Parshat Tzav 5781: The Uniqueness of the Kohanic Inheritance

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Tzav is being sponsored by Reuven and Succota Shefi-gal of Moshav Aderet dedicated for Succota’s birthday on 26 Adar and Reuven’s birthday on 12 Nissan. To Mishpochat Shefi-gal, many thanks for your sponsorship, and your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or comemmorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Tzav 5781: The Uniqueness of the Kohanic Inheritance

by Moshe Burt

In our Parsha, Tzav is Moshe’s command from Hashem to Aaron HaKohen and his sons to take up and clothe themselves in their Vestments, their garments of service in the Mishkan, and to begin their daily Avodah (service and offerings in the Mishkan).

For seven days, Moshe taught Aaron HaKohen and his sons the laws of their Avodah in the Mishkan. (You might say that they were given, as one could term it in the US, OJT from Shemayim.) On the eighth day, Aaron and his sons began their Avodah.

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash renders translation of the opening posukim of our Parshat:

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Command [Tzav] Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the law of the elevation [Olah] offering: It is the elevation offering [that stays] on the flame on the Mokdah [Altar, in this context], all night until the morning, and the fire of the Mizbeiyach should be kept aflame on it.” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 6, posukim 1-2)

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash (ibid, page 568) explains our Parshat’s title: Tzav in this way:

Tzav — Command. Up to now, commandments regarding the offerings were introduced with “Amartah” = say (Sefer Varikra Perek 1, posuk 2) or “Dabeir” = speak. The Sages explain that the more emphatic term, “Tzav” = command, implies that the Kohanim are being urged to be especially zealous in performing this service, and that this exhortation must be repeated constantly to future generations (citing Sifra: Kiddushin 29a).

And so we learn that Hashem demands consistency between enthusiasm and constancy of the Kohanic service in the Beit Hamikdash, as well as constant diligence in following of the sequence of service, as Divinely outlined — exactly to the letter.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin enters into questions and discussions regarding Kohanim and inherited roles vs earned roles in Judaism in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra (pages 43-45):

Why is the priestly role within Judaism inherited and not “earned?” Why is honor given, to this day, to a Kohen simply because of his lineage? Are we not all “equal” in Hashem’s eyes? If we are equal, shouldn’t our society be a meritocracy?

Certain roles within our tradition are inherited in perpetuity. All male descendants of Aaron are automatically Kohanim, while all [other] males descended from the tribe [shevet] Levi are… Leviim (those who serve within the Beit Hamikdash). Within each family of Jews, first-born males are accorded specific rights. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Devarim, Perek 21, posuk 17)

…Men and women [in Judaism] have different halachic obligations from birth. (Rabbi Goldin citing Mishna Kiddushin 1:7) Once David becomes king [melech] all authentic royalty descends from the Davidic dynasty. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 1:7-10) Even identity as a Jew is unalterably inherited through one’s mother. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 68b)

According to Halacha while someone can… convert to Judaism, a born or converted Jew cannot “convert out.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 44a)

On the other hand, other critical roles within Judaism are clearly earned. Although the Torah is silent on the subject, Midrashic literature clearly reflects the position that Hashem’s choice of Avraham is far from arbitrary. Instead, the first patriarch secures his position as progenitor of the Jews only through years of lonely philosophical struggle and search. (Rabbi Goldin citing Zohar 1:86a, Midrash Rabbah Breish’t 38:13, Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar, 14:2) Moshe, the paradigm of leadership and the progenitor of Rabbinic leadership, rises to greatness as a result of his own initiative. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemot Perek 2, posukim 11-12) Sages, scholars, Rabbis and teachers across the ages earn their positions of authorship by dint of scholarship and character. More than a few of the scholars of the Mishna and Talmud rise from humble origins, including Shmaya and Avtalyon, Hillel, Rabbi Akiva, Reish Lakish and others. (Rabbi Goldin citing Tamud Bavli Gittin 57b, ibid, Yoma 35b, ibid, Ketubot 62b, Pesachim 49b, Rambam’s Introduction to the Mishne Torah, Talmud Bavli Bava Metzia 84a respectively)

Perhaps… the greatest proof of the transcendence of earned rights over birthrights can gleaned from the moment of our nation’s birth. …The national era of our people’s history begins with the Yetziyat Mitzrayim [Egypt] and the Revelation at Sinai. Revelation, in fact, becomes both the moment of our nation’s birth and the defining event for individual affiliation with that nation.

But then Rabbi Goldin now asks a question regarding inheritance of the Kahuna(ibid, pages 46-47):

Why can’t the Kehuna… be chosen in each generation on the basis of merit rather than bloodline?

Dr. Karl Skorecki, a nephrologist and researcher at the University of Toronto and at the Rambam-Technion Medical Center in Haifa, noted one morning in synagogue that the Kohen called to the Torah was of Sephardic-specifically Moroccan descent. Dr. Skorecki, himself a Kohen of Ashkenazic, Eastern European origin, found himself wondering: “According to tradition, this [Sephardi] and I have a common ancestor. Could [our shared ancestral line] have been maintained since Sinai and throughout the long exile of the Jews.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Yaakov Kleiman, “The DNA Chain of Tradition: The Discovery of the Kohen Gene”)

Skorecki undertook a study in conjunction with Dr. Michael Hammer, a leading researcher in molecular genetics at the University of Arizona. The results were nothing short of astounding. As published in the prestigious British science journal, Nature (January, 1997), 98.5% of the self-identified Kohanim in a test population of 188 Jewish males carried a specific genetic marker on their Y (male) chromosome. The presence of this genetic marker in the non-Kohen population was significantly lower.

A second study yielded even more striking results. Using an expanded selection of Y chromosome markers, Skorecki and his associates found a particular array of six markers in 97 of 106 Kohanim tested. The chances of these findings happening at random are less than one in 10,000.

The collection… identified in this study has become known as the “Kohen Modal Haplotype (CMH) — “the standard genetic signature of the Priestly family of Jews.” (Rabbi Goldin again citing Yaakov Kleiman, “The DNA Chain of Tradition: The Discovery of the Kohen Gene”)

Skorecki declared (in the 1997 New York Times article), The simplest, most straightforward explanation is that these men have the Y chromosome of [Aaron]… The study suggests that a 3,000 year-old tradition [is] correct… (Rabbi Goldin citing a quote in Denise Grady, Finding Genetic Traces of Jewish Priesthood,” New York Times, January 7, 1997)

Here… is graphic proof of the value and power of an inherited role. Through pogroms and persecution, wrenching exiles and attempted extermination, a segregated subgroup of honored priests preserves a heritage encoded in its very DNA. Scattered to all corners of the globe, with little or no connection to each other, the Kohanim pass down a tradition from father to son — a tradition of service in a Beit Hamikdash long gone, and of an honored role in a Beit Hamikdash yet to come.

What accounts for the success of this faithful transmission? How do the Kohanim maintain their identity with such unerring accuracy across the generations?

The answer would seem to lie in the very character of inherited privilege, a tradition of honor bequeathed across the ages. Interweaving pride, familial loyalty and inter-generational responsibility, such status acquires greater significance specifically because it is inherited. The Kehunah becomes a precious heirloom, connecting each child to parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and generations long gone.

What follows is an excerpt from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s summary of Parshat Tzav (ibid, Sefer Vayikra, page 35):

Parshat Tzav closes as Hashem delineates the rituals designed to consecrate Aaron and his sons as Kohanim. These rites culminate with a seven-day inaugural period, leading to the eighth day on which the Kehunah (priesthood) will be officially launched.

In the absence of our Beit Hamikdash, it is both an inheritance, and a great privilege, for those of us of Kohanic lineage living in Eretz Yisrael to be able to be Hashem’s vehicle for showering Am Yisrael with Brachot.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.