The story is told of the uninformed Jewish fellow who desired to be a Kohen… a Priest. He went to a Rabbi, who told him that that’s impossible: a child is a Kohen at birth or not at all. But the fellow persisted, even offering huge sums of money if the Rabbi would only declare him a Kohen. Finally the Rabbi asked, with exasperation, “why is this so important to you? If you’ve never learned about Judaism, why must you be a Kohen?”
The man responded: “it’s very simple, Rabbi. You see, my grandfather was a Kohen, and my father was a Kohen, so I also want to be a Kohen!”
For those who need the joke explained — he already was. The priesthood is limited to the male descendants of Moshe’s brother Aharon, who was the first Kohen Gadol [High Priest]. As found in this week’s Torah portion, it’s not optional, but rather a Kohen has unique limitations and obligations. It’s not about privilege and prestige — it’s about having a mission, beyond the one shared by all Jews and that shared by all humanity.
As I was writing this morning, a woman wrote into our Torah.org chat, and my colleague Rabbi Dixler answered her. Her great-aunt had once told her that she might be Jewish — and, in fact, she is! She’s also only 30 minutes from a center for Jewish studies, so he was able to recommend a place for her to learn more about what it means to be Jewish.
The world needs variety — and we are all different. And all of us have a mission that is in tune with our own spiritual needs; we each have our own parts to play, our own path to follow. Some of our differences are obvious from birth — others, less so. Some can dunk a basket while others have two left feet. Some find calculus easy while others can’t master long division. And some are born with the proverbial silver spoon, while others struggle to make ends meet — and so on.
So many times in life, we may be tempted to look over the fence. Be it medical issues, schooling, financial problems — we can find ourselves asking why we can’t have someone else’s fortune, rather than our own. But the Torah’s answer is always the same: we are placed in the situation that is uniquely right for us — to see what we make of it.
We come into the world to have the opportunity to emulate G-d, to earn closeness by becoming more G-dly. The Torah teaches that the situation in which we find ourselves is the one that G-d Himself deemed necessary for our next opportunity for spiritual growth. That is what we all share in common. What’s ultimately important isn’t how we are born — but how we die!