Laws of the Priest

Apr 26, 2015

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?