Laws of the Priest

Leviticus 21:1-22:16

While the entire nation of Israel is commanded to “be holy” (Leviticus 19:2), the Torah now delves into the special measures the priests must take to remain so. The first set of instructions forbids a priest from becoming ritually impure by making contact with the dead, with the exception of the seven closest family members. It goes on to forbid several mourning practices, such as tearing out hair or cutting the skin, which were common in the region. From there, the Torah proscribes marriage to a divorcee. The High Priest is forbidden from marrying a widow, as well. The Torah then continues by listing the physical blemishes which disqualify the priest from serving in the Tabernacle or Temple. Such a priest may still eat from the consecrated food, however. Finally, the Torah instructs the priests to safeguard God’s holy offerings, being careful not to administer them while ritually contaminated in any way.

 

The Israel Bible shares a wonderful teaching from the Sages regarding the status of the High Priest. Whereas other priests may attend to the burial of their closest relatives, the High Priest may not even contaminate himself ritually for them. There is one exception. The Torah specifies he may not “defile himself for the dead among his people.” From here, the Sages learn that where there are others to attend to the needs of the deceased (other than a close relative), a priest must not do so. However, if the dead individual is is not among his people, meaning he has nobody to bury him, even the High Priest must do it. This teaches us that being of elevated status does not make one above the rest of the people. On the contrary, it invests him with a greater responsibility to make sure everyone is cared for, even at the expense of his own holiness.

 

Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think the restrictions on High Priests are greater than those set for ordinary priests?

Comments ( 31 )

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  • Robin Rosenblatt

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  • Herman Arentsen

    First of all: the question is:" Why do you think the restrictions on High Priests are greater than those set for ordinary priests?" I thought we had only one High Priest at a time. So the plural form of Priests had to be singular. The one in command is always of a higher authority. Higher authorities in general have higher responsability. Why? Because the High Priest had to come into the presence of the most high G-d. So, to those whom is given more, more shall be asked. In Holland we have a proverb that says: "High trees catch a lot of wind". So with a higher authority higher demands will be asked.

  • DannyLee ben Israel

    Beginning in 21: 16 to the end of the chapter, there is a long list of things that disqualify a priest from approaching the altar of Elohim. It appears that YHVH requires the priests to be as pure and perfect ("without blemish") as the animals or other elements brought for sacrifice before Him. They would be allowed to eat the bread, but not approach the altar, in so doing to defile it.
    *
    There is a parallel teaching in this that applies to us. Just as a blemished priest cannot approach the altar of Elohim, we cannot approach Elohim in our sinful nature. We must be transformed and made pure by Elohim. It's like Noah who "found grace in the eyes of the Lord". It's like Avraham who "believed Elohim, and it was counted for him as righteousness". It's like Moshe who gave us the first commandment of the Ten, "I am the Elohim that brought you out of the land of Mitzryim (believe in Me)".
    *
    Keeping the Torah is great, and garners us the blessings of YHVH. However, it DOES NOT give us Salvation. Since Adam, all men have been "snake bit" by sin. Just as Moshe lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, we must look to the Messiah and His sacrifice to receive Salvation, and be granted the right to appear before Elohim. It is curious to note, the word Salvation appears multiples of times in Torah, and the whole of Tahakh. It's meaning? YESHUA!

  • DannyLee ben Israel

    In regards to 21: 6 quoted in my last comment, I note the word, "therefore". I once heard a former teacher say, "when the word, 'therefore', appears in the text, it would be wise to find out what it's "there for". This humorous little axiom comes to play in this verse.
    *
    The verse starts out, "They shall be holy unto their God…" It ends with, " therefore they shall be holy." Everything in between these two phrases precedes the "therefore", and identifies the instruments of holiness, which are, "profane the name of their God, offerings of the LORD made by fire, and the bread of their God".
    *
    There three things mentioned in this verse are holy in and of themselves. There is nothing to be done to make them any holier than they already are. It's like the commandment, "remember the sabbath to keep it holy". It's already holy, just don't do anything to profane it. The "Aleph/Tav" symbol is placed so as to link all three together. "Therefore they (priests) shall be holy".

  • DannyLee ben Israel

    "They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God: for the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and the bread of their God, they do offer: therefore they shall be holy."
    *
    As I read this verse, I thought about Nadab and Abihu. The key words that stoked my interest was, "offerings of the Lord made by fire". The words, "for the" do not actually appear in the Hebrew text. In their place is the "Aleph/Tav" symbol. This placement clearly puts a Divine seal on the offerings.
    *
    When we go before Adonai, we go before our King. Even by human standards, one would approach in an honorable and respectful manor. How much higher a standard is required of us in approaching the Elohim of Yisra'el? A cavalier approach would be the utmost of disrespect, and VERY unholy.

  • DannyLee ben Israel

    This portion affords me the time to ask a question. What does Moshe mean in v. 5 when he says, "they will not…shave off the corners of their beards?"

  • DannyLee ben Israel

    For any leader, standards are always higher. Before I retired, I was a Captain for a security company and in authority over my own security crew. Of a certainty, I was held to a much higher standard than that of my crew. Religious leaders are no different.
    *
    It is written in Scripture that "judgment begins with the house of the Lord". If one doesn't understand this principle, then read the accounts of Isaiah in chapter 56, or Ezekiel 34, just to name a couple. Sins of presumption, haughtiness, and a general lack of concern for those under their care brought their demise.

  • DannyLee ben Israel

    I think just about everyone has the right idea–holiness. The ruler by which HaShem judges holiness is Torah. Those poor, deceived Christian souls that seem to think Torah has been abolished and the church replaces Israel have no way to judge holiness. For, Torah is like a mirror, revealing our sin and the path we must take toward righteousness. Without Torah, their life is more like a "free-for-all", free to do whatever they think is right, leaving "sloppy agape" grace to pick up the slack.

    • Herman Arentsen

      I am Jew and I agree on this point with you fully, BUT I will not accept Christians be called poor and deceived. I have friends , Christian friends who fully accept Tora and all of its consequences but they believe in Jesus. I feel something humbling in calling them poor and deceived. I think we should not take a point of view in which we look down upon our fellow man. Sorry, if I misread your words.

    • Angela B

      I agree DannyLee, most Christians think the law was done away with; but like Herman says, some have accepted the law and surely live by it.

  • SueJean Heinz

    I believe that Theresa has thoroughly presented a solid answer to the question posed here. Elohim is holy and we CANNOT come into HIS presence in a state of unholiness or we will die as in the examples she cited.
    *
    The High Priest was to be a model of holiness before the people. This gives us a standard to consider when we chose our leadership or Torah teachers. Following after people that don't make every effort to keep the commandments of Elohim and live a transparent life as free of sin as humanly possible, is the depth of foolishness.
    *
    The Torah is given to us so that we can know what is and what isn't sin in the eyes of a Holy Elohim. HE gave us HIS standards for holiness and told us that we don't have the RIGHT to change those standards or even ignore them. When we don't know what the Torah teaches, each man just goes off doing their own thing thinking whatever they do is fine and when they some day stand before Elohim, HE's going to ask each of us, "Why didn't you just read MY Words that I gave to Moshe for you and learn from them?"
    *
    What will you say on that day?
    Baruch Hashem.

  • Hong

    how to apply the law of priest today(no Temple, no ARK,no priest)? if these commandments just have the spiritual meaning? I think The Third Temple may answer the question.

    • DannyLee ben Israel

      Without a Temple, Ark, etc., "spiritual" will have to do. We keep the rest of the commandments, according to Moshe, to the best of our ability. As far as a third Temple, that won't happen until after Messiah returns. Right now, I'll just be happy to have an altar go up on the Temple Mount and see the restarting of the daily sacrifices. Priests? There's plenty of them practicing right now just for that occasion.

  • Johnny

    Shalom
    I have just join the group, so I listen and learn and someday I`ll be joining The discussion of Torah Kadosh

  • Sheila

    The restrictions placed on the High Priest were put in place by God to set him apart as he lived out his holy calling. His function was as the mediator between God and His people so in the duties he performed and the requirements placed on him, his character and conduct needed to model a Holy and Righteous God. The people could see the reflection of God’s character in him as he was their advocate and spokesman for them.

    • Angela B

      Beautiful! I love the point on modeling a holy and Righteous God.

  • Diana Brown

    It seems that at the time the instructions were spoken to Moses and Aaron, by HaShem, the High Priest was the mediator between a Holy God and carnal mankind. Mediation is important because one has to have courage to approach and appear before a Just and Holy God to plead for mercy for himself and the rest of humanity.
    We are grateful that God is also Merciful and designed this way of communication. Our God is a consuming fire of holiness wherever unholiness is found. The High Priest did not lie to HaShem about his sins or national sins or the sins of the people offering sin, guilt sacrifices. Once the High Priest confessed and repented, HaShem was satisfied with the truth told and the evil repented of and forsaken.
    Being honest before God and speaking truth to His Power always gets His attention then and now. He wants to have a relationship with us but can only have this relationship through holiness because there is no darkness in Him.

  • Ken

    As the High Priest has privileged access to the Most Holy and other duties, he is closer to God in that respect. The closer one is to God, the more exacting the requirements to be clean.
    .
    Because there are multiple ordinary priests at any given time, if an ordinary priest is defiled, there are others who can still complete the necessary mundane services. But if the high priest is defiled, then it might require another priest to be anointed as his replacement.

    • Danielle Reisman

      Usually the job of the high priest is inherited by the son.

    • Angela B

      Ken, I agree that the closer we get to Yahweh the holier we should be. And what a privilege to know that today, anyone who lays aside filth (sin) can enter the holy of holies. Thank you.

  • Alexander

    With great position comes great responsibility therefore by investing the High Priests with greater restrictions than that of ordinary Priests Hashem is reminding the High Priests what is expected from them and not to forget that they are his chosen representatives for his people.

    • Danielle Reisman

      I think the quote goes, “With great power comes great responsibility” – Spiderman 😉

      • Phyllis Pearson

        Yes! that and the priests were perhaps the first 'role models' Their words had to reflect their actions and visa versa.

  • Theresa

    Be holy, for I am holy. The closer we walk with Him, the more we become like Him. We let go of some things only because we have found something better to grasp. The High Priest has the honor of walking into the Holy of Holies to see the Devine. One taste of the heavenly and the earthy becomes less important. The willingness to walk in holiness is evidence that we have experience His glory. Moses was changed at the burning bush, Samuel was changed when he heard the Voice, David was changed when he was anointed. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are examples of priests who never experienced the glory of the Presence and did not obey the law. They sought things to please themselves and not G-d.

    Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered strange fire and were consumed. Uzzah was struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. They were close to the Presence but did not follow the law.

    The High Priest has a greater revelation by walking close to the Devine and he has a higher calling according to the law. The two work hand in hand.
    I have heard it taught that G-d is the giver of life and the High Priest is not to contaminate himself with death and mourning. He is only to partake of life. Deuteronomy 30:19, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…”

    • Johnny

      Amen Theresa, I`ve learnt good wisdom

    • Diana Brown

      Theresa I do agree with your comments. I was wondering as I re-read the portion about Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus/Vayikra 10:1 and 2) about this statement….each took his censer…Did every priest have a censer or did each one take Aaron’s censer? Also did both enter the Holy of Holies at the same time when only one priest was to enter one day a year?
      I try to dig out what is being written because every word of Torah is rich with meaning and truth. I want to know but I don’t pass judgment. We are all on a journey to dwell with a Holy God. He has to teach us His Holiness and we don’t have it ourselves.

      • SueJean Heinz

        I offer my understanding here while realizing that Diana no longer appears to be participating in this forum, but for the next person to come along with this question.

        We've been taught that Nadab and Abihu took their "own" censors into the Holy of Holies (where they were NOT authorized to go, more on this later) and offered strange fire before Elohim.
        *
        This next verse is specific to Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement and is not part of the inauguration of the Tabernacle ceremony as far as I can see, but Nadab and Abihu decided to incorporate this act of their own accord.
        *
        "And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not" – Leviticus 16:12-13
        *
        Here we see that Aaron was instructed to do a special sin offering for "himself" before he did anything else before Elohim. There's no mention that his sons were included in the "covering" of this offering in any way.
        *
        8 So Aaron came near to the altar and slaughtered the calf of the sin offering which was for himself.
        *
        When Aaron completed all of the sacrifices at the altar, he raised his hands and blessed the people. Then he and Moshe went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, this happened next:
        *
        24 Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
        *
        Right after this we have Nadab and Abihu adding their own little twist by bringing their "censors with strange fire" into the Holy of Holies. They died right there.
        *
        This is a fascinating/troubling event as we all struggle to understand what it means to be holy, particularly in this day and age where we don't have a Temple or a priesthood and the teachings of Moshe have been nearly obliterated with the commentary that contradicts so much of what he wrote in the Torah.
        Baruch Hashem.

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