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Jews in the Pews, Rise Up

Nov 16, 2023

IDF soldiers training at the Gaza border (

מֹ֘שֶׁ֤ה וְאַֽהֲרֹ֨ן ׀ בְּֽכֹהֲנָ֗יו וּ֭שְׁמוּאֵל בְּקֹרְאֵ֣י שְׁמ֑וֹ קֹרִ֥אים אֶל־יְ֝הֹוָ֗ה וְה֣וּא יַעֲנֵֽם׃

Moshe and Aharon among His Kohanim, Shmuel, among those who call on His name— when they called to Hashem, He answered them.

mo-SHEH v'-a-ha-RON b'-kho-na-NAV ush-mu-AYL b'-ko-r'-AY sh'-MO ko-REEM el a-do-NAI v'-HU ya-a-NAYM

Psalms 99:6

The Jewish people are rising up and fighting back. In Israel, the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces are systematically crushing Hamas terrorists in Gaza, while Jews in America and other countries are organizing rallies and confronting the morally bankrupt protestors who support Hamas and the massacre of Jews.

Significantly, in both Israel and the diaspora, the true heroes have been “regular” Jews. These men and women are not formal establishment leaders like rabbis and organizational leaders, but rather “Jews in the pews” – simple people who refuse to be bullied and intimidated by antisemites. In this crisis, those who are courageous and willing to act are leading the way, while “formal” leaders with fancy titles and officially important positions are increasingly irrelevant.

There is precedent for this revolution in leadership – in the Book of Samuel.

The role of the kohanim, the priests who serve as the formal religious establishment of the people of Israel, is to serve as a bridge between God and the Israelites. “The greatness of the priest is that he serves as an intermediary between God and the people of Israel, creating peace between them through the sacrifices. For Israel is referred to as the wife of God, as is written ‘If you know not, O you fairest among women’ (Song of Songs 1:8), and so the priest must bring the Sotah (the wife accused of unfaithfulness) to God, to create peace between them. By bringing God and Israel together, the priest causes God’s presence to dwell among the people in the land” (Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, Numbers 5:12).

This role is even expressed through the numeric value of the Hebrew word for “priest,” or kohen: “The numerical equivalent of the word kohen (כהן), “priest,” is seventy-five… in Jewish numerology, 75 is the same as 7.5, or seven and a half. The priest, who is a mediator between Israel and God, stands between the numbers of 7, which represents the laws of nature, and 8, which represents all that is above nature. For the world of nature was created in the seven days of Genesis… and the eighth day is above nature. For this reason, Abraham our father, who was the priest, began his journey to Israel when he was seventy-five years old [for it was his role to serve as a “priest,” as the bridge between God and humanity]” (Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman, Notes to Maharal, Gevurot Hashem, Chap. 28).

Sadly, the priests who worked in the Tabernacle during Samuel’s time did not properly fulfill their role. Instead of bringing the people closer to God, their selfishness and callousness drove the people of Israel away from God.

“Now the sons of Eli were base men; they knew not Hashem. And the custom of the priests with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a flesh-hook of three teeth in his hand… And the sin of the young men was very great before Hashem; for the men dealt contemptuously with the offering of Hashem” (I Samuel 2:12;13,17).

Hofni and Phineas took advantage of their official priestly position, and in so doing, exposed the corruption and rot that had taken hold inside the religious establishment. Though they were descendants of the righteous Aaron, the father of all Jewish priests, they were nothing like their illustrious forefather.

At this low moment in Jewish history, Samuel’s star began to rise. While Hofni and Phineas descended from the illustrious Aaron, Samuel’s bloodline traces back to one of the most infamous Israelites in the Bible: the rebellious Korah. “And these are they that took their station, and their sons. Of the sons of the Kohathites: Heman the singer, the son of Joel, the son of Samuel… the son of Tahath, the son of Assir, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah” (I Chronicles, 6:18,22).

Incredibly, just as Korah rebelled against Aaron, Korah’s descendant Samuel would rebel against Aaron’s descendants, Hofni and Phineas! The sages explain that Hofni and Phineas would only allow priests to slaughter sacrifices in the Tabernacle. When Samuel arrived at the Tabernacle as a young child, he immediately challenged this rule, arguing “The slaughter may be performed by a layman!” Samuel’s argument echoed that of his infamous forefather Korah: “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Numbers 16:3).

Korah’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron was both misguided and doomed to failure, for these were holy men chosen by God. But Samuel’s rebellion against the corrupt Hofni and Phineas was exactly what the doctor ordered. God established the priesthood to ensure that there would always be people dedicated to helping the masses draw close to Him. But when the establishment itself becomes corrupt, “regular” people like Samuel must stand up and challenge it to ensure the establishment is purified and serves its true purpose. Merely being a priest, a descendant of Aaron, is not enough; priests must live and act with holiness. The “Jews in the pews” must hold the establishment accountable!

“Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among them that call upon His name, did call upon Hashem, and He answered them” (Psalm 99:6).

In this verse, Samuel is considered the equal of Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron represent God’s holy “religious establishment,” while Samuel represents the self-made “Jews in the pews.” Yes, Moses and Aaron are God’s chosen leaders, but so is Samuel and all the “average” people who dedicate their lives to God and His people. May we be worthy to stand among them!


Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365.

Related Names and Places:

Related Bible basics: Samuel

Relate Bible Verses: I - Chapter 2, Chapter 16

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