Big Kahunahood: Emor #1 5774 by Cantor Lipp

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 11:01am -- AJ Blog

If you were alone when you were born, alone when dying, really absolutely alone when you were dead, why 'learn to be alone' in between? If you had forgotten, it would quickly come back to you. Aloneness was like riding a bike. At gunpoint. With the gun in your own hand. Aloneness was air in your tires, the wind in your hair. You didn't have to go looking for it with open arms. With open arms, you fell off the bike. I was drinking my wine too quickly. -- From Bark by Lorrie Moore

There are few people more alone in their responsibilities -- and who may not drink wine while officiating -- than the ancient High Priest whose duties are described in our Torah portion this Shabbat Emor. Unlike the Big Kahoona of Hawaiian fame who was expert in all the dark arts -- voodoo, possession, causing death and illness, and human sacrifice -- the Biblical Kohen Gadol or High Priest was responsible for the Temple service, was not a prophet (although using his breastplate, Urim and Tumim could provide the King of Israel with Yes or No answers from God) and could not heal like a medicine man but could diagnose.

Unlike his own fellow priests, he could not attend funerals, not even those of the seven relatives for which everyone was obligated: father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter or wife. 

We should be happy for our priests, our present day kohanim, that none will ever be a Kohen Gadol. The rabbis assumed that God must have raised this functionary to such a great spiritual level that he could sustain such a loss without emotional turmoil. When Maimonides said that we shouldn’t reintroduce the sacrificial system, his focus was our form of connection to God being verbal and not sacrificial; he didn't seem to care about the emotional well being of the Kohen Gadol.

Beyond prayer, the Jewish idea of hierarchy has evolved over the past 2000 years into a value of meritocracy. Although a traditional congregation would still honor a Kohen with the first aliyah and other benefits, a Torah scholar with no priestly blood is far more valued by the community in our post-Temple reality.

So what’s left of the Kohen Gadol? Just look in the ark. The Kohen Gadol has been tranformed into the Torah itself. The Torah cover is the robe; the belt, the crown and plate are all symbolic representations of what the Kohen would wear. The reason the High Priest needed to avoid the dead was because he could not defile himself as the Temple service depended on his being ritually pure.

In a sense, leaving out the dark arts, the Torah has powers more like the Big Kahoona than the High Priest -- unlike the ancient Aaronide, it is immune to ritual impurity; studying it intensely reveals magical powers of enlightenment, engagement and empowerment.


Shabbat Shalom.

David Lipp