We can all agree that the priestly family of Aharon has always had a special
rank and position within the Jewish people. Having been chosen to represent
God to the Jewish people and the Jewish people to God, so to speak, they had
a decisive role of influence within Jewish life. Because of this the Torah
held them to a higher standard of pedigree and behavior than the rest of the
The prophet taught us that the priest was to resemble an angel of God in his
knowledge and observance of Torah commandments and values. Thus the special
laws for the priests regarding marriage, divorce and pedigree that appear in
this week’s were also intended to influence the rest of the Jewish people
even though they, not being from the family of Aharon, were not bound by them.
The values of marriage, probity in personal relationships, pedigree and
family were all indirectly strengthened throughout the Jewish nation by the
special laws that were given to the priestly family. The priest was always
meant to serve as an example, a role model for all of Israel. In essence
this was his true spiritual role while his officiating at the Temple
services was his day job, so to speak.
We can also understand why the individual priest spent relatively little
time at the Temple throughout the year but was rather occupied as the
teacher of other Jews, through actual educational methodology and, just as
importantly, by personal example.
During both First and Second Temple times the priests were the pivotal force
in Jewish life, perhaps even more so than the kings and rulers of the
nation. The priestly clan saved the Jewish people from national and moral
destruction a number of times. Yet, at other times they were the catalyst
for the people’s abandonment of Torah and Jewish tradition.
The Talmud lists for us the names of families from Second Temple times who
were to be eternally remembered positively because of their Torah true
behavior. And the names of those families of priests who were to be
remembered negatively, due to their unseemly practices and behavior, were
also recorded. Many of the laws and duties regarding the priests remained
valid and in force even after the destruction of the Second Temple.
The Talmud ordained that the priests were to continue to receive special
honors and recognition from the Jewish people. The priestly blessings became
the focal point of the prayer services and the honors due the priest were
constantly strengthened in the long night of our exile. The priest was seen
as our living personal connection to our past Temple glories and to our
In our current world there are a number of study groups throughout the
Jewish world, especially here in Israel, which concentrate upon the study of
the laws and procedures of the priestly duties vis-a-vis the Temple
services. It is no wonder therefore that the priests of Israel are proudly
zealous in preserving their lineage and the special place that they occupy
in Jewish life.
Rabbi Berel Wein