Sacrifices, the central theme of the first part of the book of Vayikra, are a means to the end of bringing the Jewish people closer to Hashem. The Kohanim, the priestly family of the sons of Aharon, play a pivotal role. They offer the sacrifices on the altar, and, in most instances, they eat of the offering. Their involvement is indispensable for the people’s atonement.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the question of priority among the Kohanim is raised: If the meat of the sacrifice is meant to be eaten, which of the Kohanim has the first rights to this honor and duty?
to Aharon and his sons, saying: This
is the teaching of the sin-offering: …
The priest who offers it for the sin shall eat it … All the males among the
priests shall eat of it; it is
And this is the teaching of the guilt-offering: it is the most holy. . . . Every male among the priests shall eat of it; in a holy place shall it be eaten: it is most holy. As is the sin-offering so is the guilt-offering; there is one teaching for them: the priest that makes atonement with it, to him it shall be.
And every meal-offering that is baked in the oven and every one that is made in the boiling-pot, and in the pan, to the priest who offers it, to him it shall be.
And every meal-offering, mixed with oil or dry, to all the sons of Aharon shall it be, each man like his brother. (Vayikra 6:18-19, 22; 7:1,6-7, 9-10)
cursory reading of these verses suggests that, when it comes to certain
sacrifices, the Kohen who offers it has the first right, while in the
case of other sacrifices, all the Kohanim share equally.
For example, the meal-offerings seem to be classified in this fashion: those that are baked in the oven, made in the boiling-pot or
made in the pan are given exclusively to the Kohen who offered
it, while all others that are offered in the form of flour are distributed
among all the Kohanim. The
suggests a reason for this classification:
in the first group, the Kohen “took pains in baking them, and
therefore he deserves to be given a greater reward.” A similar reasoning might be applied to the other sacrifices
the Ramban hastens to add, this is not the reading of these
verses according to the Sages. Instead,
as delineated in the halachic Midrash
on Vayikra called Sifra (or Torat Kohanim), as
well as in the Talmud (Zevachim 103a), all of the sacrifices listed
here are equally divided among all the suitable Kohanim
belonging to the family division (beit-av)of the day. (The Kohanim were divided into 24 watches, called mishmarot,
with each mishmar serving in rotation for one week.
Each mishmar was further subdivided into 6 family divisions,
called batei-av, with a different beit-av serving each day of
the week and all batei-av serving on Shabbat.)
By “suitable,” we mean a qualified Kohen who is neither tamei
nor in mourning (onen).
the Oral Law (Torah sheb’al-peh) contradict the Written Law (Torah
shebich’tav)?! Why is the
simple meaning of the text laid aside? How
are we to understand the teachings of the Sages, both here and in general?
Rashi points out,
the right to eat of the sin-offering cannot belong exclusively to the Kohen
who brings it, because the Torah also says, "All the males among the
priests shall eat of it; it is
most holy". All the
animal sacrifices in this passage belong to the class of the most holy,
and they are made equal by the text: "there
is one teaching for them". According to the Malbim, the words
"the priest who offers it" are extra, and thus do not restrict
the right to one Kohen, but rather define the right as being a
result of the ability to offer the sacrifice;
thus, it is shared by all the suitable members of the beit-av.
Regarding the meal-offerings, Ramban notes that "every meal-offering, mingled with oil or dry" could refer to any meal-offering, not just those of flour. Here, too, "to all the sons of Aharon shall it be, each man like his brother" is the rule, restricted again to the suitable members of the beit-av.
Malbim further points out that all the Kohanim of the beit-av worked together in the bringing of each offering, as evidenced by the many plural verbs in the first chapter of Vayikra, which describes the procedures. Thus, they share equally.
Ha'amek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) insists, nevertheless, that the acting Kohen has more of a right than the others, so that if all the meat is destroyed, except for one olive-size piece, he should receive it. The right is his, but he shares that right with the members of his beit-av.
Ramban disagrees. In his view, the particular Kohen who brought the sacrifice acts with the permission and as the deputy of the entire beit-av. The right belongs to all of them, and they delegate him. They are similar to an army which divides the spoils:
as is the share of him who goes down to the battle, so shall be the share of
him who remains behind with the equipment;
they shall share alike (I Samuel 30:24).
concludes: “It is
tradition which decides, and it is furthermore for the benefit of the Kohanim
and conducive to peace in the Sanctuary.”
the Rabbis convey, through the Oral Law, the true intention of the
Torah: to maintain fairness, unity and peace in the service of Hashem, so as
to lead to national atonement. In
a general sense this sets the proper standards for our inter-personal