Everyone knows that a Kohain is a descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother, through the paternal line. All Aaron’s descendants — along paternal lines — were selected from among the Tribe of Levi to serve in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This week’s Torah portion details many of the laws that apply to the Kohain only.
A story is told of the young man who came to the rabbi and asked him to make him a Kohain. The rabbi was baffled by the request because everyone knows that you can’t become a Kohain. Either you are born a Kohain or you’re not born a Kohain. When the rabbi told him that it was impossible to make him a Kohain, the young man persisted and offered to give a substantial contribution to the synagogue. When the rabbi saw this young man’s persistence, he asked him why he wanted to become a Kohain so badly. The aspirant man’s response was, “My great-grandfather was a Kohain, my grandfather was a Kohain and my father was a Kohain, I’ll be darned if I can’t become a Kohain as well...”
The truth of the matter is that it is not enough for one’s father to be a Kohain in order to guarantee that his offspring will also be Kohain. If a Kohain marries a woman that the Torah says is forbidden to him, his children lose the distinction of being a Kohain. A Kohain has extremely high standards that he must uphold and if not, he may forfeit the privilege
Conversely, even one who was not born a Kohain or even a Levite can, in a certain sense, become a Kohain. Maimonides in his Magnum Opus, the Mishneh Torah (end of the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubillee years) writes: “Why were the Levites not alloted land in Israel?.. Because they were singled out to serve G-d.. to teach His upright ways and just laws to many people... Not only the tribe of Levi, but each person whose spirit moves him and his mind gives him the insight to distinguish himself to stand before G-d and serve him... is indeed consecrated in the holiest manner. G-d will then be forever and ever his portion G-d will provide sufficiently for his needs as he did for the priests and the levites...”
On a mystical level, we know that each soul possesses two levels of holiness: one is a general life force that all of us share equally. Then there is a second level that distinguishes each tribe from one another. Kabbalah teaches us that even on the second level where there is divergence between souls, there is a process of integration, wherein every Jew, even if he is a member of one tribe, possesses a spark of the soul of the other tribes.
In effect, all souls are interconnected and intertwined on two levels. Firstly, we are all one insofar as the general life -force that transcends our differences, are concerned. Secondly, even on the level where legitimate differences exist and flourish., there is an integration and inclusion of each type of soul within each other type.
The lesson we can derive from this concerning Jewish unity is obvious. All of the Jewish community are one in every sense of the word and on all levels! Even a non-Kohain possesses a spark of priesthood that enables him/her to rise to the highest levels of spirituality.
Despite the fact that this unity is tragically overshadowed by the petty political differences that separate us, it is crucial that we realize that ultimately, Moshiach will “force” us to recognize that we are one. Moshiach’s distinction is that he will gather all the Jews and bring them to Israel. This can be understood in both the literal sense as well as the figurative sense of the word. Moshiach will reveal the reality of our Jewish existence, that we are truly one. Whether you are a Kohain, Levi or Israelite, you are inextricably bound to your fellow Jew on all levels and dimensions.