Rabbi Ya’akov HaLevi Filber – Machon Meir
The Book of Leviticus is called by our sages “Torat Kohanim,” the Torah of Priests. Yet when we read this book, we discern that a part of it deals also with topics that do not have to do only with the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, but with the entire Jewish People. It can be said that the book is named after its main topic — the priesthood and the sacrifices. We can also say that the “kohanim” referred to here are the Jewish People, who were called “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), because of the many mitzvot, including mitzvot between man and man, in this book. We must first understand: What is the function of the kohanim and the priesthood in Jewish society?
The verse, “This is the Torah that Moses placed before the Israelites” (Deuteronomy 4:44), is explained by Maharal as follows: “This verse is teaching that the Torah is an object set down, and whoever wishes to attain it may attain it… The Torah was given to all.” This fact, that the Torah is set down before every single Jew, places personal responsibility upon the individual in his spiritual development.
In his work “Ein Aya,” Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook writes, “A person needs to strengthen himself through his own efforts without relying on the help of others, and this applies both in mundane matters and in spiritual matters. By doing so, he will be constantly ready to improve himself in all realms of his life.”
It is true that in matters beyond a person’s attainment he must rely on the help of others, yet he should not become lazy and let others think and decide things in his place, seeking the help of others even in spiritual matters, when he could be attaining those things by himself. The following is the Prophet Jeremiah’s description of human perfection in the end of days: “No longer shall each man teach his neighbor and his brother, saying, ‘Know the L-rd,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:33).
This being the case, what need is there for the job performed by the kohanim, the educators of the Jewish People, of whom it says, “They shall teach Your law to Jacob, and your Torah to Israel” (Deuteronomy 33:10)? Are the kohanim intermediaries between G-d and man, or do they just assist the person who seeks to draw nearer to the Master of the Universe?
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook in his book “Orot” explains that we must not view the kohanim as go-betweens, intermediaries between man and G-d. Quite the contrary, we say that everyone is obligated to be directly connected to G-d. A person must personally fulfill, “I set the L-rd always before me” (Psalms 16:8), as well as, “In all your ways, acknowledge
him” (Proverbs 3:6). Rather, Rabbi Kook views the priesthood just like the string sewn into two pieces of cloth to ensure that they remain attached. It assists the Jewish People to be connected to their Father in heaven. This need for help from an outside entity, the kohanim, he explains as follows:
“When the private individual draws near to G-d, he does not do so by means of his own meager efforts, his lowly impulses, but rather by means of the loftiness within him. That loftiness is what draws all of him towards a holy life. Likewise, individual nations and all of mankind are spiritually unworthy and unable to draw near to G-d by means of their own meager strength, disoriented as they are by the sensory waves that inundate them. The smallness in man blunts the power of Divine light, and through its cumulative influence, the whole world becomes spiritually impoverished. Man therefore must call upon that lofty part of himself, and that lofty part of the aggregate to which he belongs, for the purpose of all coming closer to G-d.”
According to Rabbi Kook’s words, the main thing is that a person should strive by his own efforts to come nearer to G-d and the priesthood must help him.