Of Priests and Policemen

Mar 25th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
“This unfortunate world has been blasted in all ages by two evil principles – Kingcraft and Priestcraft – that, taking advantage of to human necessities, in themselves not hard – salutary, and even beneficial in their natural operation – the necessity of civil government, and that of spiritual instruction, have warped them cruelly from their own pure direction, and converted them into the most odious, the most terrible and disastrous scourges of our race (William Howitt, “History of Priestcraft In All Ages and Nations”)

I can’t disagree with Howitt, nor can I control my joy when studying this week’s Parsha with Howitt’s criticisms in mind. The High Priest, the Kohen Gadol, Aharon, hesitates before assuming his lofty position. He is aware of his limitations and his faults. He feels undeserving. His concern is for the people, not for the position. He was willing to risk all at the Golden calf calf to save the people he so loved. Surely, he is not counted among those priests criticized above.

God sits severe and absolute limits in His Home: when Nadav and Avihu act on their own; when they violate the strict rules controlling the Kehuna, they immediately die. The Mishkan is not a place where Service of God can be warped even for a second.

I rejoice when Aharon, so soon after two of his sons die, stand up to Moshe, the King, and argues from his judgment. I rejoice even more when Moshe, the King, concedes the point, and celebrates the fact that his brother was right, he openly admits that his brother was right and he was wrong. Moshe’s Kingcraft was incorruptible.

In “The Blind Eye of History,” Charles Reith criticizes our habit of attempting to solve a problem by passing a new law. Most societies attempt to control disorder by passing laws; and most have failed.

However, the two portions we read this week, Shemini and Parah, both describe a law that precedes society, a system of law that exists before this society is born. A system of laws that challenge us to elevate ourselves, to understand the essence of the laws, to appreciate that we can not completely control human behavior; we can direct it with truth rooted in God. The laws of kashrut and the laws of the Parah Adumah are definitely not laws that are a response to a societal problem; they are a challenge to us, the people, and to the Kings and spiritual leaders.

In other words, these two portions make me feel safe, the Kingcraft and Priestcraft are controlled.

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