Shabbat HaGadol - Parshat Tzav - 5759 Teacher, King, Priest
Throughout Jewish History, the roles of teacher and priest have been combined, as indicated by the verse, "And the lips of the priest will preserve knowledge, and the teachings of Torah will be sought from him." The question arises, "Why then was Moshe Rabbeinu, the Master Teacher of all generations, commanded to abdicate the role of 'Kohen Gadol,' High Priest, in which he served until the end of the Eight Days of Consecration of the Mishkan, in favor of his brother, Aharon?"
Indeed, there is a strong hint in the Cantillation of this week's Parshah that Moshe underwent a great inner struggle before he could accept the transfer. Placement on the word "Vayishchat," (Vayikra 8:23) "And he slaughtered" of a "Shalshelet" is an indicator of the struggle, as it is in other cases, the classic example of which is its placement on the word "Vayemaen," "And he refused," when Yosef struggled with his Yetzer Hara, when the wife of Potiphar attempted to seduce him. Here, the Shalshelet, which is a triple rising and falling chant, is placed on what was Moshe's last official act as Kohen Gadol, possibly to indicate how hard it was for Moshe to relinquish that great role.
But why was this great opportunity denied him? And why did Moshe, called the "faithful servant of G-d," struggle against fulfilling G-d's command?
With regard to the first question, Rashi in Parshat Shemot (4:14) cites the opinion of Rabbi Yosi that Moshe was, to a certain extent, being punished for his excessive humility. When Hashem implored him at the Burning Bush to lead the Jewish People out of Egypt, he rejected the mission and the opportunity, finally telling G-d, "Appoint, I beg of You, another to do the work." At that point, the Kehunah was taken from Moshe and transferred to Aharon. This "criticism" of Moshe Rabbeinu is made from the perspective that he was the "Man of G-d," the greatest human being who has ever lived, who, paradoxically, G-d calls the "humblest of men" in a complimentary way.
Another explanation of why Moshe was denied this great opportunity and, as it were, forced by G-d to abdicate the High Priesthood is by taking note that Moshe was at that time serving in three full-time positions (probably not all that difficult for someone who could go for forty days and nights without eating or sleeping) - King, Teacher and Priest. And the problem was that he would continue to be in violation of the blessing given by Yaakov Avinu to Yehudah; namely, that his descendants would have an eternal dynasty as kings.
According to the RAMBAN in Parshat Vayechi, on the verse "lo yasur shevet mi'Yehudah," "the scepter will not depart from Yehudah," it was the violation of this blessing and the seizure of the kingship in addition to their being priests and high priests (although it is possible to say that their trouble may have been caused by their assuming the role of King when they were not descendants of Yehudah, and not be related to the fact that they were also priests, but the implications are otherwise) that brought great calamity upon the House of Chashmonai.
What might be the rationale for the separation between the authority of the king and the elevated status of the priest?
The king is accorded great honor and respect in Jewish Law, as the RAMBAM makes clear in Hilchot Melachim (Ch. 2 ,Hal. 1) "Much honor is accorded the king and much awe and fear is planted in everyone's heart, as it says, 'You shall surely place upon yourselves a king,' which implies that his fear should be upon you." The RAMBAM describes a number of ways in which the king is honored. One may not sit on his throne, wear his clothes, touch his scepter (presumably, smoke his pipe) and , in general, use anything that the king has used. Everyone must stand in the presence of the king. That is, everyone but the "Kohen Gadol," the High Priest. The High Priest may not be commanded to enter the king's chamber and, when they are together, the High Priest sits and the king stands!
Why is greater honor accorded the High Priest than the king? Perhaps it is because the king is only a symbol. He represents the King of Kings; the honor accorded him is really meant for his Master. The High Priest, on the other hand, deals with the Master. Honor given him is honor directed to Hashem.
It is this duality of roles: "representing" the Creator or being a direct conduit between the people and their Master which could confuse a human being, any human being, into over-stepping his bounds. "Am I just a symbol or am I the reality?" is the question the Torah seeks to prevent from arising in the mind of the earthly monarch, as it arose, with no direct comparison at all intended, in the mind of Pharaoh, who said "The river is mine and I created it." (Yechezkel 29:3)
The second question, why the "servant of G-d" would struggle against a command of G-d, could perhaps also be explained by taking note that, because of his unique greatness, Moshe was the only human being who had ever had "panim-el-panim," "face-to-face," as it were, contact with G-d. It was consequently with immense difficulty that Moshe faced the prospect of losing the role of direct conduit of the Shekhina, the Divine Presence, to the Jewish People, which was, as mentioned above, the essential function of the Kohen Gadol.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU