Posted By The Stash

Towards the end of this parasha, the Torah adds more details to the tasks of the Cohanim and Levi’im who serve in the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). In a summative verse Aaron is told (18:7): “You and your sons who are with you will perform all everything pertaining to your priestly offices, everything connected to the Altar or what is behind the Parochet (=the curtain dividing the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Mishkan; I will give you your priesthood as an avodat matana.”

What is an avodat matana? The Talmud in Yoma 24a states that this verse clearly confirms that the Cohanim hold the Divinely mandated monopoly to perform all the services in every part of the Mishkan—both inside the tent and in the courtyard immediately surrounding it. This charge is given to the Cohanim as “avodat matana” which Rashi renders as “a service of gift”. This sounds a bit jarring to our modern ears, which may better understand Ramban’s phraseology : “I have given your priest’s office to you not so that this will constitute a state of servitude like the service of slaves to a king, but rather I have given you a great service of gift for (your own) honor and glory…”

Yes, even Cohanim serving G-d in a holy place may become jaded and feel that, after a period of years, they are servants. True, they are important servants who serve the Ruler of the World, but they are servants nonetheless. This feeling may be enforced by the fact that the Cohen is assigned this job “by accident of birth”. Not everyone may have considered this job such an honour. Indeed, the High Priesthood was a dangerous job despite its honour, and the duties of a Cohen were physically and mentally arduous. Cohanim had an early retirement age for a reason.

In this light, the Ramban’s comment is instructive. A person who feels their work is drudgery will never truly do it with all their heart or attempt to improve their performance. Ultimately, whether a job is menial or “divine” is in the eyes of the doer. If we take Ramban’s approach to its logical conclusion we discover that even Divinely mandated work must be willingly accepted to be internalized and performed acceptably. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this idea for the Intelligent Jew. Only those who observe Judaism through love can truly serve. And that is why the Cohanim were required both to serve with love and feel that they were fortunate to be gifted with the opportunity to minister to their people.

The heavy hand of compulsion cannot coerce divinity from a resentful populace. “Seek G-d where G-d may be found” says the prophet. To find G-d, we must first discover and define our relationship with the Divine. We must make it positive—based on a desire to follow our tradition and to love the details of its performance. If we “do Jewish” with gratitude and joy—perhaps our descendants will as well. Or at least we may have a better chance of having descendants who know what Judaism means.

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