Parshat Tzav 5783: The Why of Earned Roles and Rights Relating to the Kehuna vs Inheritance by Birth

Dear Friends;

This year’s Parshiyot Tzav vort is being sponsored by Mutti and Michelle Frankel and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated Lillui Nismas Michele’s grandmother, Sandy Kramer’s mother Rachel (Rose) Bat Aharon Kahn. To the Frankel family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Tzav 5783: The Why of Earned Roles and Rights Relating to the Kehuna vs Inheritance by Birth

by Moshe Burt

We open this vort on Parshat Tzav with excerpts from Rabbi Goldin Parsha Summary in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Vayikra (page 35) :

Hashem instructs Moshe to command Aaron and his sons concerning their ongoing role in the Sanctuary’s [Mishkan’s] sacrificial rite.

The text returns to a number of korbanot first introduced in Parshat Vayikra, as Hashem adds details pertinent to the participation of the Kohanim.

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 (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).

Rashi comments on “Command Aaron.” :

“Command” can only be meant to express urging on, for the immediate moment and for future generations. (Rendered to English in The Sapirstein Edition: The Torah: With Rashi Commentary, page 60)

There is a note on the above Rashi which cites Kiddushin 29a:

Whenever Torah uses “Tzav” rather than “Dabeir” or “Emor,” it indicates three points: (a) urging on; (b) that the command must be done immediately; and that (c) it must also be performed in future generations. (ibid, see Korban Aaron)

Returning to Rabbi Goldin Parsha Summary (ibid, page 37) :

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

Rabbi Goldin now brings an introduction, questions and discussion concerning inherited and earned roles and rights (pages 43 – 45) :

…Hashem commands Moshe to instruct Aaron concerning the laws of the “shivat yemei hamiluim,” the seven days of preparation that will lead to the inauguration of the Kehuna on the eighth day. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 8, posukim 30 – 36)

Why is the priestly role in Judaism inherited and not “earned”?

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

Torah’s outline for Judaism’s society, from both a historical and legal perspective, reveals a… tension and interplay between inherited and earned roles and rights.

Certain roles within our tradition are inherited in perpetuity. All male descendants of Aaron are automatically Kohanim, while all male descendants of the tribe [shevet] Levi are of course Levi’im (those who serve within the Beit HaMikdash). Within each Jew’s family, 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 Nishna Kiddushin, Perek 1, posuk 7) Once David becomes king all authentic royalty descends from the Davidic dynasty. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim,Perek 1, posukim 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 certainly convert to Judaism, a born or converted Jew cannot “convert out.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 44b)

This author notes here that this vort deals exclusively with the why of the designation of Kohanic rites vs hereditary rites by excerpting from Rabbi Goldin’s discussion which indicates examples where earned rights trump hereditary rights. Also noted is that it was this very tension concerning roles and rights that led to Korach’s contention and abortive rebellion against Moshe and the Kehuna.

Returning to Rabbi Goldin’s discussion inherited and earned roles and rights (ibid) :

On the other hand, other critical roles within Judaism are clearly earned. Midrashic literature clearly reflects the position that Hashem’s choice of Avraham is far from arbitrary… The first patriarch secures his position as the progenitor of Judaism only through years of lonely philosophical struggle and search. (Rabbi Goldin citing Zohar 1:86; Midrash Rabbah Bresh’t Perek 38, posuk 13; Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar, Perek 14, posuk 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 authority by dint of their scholarship and character. More than a few scholars of the Mishna and Talmud rose from humble origins, including Shmaya and Avtalyon, Hillel, Rabbi Akiva, Reish Lakish and others.

Rabbi Goldin, at this point traces a pattern which began in the patriarchal era, as the concept of birth privilege was already realized, as clearly noted in the struggle between Yaakov and Eisev for the title of firstborn (ibid):

Yet in each generation, the firstborn loses his rights to the younger sibling. Yitzchak, not Yishmael, is heir to his father’s legacy. Yaakov supplants his older brother Eisev, the struggle for Yitzchak’s blessing. Yehuda, Yosef and Levi receive a dimension of the leadership role which was rightfully to have been Reuven’s, as the firstborn.

Though the firstborn… males are originally designated for service within the [Mishkan, and later] the Beit Hamikdash, they lose that privilege through their participation in the sin of the golden calf and the Levi’im are appointed in their stead. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Bamidbar Perek 3, posukim 11 – 13; Rashi on Sefer Bamidbar Perek 3, posuk 2) Although not originally designated to serve as a Kohen, Pinchas [subject to various understandings as to when he was designated as a Kohen, or whether his later designation was related to the High Priesthood — Kohen Godol], rises to that role, and, according to some authorities, his descendants serve as Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests), in reward for Pinchas’s courageous acts in defense of Hashem’s honor (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Bamidbar Perek 25, posukim 10 – 13; Rashi on Sefer Bamidbar Perek 25, posuk 13; Ibn Ezra on Sefer Bamidbar Perek 25, posuk 12).

…In the… realm or daily halacha, the law dictates that a sage is given preference over a Kohen in such honors as leading the Birkat Hamazon (Grace after meals). (Rabbi Goldin citing Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 201: 1 – 2) Many scholars maintain that such precedence would also be shown to the sage in the order of Aliyot (ascension to the Torah during Torah reading in Beit Knesset) were it not for the need to apply an objective standard in Beit Knesset, thereby preserving congregational harmony.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, pages 46, 50) :

The verdict of our tradition seems clear. Where a choice must be made between earned role and birth role, earned role triumphs.

A carefully crafted balance between birth and earned-roles has helped ensure the continuity of Judaism’s society across the ages.

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, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his third year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. 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 nine 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.