Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Selflessness and Selfism

Sefer Vayikra is known as Toras Kohanim (Megilla 30b). The term "kohen" is rooted in the verb " lechahen", to serve, which appears repeatedly regarding Aharon and his sons (Shmos 28:1, 3, 4, 41). Even the noun "kohen" is really a verb form meaning the one who serves (hakohen) in the place of him (Aharon) from amongst his sons ( Rashi 29:30).

Remarkably, the context in which we learn that the noun Kohen is really a verb form, meaning one who serves, is the succession to the post of Kohen Gadol (ibid). Only a dynasty that recognizes that authority is really service (Horayos 10a-b) can last forever. This applies to family dynasties, such as the children of Aharon, and to intellectual dynasties, such as the disciples of Moshe. Toras Kohanim begins with the word Vayikra, with a small Aleph to represent Moshe's humility, a prerequisite for Torah leadership.

The kingdom of Israel was given to Dovid Hamelech, who was humble and viewed associating with the common folk as an honor ( Shmuel II, 6:22). Perhaps it was for this reason that he was granted the eternal dynasty, in contrast to Shaul and Michal who viewed the kingdom differently (6:16, 21, 23).

History proves that self-centered dynasties do not last. In the Megillah, Haman's pride in his wealthy and progeny lead to his downfall (Esther 5:11 ). His promulgation to destroy the Jews is self-centered, as the emphasis (the pazer trop) on his name indicates (3:12).

Mordechai warns Esther that if she chooses a safe but selfish path she and her family will be lost (4:14). His promulgation places the emphasis (the pazer trop) on the Jews, and not on his own name (8:9), demonstrating that he put the people first. As a result, Purim, and the story of Mordechai and Esther, will endure forever (9:28, Rambam Megilla 2:18).

The Torah demands service not only from Kohanim, Torah leaders, and kings, but from every member of Am Yisrael. "You shall be for me a kingdom of Kohanim (servants)" ( Shmos 19:6) is a prerequisite for kabolas haTorah.

The very phrase, "a kingdom of servants (kohanim)" appears to be an oxymoron. Indeed, in the general culture, in which kingdom represents power and wealth, the term is self-contradictory. The Torah's expression teaches that real kingdom is achieved only by service to others.

Unfortunately, modern society focuses on self-fulfillment, and fosters a sense of "me first". Instead of asking what their duties and responsibilities are, people ask for their rights and privileges.

One manifestation of this development is the feminist movement. While the Torah embraces gender equality, it rejects the notion that men and women are identical. Women who bristle at the thought of being an enabler, have accepted the modern credo of "selfism" which rejects the Torah's mandate of being a kingdom of servants (see "Feminism and Judaism" by Michael Kaufman).

The Torah, consistent with its value system, attributes great merit and reward to women who enable their sons and husbands to study Torah (Brachos 17a). Helping and enabling others, looked down upon by modern society, is a noble pursuit worthy of kings. As we learn Toras Kohanim, we must aspire to fulfill our roles, as Torah men and women, as members of the kingdom of Kohanim, serving Hashem and Am Yisrael.

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