by Daniel R. Weiss
A man once went to his rabbi and demanded that the rabbi make him a Kohen. The rabbi replied that such a request was impossible. The man begged, offering him millions of dollars in endowment money to the synagogue, but the rabbi still said “no.” After hours of pestering, the rabbi asked the man “why do you want to be a Kohen so badly?” to which the man replied, “My father was a Kohen, my grandfather was a Kohen, I too want to be a Kohen.”
In The Last Ember, by Daniel Levin, a novel similar in style to The Da Vinci Code, there is a search for the missing relic, the Menorah, built by the Israelites at the end of last week’s parsha, Terumah and the beginning of this week’s, Tezaveh. The premise of the story is based on the life of Josephus Flavius and his role in hiding the Menorah before the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple.
The role of the Menorah throughout history can be seen as a spark of hope, an eternal connection to God. The Menorah of the Holy Temple can only be lit from the purest oil, opened by a Kohen (priest). Without a Kohen capable of lighting the Menorah, it is relegated to a beautiful gold ornament.
A few weeks ago, in Parshat Mishpatim, we are told to be a Mamlechet Kohanim, a nation of priests, yet this week we are told of the line of Aaron, who were chosen to serve as our Kohanim.
In looking at the obligations, including the clothing that the Kohen had to wear, we see that this is a difficult job, a tough burden to carry on one’s shoulders.
One of the items that the Kohen Gadol wore were shoulder straps that held the Choshen (breastplate) in place. On each shoulder strap were the names of the 12 tribes. This signified that the Kohen had to carry the nation on his shoulders.
This seems quite a responsibility for one person: to carry the nation on their shoulders and be responsible for lighting the Menorah (the spark within all of the people).
In the time of the Holy Temples, the Kohanim lived close to the Holy Temple. Since its destruction, much like the rest of the Jewish world, Kohanim are spread out all over the world, including Russia, Ethiopia, China, India, Israel and America.
In 1997 a study was conducted to determine if in truth all Kohanim could be the descendants of one person (Aaron). Dr. Karl Skorecki along with Professor Michael Hammer conducted a study of the DNA found in Kohanim in order to determine if there was a similarity on their strands. The results of their study show “the Y chromosome markers of the Kohanim and non-Kohanim were indeed significant. A particular marker, (YAP-) was detected in 98.5 percent of the Kohanim, and in a significantly lower percentage on non-Kohanim.”
We live in a society today in which we bestow honor upon people. Honor is given to those who achieve status, to those who wear a uniform and more importantly, to those who carry us on their shoulders.
Without the Holy Temple, Kohanim have been relegated to the sidelines, bonded together by DNA, the occasional synagogue blessing on holidays and a job they can no longer perform (in the Holy Temple). This change of status gives all of us, those not part of the “DNA” connection, the opportunity to step up and create a Mamlechet Kohanim, a nation of priests. This can be achieved when we carry others on our shoulders and light a spark in those around us, to learn more and to live better.
As we teach our students character values, leadership, social skills and community building, we need to look no further than the messages that we find in this week’s parsha. We are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, while at the same time, working to ensure that we are supporting the future generations.