Exotic designs, rare gems, the finest materials, and ceremonial
appointments, served to set the Kohain Gadol and the regular Kohanim apart
from the rest of the nation. The laws of purity, tithes, Terumah, and their
attendant restrictions further divided the holy from the mundane and the
holier from the less holy.
The newly formed hierarchy within the nation set the tribe of Layvie and
the family of Aharon above and beyond the rest of the people. Life was no
longer simple or equal. The image of Moshe standing among the masses at the
foot of Mt Sinai and hearing the word of G-d at the time of Revelation
would be no more. Forever after, the religious expectations for some would
be greater than the religious expectation for others.
At first, before the sin of the Golden Calf, the religious expectations for
the Bnai Yisroel had been across the board. There would not have been any
divisions within the nation except for the position of the firstborn. They
were to be the designated "attendants" in the Temple serving the communal
and individual devotional needs of the nation. The laws of purity and
impurity were to have been practiced by the entire "kingdom of priests."
The laws of Tithing and the other priestly gifts would have been
unnecessary. The tribe of Layvie would have been given their own designated
portion of land in Eretz Yisroel. In essence, the hierarchy of the nation
would have been limited to the administrative and organizational demands of
the nation and the Temple. Otherwise, everyone would have been equal in his
or her religious expectations and observances.
We find religious differences more difficult to accept than other types of
differences. Other differences, such as financial or physical, might be
resented and might generate jealousy. However, most of us accept that they
exist and attempt to adjust our attitudes and feelings accordingly. In
fact, most of us will never do anything to change the status quo. The rich
get richer and the poor stay poor. Culture and ethnicity will color certain
neighborhoods, and they will remain so for many generations. However,
religious differences, even among the most accepting and liberal of
families and communities, will generate latent animosity, resentment and
A person born missing a limb is different than the majority of his peers.
It is difficult, and it is challenging, yet, manageable. The person might
be jealous of his friends who are not missing the limb. He might have to
suffer the immature taunts and barbs of school-age immaturity. He might be
resentful toward G-d for the circumstances of his disability. However, once
past those early stages of bias and fear, the individual can begin to feel
equal to everyone else.
In families and classrooms, certain children were not created equal. Some
are smarter and more capable than others. This can cause jealousy and
resentment, however that is part of the challenge of maturation. We each
have to learn to accept those naturally imposed differences.
In the realm of finances it is equally true. Some are born into money and
others have to struggle to make ends meet. Jealousy often spurs on ambition
and resentments can flare into conflict and crime; however, we know that we
must learn to deal with it. We must learn to accept the vagaries of family,
time, circumstance, and genetics.
However, when it comes to religious differences the emotional reactions and
resentments are far more profound. Because of assumed hurts and insults,
families break apart, communities split, and intolerance is not only
accepted, it is justified. Why is this so, and how should we deal with the
Religious differences, especially as they relate to levels of observances
and intensity of practice, are resented for being personal choices.
Physical and financial differences are accepted because they are imposed or
natural. It is far easier to justify resenting personal choice than it is
to justify resenting personal luck. Imposed differences are beyond our
control. Personal choice is within our control. Your physical and financial
difference may be a source of jealousy for me but it does not obligate me
to be like you. However, your personal choice to be more observant or
religious makes me feel less than you because I too could do the same if I
Obviously, not every expression of religious observance is necessarily
better. Religious fervor might be escapism cloaked in self-righteousness.
In such instances it behooves us to explore more deeply "his" affections
and our reactions. However, in an ever-growing desire to understand the
true word of G-d, many are returning to the strict observance of the
Halacha. I do not mean the affect of black hat, swinging payos, hanging
Tzitzit or ankle length skirts. I refer to the total acceptance of Halacha
as the only honest expression of G-d's will.
Much depends on the practitioners of Halacha. Their mannerism must be
socially inclusive, emotionally balanced, and consistent in their
uncompromised adherence to religious observances and practices. They must
be confident without being arrogant. They must be accepting without being
condescending. However, even more depends on our granting them permission
to be fully committed to the ideals and values of their personal choices.
Their strength should not become our weakness.
I believe this to be one of the most important lessons of the Parsha. The
Kohain and the Kohain Gadol were obligated to be different. Their personal
practices were more intense and disciplined. Their manner of dress and
personal behavior reflected the sanctity of being the "Chosen among the
Chosen." As such, their personal bearing and our reaction to their
choseness is a model for all relationships involving religious forbearance
Was it easy to be a Kohain at the time of the Mishkan and the Bais
Hamikdash? Well, is it easy to be a Jew in an era when we do not have a
Bais Hamikdash? Both questions deserve the same answer. It depends on our
attitude. Being a Kohain and being a Jew demands discipline and sacrifice.
Both the Jew and the Kohain are more restricted relative to the general
population. However, the gains of being among the chosen are worth the
price of being chosen.
The Kohanim are obligated and restricted by the laws of Tumah and Taharah -
purity and impurity. In the times of the Bais Hamikdash this could prove to
be a real pain. Imagine you are best friends with a Kohain. You invite your
friend and his family to join you for a Shabbos meal. Above and beyond the
level of your Kashrus would be his concern for whether or not you and your
family kept the strict laws of Tumah and Taharah! You buy your meat from
the most Mehadrin (highest level of Kashrus) butcher. You are constantly
calling your Rabbi for shaylos (questions) and concerns. You were raised in
the frumest (most religious) of homes and send your children to the
blackest (extreme right) of Yeshivas. Nevertheless, your table would not be
good enough for your best friend, the Kohain! How should you react? How
should you feel?
We must understand and accept that Halacha for the committed Jew is no
different than the priesthood for the Kohain. Both are imposed by G-d, and
both must be accepted as inviolable and beyond personal preference and
control. Rather than resent the religious commitments and restrictions of
the Halachic Jew, we should proudly support their desire to live by the
strict dictates of G-d's law.
Many of us would like to invite our friends to our homes for a meal.
However, before doing so know whom it is that you are inviting. If you know
that they will be comfortable with your level of kashrus and keeping of
Mitzvos, proceed with your menu! If however they might be a family that is
more stringent in their practices, be prepared to accept and be supportive
of their level of devotion. For them their level of Kashrus is not
optional. For them it is a non-negotiable value. It may have started as a
personal choice but once accepted we must respect their choice as their
Above and beyond personal choice and levels of commitment (eg. glatt or
non-glatt, - degrees of kashrus in meat, using an Eruv - "rezoning" an area
to permit carrying on Shabbos, or not using an Eruv, eating out or not
eating out) is the strict Halacha. There are many kosher homes who are
unaware, and do not keep some basic laws. Toveling - immersing in a Mikvah
glass and metal utensils, having a non-Jewish cook, and how to warm up
foods on Shabbos, are a few such considerations. They are no less important
than keeping Shabbos or not buying a cheeseburger. It is incumbent upon all
of us to be vigilant in not compromising anyone's personal level of
commitment, or being insulted by personal choice, especially when the
concerns are basic Halacha.