanded us to bless His nation with love.” This blessing cannot be uttered in a perfunctory fashion. Rather, it must be an expression of the love of the Kohen for the Jewish People. The major good that the Kohanim beseech Hashem to provide for the Jews is that of external and internal peace. Peaceful relations between all members of Am Yisrael, are vital to the success and well-being of Israel.

We are currently in the extended mourning period over the death of the twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva who “failed to accord respect to each other.” Thus, even great Torah scholars can assert their egos and diminish the value and worth of their fellow learned colleagues.

The sanctity of Aaron derived from the fact that he emulated Hashem by achieving Ahavat Yisrael to the highest degree possible. When the Kohanim rise to bless the people, they express the genuine love for Am Yisrael that all of us should aspire to. But the Kohanim do not have the power to actually bless the people. Only Hashem can do that. But He does so in conjunction with the blessing of the Kohanim who “shall place My Name on the Children of Israel and I shall bless them” (BaMidbar 6:27).

The Jewish people deserve Hashem’s blessings when they recognize the sanctity of Aaron, who loved peace and pursued peace. And, inspired by his example, they seek to overcome strife and cultivate a love of all Jews because they have been Chosen by G-d to sanctify His Name in the world. And because they desire to emulate their Creator Who “loves His nation Israel” and bestows His Goodness upon them. May we strive to emulate His Ways and merit to achieve this.

Shabbat Shalom.

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