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Cohanim

05 May Haftarah: Emor: My Cohen


Ezekiel 44:15-31: What kind of experience will be my first offering in the Third Temple? I imagine I will feel awesome excitement. I want it to be perfect. There will be long lines of anxious people and probably hundreds of extra altars as occurred in the time of the dedication of King Solomon’s Temple. No cell phones, SMS or Twittering permitted. Please God, it will be nothing like going to a strange synagogue. The Levites will be singing. The music will be perfect: Yitzchak Perlman playing and conducting. Perhaps Sam Glaser will lead Hallel. No sermons, please; I will be too preoccupied. Who will be my Cohen and work with me as I offer the most important offering of my life?

I prefer Aaron, but I’ll probably be one of a list of millions with the same request. I will feel guilty about bothering a 3500-year-old man (though not too guilty to make the request). I suspect that we will all have to learn to deal with regular, ‘ordinary’ Cohanim. So what are the ideal qualities that this Cohen should have – the one who will guide me through my first offering in the miraculous Third Temple a few days after the arrival of the Messiah in a healed and perfected world?

The prophet Ezekiel, recently exiled to Babylon, began imagining his Cohen immediately after the destruction of the Temple. He didn’t, he couldn’t wait. In the Haftarah of Emor he describes the Cohanim he imagined, and he does it all with a name: Zadok.

King David had two Cohanim: Zadok and Ebiathar. Ebiathar was the son of Ahimelech, the High Priest of Nob, city of Cohanim. King Saul wiped out the entire city and only Ebiathar survived:

One son of Ahimelech son of Ahitub – his name was Ebiathar – escaped and he fled to David. Ebiathar told David that Saul had massacred the Cohanim of God. David said to Ebiathar, “I knew on that day that Doeg the Edomite was there and that he would certainly inform Saul. I am responsible for every life of your father’s house! Stay with me and fear not, for the man who seeks my life seeks your life as well. You are safe with me.” (Samuel I 22:20-23)

Ebiathar was also a descendant of Eli, the Cohen Gadol who was Samuel’s teacher. Eli’s children were failed Cohanim who did not achieve the greatness that their father did, and their downfall is an important part of the story of the beginning of the Book of Samuel. The family was cursed with a curse that was still active during Talmudic times.

Ebiathar was haunted by this curse; it was real to him. When David and his supporters were fleeing from the rebellion of Absalom, Ebiathar attempted to use the Urim V’Tumim to ask for God’s guidance and failed: “They set down the Ark of God – and Ebiathar came up as well.” (Samuel II 15:24) “The Urim V’Tumim would not respond to Ebiathar.” (Yoma 73b) When Ebiathar failed he understood that he would not be able to serve as the Cohen Gadol when Solomon became king and built the Temple. Desperate to play a role in the future, Ebiathar supported Adonijah who tried to take advantage of David’s perceived weakness, to supplant Solomon as the successor to David.

Adonijah failed in his quest and Ebiatar was not punished:

To Ebiathar the Cohen the king (Solomon) said, “Go to Anathoth, to your fields. For you are deserving of death; but I shall not put you to death this day, because you have carried the Ark of My Master, God, the Lord, before my father David, and because you suffered in all that my father suffered.” (Kings I 2:26)

Jewish mysticism explains that Ebiathar could serve David because they were both suffering and running for their lives. (Zohar Volume 1 249b) However, because Ebiathar did not know how to function when all was stable, secure and good he could not serve as the Cohen Gadol for a king such as Solomon. According to Kabbalah, the Cohen must be able to reflect the spirit of the time in which he serves. A spiritual leader must relate to the people on all levels. Ebiathar could not serve in a time of expansion and growth.

Zadok is different. Where Ebiatar failed, Zadok succeeded. Zadok was able consult with the Urim V’Tumim even when running from Absalom’s rebellion. (Sotah 48b) Zadok also always lived at the highest levels of greatness: Spiritually, “Zadok was the reincarnation of Aaron.” (Vayikra Rabbah 1:3) In fact, the Midrash considers Zadok to be greater than Aaron and his sons! (Kohelet Rabbah 1:4)

Zadok did not need to live in perfect circumstances to live as if all were wonderful. He constantly maintained the highest spiritual levels. Only he was worthy to could serve as the Cohen Gadol at the unbelievable time of Solomon’s highest achievements.

The Cohanim at the time of the destruction of the first Temple, the supposed spiritual leaders of the Jewish people, were uncircumcised. (Lamentations Rabbah 1:36) They contributed to the Temple’s destruction. Ezekiel understood that when the Temple would be rebuilt, so too, would Israel need a Zadok to rebuild the family of Cohanim.

They shall instruct My people concerning the difference between holy and ordinary, and they shall inform them of the difference between the contaminated and clean. Concerning a disagreement, they shall stand in judgment, and shall adjudicate them according to My laws; they shall safeguard My teachings and My decrees regarding all My appointed times and they shall sanctify My Sabbaths. (Ezekiel 44:23-24)

Who would you want to be your Cohen for your first offering in the Third Temple?

I’ll sign up for Zadok. It’ll be quite an experience.

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