One day, a man came into his synagogue and said to his rabbi, “Rabbi, I want you to make me a Kohain.” The Rabbi said, “I’m sorry, no.” The man insisted, even pulling out his checkbook, “Look, Rabbi, you know, you know I’ve got money and I like to spend it on the synagogue, tell me what it takes to become a Kohain.” The rabbi said, “No, really I can’t do that. That’s just not how it works. Why do you even want to be a Kohain?” And the man said, “Well, my father was Kohain, and his father, and his father before him…”
For those that don’t get the joke, don’t worry, it took me a while the first time I heard it too (being a Kohain is dynastic, so if the man’s father was a Kohain, he was already one too). However, the joke (in fact, especially if you didn’t get it) does point to how prevalent Kohanim or priests are in our modern Jewish society. That is to say, most Jews have no concept anymore of what they were really about. In this week’s Torah portion, the rituals of sacrifice are again detailed, but this time with more discussion of the priests’ involvement. It is the priests’ obligation to expiate the sins of the people bringing sacrifice, and so they are to eat parts of the sacrificial offerings (G-d’s leftovers), they are quite literally “holier than thou,” or at least are given a holier role in the society, being direct conduits for Divinity.
Reform Judaism emphasizes the concept from Genesis 1:27 that every human being is created “b’tzelem Elohim” – in the image of G-d, all of us, equally. Because of this, I have no modern day analogy for the priests or their role in the rituals of sacrifice. None can be more holy than any other; none can excuse us but ourselves. It is up to each of us individually to use the timeless spirits of self-sacrifice and atonement (which I talked about last week), to make our own peace with each other, with ourselves, and with G-d. We cannot look to our spiritual leaders or anyone else to do that for us, although obviously they are there to help guide us through that process if we need it. But it is still up to each of you individually to make your own sacrifices, your own apologies, your own excuses and explanations, to be forgiven by other individuals, to have your own arguments with G-d, and above all to find your own peace within yourself. And may you do so with comfort, ease, and speed. Amen.