Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

[VIDEO] Priest and Prophet: Ritual and Relevance (Parshat Emor)

TRANSCRIPT

I am sharing with you, the priests and the prophets of the Jewish people, a very interesting idea. Yes, you – the priests and the prophets.

We are all priests and prophets, and in this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to the whole notion of what it means to be a priest – a kohen.

The kohen has two requirements before he can serve in the Temple. First, he has to be a descendant from the seed of Aaron. All that counts is his lineage. Second, he must wear certain garments. He must wear bigdei kahuna – the priestly vestments; if he’s missing even one, he cannot serve in the Temple.

And then there is the prophet: it doesn’t make a difference who his or her parents were. In fact, King David, the progenitor of the Messiah, the quintessential prophet who engages God and puts together Tehillim, is descended from the controversial convert Ruth, and from the illegitimate relationship between Yehuda and Tamar.

And it doesn’t matter what the prophet is wearing. The prophet can be wearing formalwear, a tuxedo, or jeans and a t-shirt. If he or she has a relationship with God, that is all that counts.

We need to assimilate both of these paradigms of leadership into our life and weltanschauung. On the one hand, we need to celebrate the message of the priest; the idea that there’s a certain sense of the eternality of the Jewish people when we are committed to the rituals. The kohen is the guardian of the rituals, and that’s why his holiness is based in externals: vestments and lineage.

When we are involved, when we sing the same songs that our grandparents sang at the Shabbat table, when we use the same kiddush cup that our grandfather or grandmother used, there’s a certain sense of the immortality of the Jewish people.

However, if the only reason why we are celebrating our Judaism is based on the past – on the continuity of rituals – then Judaism becomes a dead symbol.Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of the prophet to make sure that Judaism is imbued with relevance, and is connected to day-to-day reality.

Therefore, the prophet sometimes admonishes the Kohen, saying, “Why does God need your sacrifices? Why does God need the everyday routines in the Temple, if they are not imbued with a passion and with spirituality?”

During this period, in which we have so much time for reflection and introspection, let’s think how we can take the mantles of the priest and the prophet and imbue them into our daily lives. How we can celebrate ritual and routine, but also recognizing that the ritual must be imbued with meaning and relevance. When we achieve that, we will truly be the mamlechet kohanim – the priestly nation.

Each and every one of us can be the priest and the prophet, if we’re committed to the ritual and if we ensure that it is imbued with a passion that inspires our daily life.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 27 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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