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Parashat Sh’mini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

“…This is an eternal decree for your generations, in order to distinguish between the
sacred and the profane and between the contaminated and the pure.” (Leviticus 10:9, 10)

Parashat Sh’mini describes the eighth day of the ordination of Aaron and his sons as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and kohanim (priests), respectively. The ceremony ends when, “Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. He then descended from preparing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering. “ (Lev. 9:22) The sequence seems clear: Aaron blesses the people and then performs the sacrifice. So why does the Babylonian Talmud claim the sacrifices are performed first and only then Aaron blesses the people (BT Megillah 18a)?

Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935; first Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the British Mandate explains: the kohanim serve God by performing the sacrificial rites and by teaching and elevating the people (Malachi 2:7). The Priestly Blessing (Num. 6:24-17) combines those two functions. When the Kohen Gadol performs the sacrifice and is spiritually lifted up, he then transmits that inspiration to the people through his blessing. This resolves the conflict between the interpretations: the Kohen Gadol blesses the people after fulfilling one role (performing the sacrifice), but before fulfilling the other (teaching and elevating the people).

The act of blessing connects past, present, and future. The Kohen Gadol recites the blessing because of his past actions (performing the sacrifice), but with hope of its future effect (inspiring the people). Our liturgy echoes this when we ask for acceptance of our prayer at the end of the amidah, or standing prayer (Psalms 19:15). It makes more sense to recite this before praying. But, like the Kohen Gadol’s blessing, it reminds us to apply the just-said intentions to our actions in the day to come.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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