Parashas Tetzaveh

This week’s parashah deals with the appointment of Aharon and his sons as Kohanim, invested with the responsibility for the Temple service. On account of Aharon’s great righteousness, Hashem dictated that the status of Kohen be passed down within his family, from father to son. This scheme prompts an obvious question: How can responsibility for the Temple service, which requires the utmost piety, be passed down by inheritance – irrespective of whether those receiving this responsibility are worthy of it? Would it not be more appropriate to employ a scheme whereby, in each generation, people are appointed as Kohanim based on their level of eminence? Indeed, when Yeravam ben Navat set up his new system of worship for the Kingdom of Yisrael, to replace the Temple service in Yerushalayim, he adopted such a scheme for appointing priests (Melachim Alef 13:33). Evidently he convinced the people that this scheme was more sensible than the inheritance-based scheme for Kohen status. Why did Hashem dictate that Aharon’s descendants would be Kohanim for all generations?
The Maggid provides an answer based on a Midrash. The opening section of parashas Emor presents some key laws governing Kohanim. The Midrash remarks (Vayikra Rabbah 26:6):
“The fear of Hashem is pure, enduring forever” (Tehillim 19:10). Said R. Levi: “On account of Aharon’s fear of Hashem, he merited having this section of laws given over to him – a section of laws that will never budge from him, nor from his sons, nor from his sons’ sons, throughout all time, down to the last generation.”
Hashem did not designate Aharon’s descendants as Kohanim without regard to their worthiness. Certainly only the most pious can perform the Temple service. Rather, Aharon’s outstanding piety, along with the natural tendency of sons to follow the ways of their fathers, made it certain that his descendants would always include men of the requisite spiritual caliber. In this vein, the Torah’s account of the Yom Kippur service states that atonement will be provided by “the Kohen who has been annointed, or who assumed his place to serve in his father’s stead” (Vayikra 16:32). We can read the phrase “assumed his place” as referring to the son’s adopting his father’s righteous ways, and thereby making himself qualified to perform the atonement service. [Cf. Malbim on Vayikra 16:32.]
Thus, Hashem’s grant of Kohen status to Aharon and his descendants was not a reward solely for Aharon’s righteousness; rather, Hashem had a broader view in mind. By way of analogy, if a person brought a king a basket of the most superb grapes, the king would buy the entire vineyard. In addition, he would make the person a member of his royal staff, with all the associated benefits, assigning him the duty of tending the vineyard on his behalf. Clearly the king would not be granting the person honor and riches just in return for one small basket of grapes. Rather, from the sample of grapes that the person brought, the king would recognize that the vineyard as a whole must be superb, and would therefore arrange to acquire and care for the crop of fine grapes that the vineyard would produce year after year. Similarly, when Hashem invested Aharon and his descendants with Kohen status, it was on account of the exemplary righteousness that He knew Aharon’s descendants would exhibit on an ongoing basis, generation after generation. Aharon’s fear of Hashem was so great that it was guaranteed to endure forever, propagating through the generations in perpetuity.
L’ilui nishmas Matisyahu ben Yaakov, z”l, my father-in-law Mr. Mathew Foner, who passed away this week.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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