May 9, 2009
15 Iyar 5769
In line with this week\’s parashah, which deals in no small part with regulations unique to the cohanim (the priests), Ezekiel\’s message elaborates on the special legislation slated for the Zadokite priests who, he accords, will serve in the Temple upon its reestablishment. These ordinances have often been termed problematic since they differ considerably from the ordinances found in the Torah. Rabbi Zadok Hacohen of Lublin, one of the last great Hasidic voices in Poland, however, noted a different sort of anomaly. He questioned why the cohanim mentioned by Ezekiel should be singled out from the rest of the Jewish people for the following special responsibilities: \”They will declare to the people what is sacred and what is profane, and inform them what is clean and unclean. In lawsuits, too, it is they who will act as judges; they shall decide them according to My rules. They shall preserve (yishmoru) My teachings and My laws regarding all My fixed occasions; and they shall maintain the sanctity (yikadeshu) of My Sabbaths. (Verses 23-4)
Rabbi Zadok wants to know what makes the sanctity of the cohanim, mentioned here, distinctive from the rest of Israel, and, in particular, what distinguished their unique role on Shabbat that they should be singled out from the rest of the people? In answering this question, he immediately rules out that it is the sacrificial offerings on Shabbat which marked the cohanim as unique. Instead, it was his contention that what made the cohainim special was their role as the teachers of Israel. Since the cohanim were freed up from labor, they were obligated to inculcate Torah into the hearts of the people and to sanctify Shabbat and the festivals by teaching the people since on Shabbat everyone was available to study Torah.
According to Rabbi Zadok, this explains the wording of the special havdalah insertion in the maariv amidah at the end of Shabbat: \”atah honantanu l\’mada Toratekha – You (God) have graced us with intelligence to study your Torah\”. At the end of Shabbat, one thanks God for the special opportunity to have been given the time to spend studying Torah. (See Yerushalmi Shabbat 15:3 15a-b) (Pri Zadik Emor Haftarah)
This special sanctity which Rabbi Zadok has assigned to cohanim has been inherited by every generation of those who teach Torah especially on Shabbat. Those who share Torah not only act to \”preserve\” the Torah but also \”sanctify\” Shabbat and God\’s world. There is nothing more empowering than that.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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