Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pinchas: A Non-Kohen Kohen?


[From an article I published for this past Shabbat, in our Toronto Torah weekly.]

The Talmud (Zevachim 102a) describes the superlative joy felt by Elisheva bat Aminadav on the day the Mishkan was dedicated, beyond her joy in our own spiritual heights: "Elisheva experienced five joys, beyond the joy felt by all Jewish women. Her brother-in-law [Moshe] was the king, her husband [Aharon] was the kohen gadol, her son [Elazar] was the sgan, her grandson [Pinchas] was anointed to lead the nation in war, and her brother [Nachshon] was head of a tribe."

This passage contains an apparent anachronism, though: As the Talmud (Zevachim 101b) explains Bamidbar 25:13, "And Pinchas and his children after him will have the covenant of eternal kehunah," Pinchas was not a kohen until the events of our parshah. This was almost forty years after the dedication of the Mishkan!

Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein (Torah Temimah to Shir haShirim 3:6) contends that the two talmudic passages are simply contradictory. However, Rashbam offered a possible resolution, suggesting that one could become a kohen as far as leading the nation to war, without becoming a kohen for the rest of the roles of the kohen. [This may explain the Rambam's view, in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Klei haMikdash 4:21, that the position of leading the nation to war is not an inherited position.]

One might suggest that the reason Rashbam feels comfortable splitting military leadership from general kehunah is his explanation of the word "kohen". To Rashbam, as seen in his commentary to Bereishit 41:45, the word "kohen" does not mean "member of the priestly family". Rather, "kohen" means "officer", one designated to perform a particular task. Therefore, Pinchas might be the "Military kohen" before he ever becomes a "Mishkan kohen".

Rashbam's point should resonate for all of us who are not part of the kohen caste, for we, too, are partial kohanim. We are charged with the role of being "mamlechet kohanim," an empire of priests. (Shemot 19:6) Like Pinchas pre-Parshat Pinchas, we are officers, with leadership roles. Rather than bemoan the fact that we are not privileged to be full kohanim, let us rejoice in our elevated mission, and go forth with it to the greatest success.

Have a great day,

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