A “Priestly Kingdom” (Exodus 19:6)

What does it mean to be a “priestly kingdom”  in the Torah?

There was nothing  intrinsic holy about the priest, he was not spiritually superior when compared to ordinary Israelites by the virtue of him being a born into a priestly family. The priests’ vocation was not one of privilege but of obligation and responsibility–noblige oblige.

According to the philosophers Philo of Alexandria (ca. 1st century) and Moses Maimonides (ca. 12th century), birth alone doesn’t guarantee uniqueness.  So too, when classical Judaism speaks of Israel’s election as God’s “Chosen People,” this concept is not due to any sense of  racial superiority, but rather to the fact that we are the nation which lives in accordance with the  ethical and moral lifestyle prescribed by the Torah.  Indeed, any person from any race can become a member of the Israelite people through conversion.

Just as a nation is composed of all types of citizens from various walks of life and backgrounds, so too does every member of the Israelite commonwealth play a vital role in the spiritual life of the nation. Regardless of age, sex, background, or vocation; whether one  be a priest, a seer, a prophet, a sage or a commoner – plays a vital role as a “priest” of the Divine.

The life of a priest is rooted in personal consecration and dedication to the Lord. Priestly consecration demands that the priest consciously separate himself from anything that defiles and diminishes the respect and reverence for human life. As a priestly kingdom,” God requires that Israel guard herself from the forces of death, impurity and corruption that  petrifies its collective  heart and soul. Israel’s corporate vocation is both purely spiritual and socially transformative in that we bear witness to the reality of ethical monotheism.

The main purpose of the priesthood is mediate between the sphere of the divine and the ordinary world. A priest through his ritual conduct  facilitates communication across the ethereal boundary separating the holy from the profane.  Being a priest to the people demands vigilance and mindfulness in how the one carries out the  priestly duties. Every thought, word, and deed requires sublimation and holiness. By way of metaphor,  Israel  too must be conscious of how it acts in the realm of secular realm. Every holy thought, every considerate word, and especially every good deed–when performed with nobility of spirit–reflects sanctity.

Just as the priest conducts himself with grace and with dignity, so too does God’s holy people. Most importantly, just as the priest acts as a conduit for God’s blessing to the general community, Israel also serves as a  medium through which all the nations of the world become blessed (Gen 12:2-3). Israel’s recent involvement in Haiti and other places affected by natural catastrophe derives from her spiritual sense of priestly service and ethical responsibility.

Jewish law teaches that any priest who does not get along with his community is not allowed to bless his congregation with the priestly benediction, since the blessing demands that the priest feel love toward the people he serves. Given the mercurial nature of his community, this is certainly no easy task!

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