Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky

You Can Be a Kohein and a King

"V'atem tihiyu Li mamleches kohaim - and you should be for me a kingdom of kohanim." As a prerequisite to receiving the Torah, the Jewish people are commanded to become a kingdom of kohanim. This obligation is difficult to comprehend, since only a select group of individuals were chosen to be kohanim. Before the cheit haeigal this group was comprised of the first born, and afterwards the leviim, and specifically the descendants of Aharon, took their place. How, then, could the entire Jewish people be called upon to be kohanim?

A similar problem exists with the word "mamleches - kingdom". This term refers to royalty, yet the realm of royalty is reserved for the tribe of Yehuda and specifically the descendants of Dovid Hamelech. How can the entire Jewish people be called upon to be kings when most of us are excluded from this role?

Upon further examination, we see that the kohein and the melech have dual roles. While our immediate association with being a kohein is serving in the Beis Hamikdash, each kohein served in the Beis Hamikdash for only a few days a year. The system of mishmaros which divided the kohanim into different groups and enabled each kohein to have a chance to serve in the Beis Hamikdash also limited each individual kohein to a small amount of time per year to actually offer korbanos. What else was the kohein expected to do during the year? When the Torah describes the talmedei chachamim who sat on the highest court, the beis din hagadol, it refers to them as kohanim, leviim v'shoftim. Even a yisroel can be part of the beis din hagadol, yet many of the greatest Torah leaders were kohanim and leviim. Furthermore, the navi Malachi describes in detail the kohein as the model teacher of Torah. Free from the responsibilities associated with owning land, the kohanim were expected to devote themselves to becoming the talmidei chachamim and teachers of the entire Jewish people.

Just as a kohein had a dual leadership role, so too did the melech. While the melech was the political and military leader, this was only one dimension of his leadership. The melech was also commanded to carry the sefer Torah with him constantly, thereby showing that the ultimate authority is Hashem and His word. Additionally, not only did the melech personally study the Torah, but he was charged with teaching the entire Jewish people its message. Every seven years during hakheil when the Jewish people as a whole learned Torah together in the Beis Hamikdash, it was the melech who was given the privilege to read from the Torah publicly.

The Rambam (Hil. Talmud Torah) elaborates on the three crowns that were presented to the Jewish people, i.e. the crowns of kehuna, malchus, and Torah. In contrast to the crowns of kehuna and malchus that were bestowed upon particular families, the crown of Torah was given to anyone who wants to acquire it through hard work and dedication to its study. However, the crown of Torah is not entirely distinct from the other two crowns. The crown of kehuna is made up not only of offering korbanos, but also of teaching Torah. Similarly, both the military and political leadership of the Jewish people as well as the communal teaching of Torah are included in the crown of malchus. Each and every Jew can become a partial kohein and melech, since the dimension of Torah study and teaching that is such an integral part of kehuna and malchus doesn't depend on genealogy.

As we approach zman mattan Toraseinu it is incumbent upon all of us to rededicate ourselves to our role of being a mamleches kohanim. Whether we are kohanim and melachim, i.e. formal teachers of Torah, or have followed any other calling in life, we are each required to respond to the call of mamleches kohanim. Let us each become, each in our own way, a proud member of the mamleches kohanim. By reaffirming our commitment to the Torah ideals of kehuna and malchus, may we merit to see the kohanim and the malchus beis Dovid teaching us the Torah in the Beis Hamikdash, bimeheira biyameinu.

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