Parshat Emor focuses on the rites and regulations governing the lives of the Kohanim (the priests); those charged with the direct service to God. Much of what Ezekiel has to say about the role of the Kohanim in the future Temple parallels what was said in the parashah. What he adds though is significant. Aside from their standard sacerdotal responsibilities, Ezekiel emphasizes the role of the Kohanim as teachers, arbiters of the laws, those who maintain the days of the sacred calendar and keepers of Shabbat: “And concerning a legal dispute they shall stand to judge by My laws and judge it. And My teachings and My statutes in all my appointed times they shall keep, and My sabbaths they shall follow.” (verses 23-4)
These responsibilities do not seem extraordinary. We pretty much expect that the Cohanim, as the religious leaders of the people, would fill these roles. Sometimes, though, the unexpected is to be found in the expected. Rabbi Zadok Hakohen (Lublin 19th-20th century), one of the last giants of the Hasidic world, was inspired to find an inspirational religious message in the very banality of this list of tasks. He asked himself why Ezekiel singled out the Kohanim for Shabbat observance when, in fact, this is an obligation incumbent on every Jew. On the one hand, the answer to this question seems obvious since the Kohanim were responsible for the sacrificial order and Shabbat has specific sacrificial obligations which had to be carried out properly. Of course, if Rabbi Zadok is asking this question, we should expect something more subtle and nuanced.
These sacrificial responsibilities were not to be seen as mere technocratic responsibilities. The Kohanim were responsible for infusing them with “kedusha – holiness”. Rabbi Zadok cites a particular mitzvah performed on Shabbat that is found in this week’s Torah reading (Lev. 24:5-9). Every week, the Kohanim were responsible to prepare the “lehem hapanim – bread of the Presence (King James – shewbread)” which would be presented before God on Shabbat. The attendant priests would set forth the freshly baked loaves on a specially appointed table in the Holy of Holies and would retrieve the bread offered from the previous week to be eaten in what the Zohar called the “feast of our King”. For Rabbi Zadok, this “sharing of bread with God” by the Kohanim serves as a paradigm for our Shabbat meals which we must infuse with a similar “kedusha” or spiritual uniqueness. (See Pri Tzadik, Parshat Emor 6)
During these weeks of home confinement, Facebook has been filled with pictures, recipes and description of people’s hallah baking prowess. I cannot help but see in these baking projects the spirit of kedusha embodied in the offering of the “lehem hapanim” and that our Shabbat tables are also infused with the same spirit that the Kohanim brought to offering and eating of the “bread of [God’s] presence.