"Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron" Leviticus 1:1


This week's Torah portion is a manual for the priesthood and a guide to priestliness. It is an intensely physical state. A priest must of course be born a Cohen, a descendant of Aaron.
Avoiding the defiling power of contact with the dead, he must never shave his head or his beard, or make gashes in his flesh. He must marry only a virgin Israelite or a daughter of the priesthood. He must be physically whole; a defect such as unequal limb, a crooked back, a defective growth, damage to his eye or his testes, render him unfit. This utterly physical sense of priestly being closely matches the ultimate sense of the presence of God in the Temple, whose sacred donations the priest must handle.

Leviticus is a book out of time, with very little narrative, and almost no sense of history; everything happens in the continuous present. It is fascinating then, to see how the prophet Ezekiel treats the very same topic in his vision of the future second Temple in the haftarah this week.

Ezekiel was born to a priestly family in Jerusalem, but he lives out much of his life in exile in Babylon, after the first Jerusalem Temple is gone. His vision is a future dream, a longing for restoration.

But he also tells a story. The priests, he says, will one day return to serve in the Temple, because they are loyal and never went astray. They will handle sacred offerings, like their ancestors in the past, but will also act as judges, preserve the Torah, its laws, our sacred times and the holiness of Shabbat.

Ezekiel's priests must think, and decide, choose and arbitrate. Still rooted in their total physical existence, they are no longer confined to sacred space, but will have to grapple with the everyday. Ezekiel teaches us that even absolute states, such as priestliness, must change, if we are serious about transforming reality.

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