Humility and Pedigree (Emor)
It is indeed a desirable thing to be well-descended, but the glory belongs to our ancestors. -Plutarch
The Torah portion of Emor introduces a list of commandments directed specifically to the Kohanim, the priestly caste of Israel, descendants of Aaron the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol and founder of the priestly dynasty. They are addressed as follows:
“Tell the Kohanim (the priests), sons of Aaron.”
The Berdichever explains that it would have been very easy for the Kohanim to feel a certain amount of arrogance for being singled out by God for divine service. The fact that Kohanim were set aside by God, had exclusive access to the Sanctuary, to the sacrifices, were the only ones able to facilitate and eat most of the sacrifices, were the beneficiaries of great honor and esteem, all of this honor is enough to make anyone think highly of themselves.
God advises Moses to make it clear to them by highlighting that they are the sons of Aaron, that all this honor is not for anything they did, but rather purely as a consequence of them being Aaron’s descendants. Aaron had indeed reached a supremely high level of holiness that in his merit he was able to have all his descendants included in the special designation of Kohen – priest.
By underlining the fact that their station is because of their pedigree, God is advising them that it is unseemly to take pride in anything other than something you expended great effort in, that you strived for and pushed and accomplished. To take pride in the fact that you were simply born to a family of note is uncouth.
The newly indoctrinated Kohanim needed to be reminded of this. They needed to understand that their place in the Israelite social structure was not due to anything they did or any innate traits or accomplishments. They were simply born to the right family, and while being a Kohen carries many privileges, it is also a role and a lineage that carries many responsibilities.
May we take pride in what’s appropriate, humbly enjoy whatever privileges we’ve been blessed with, and dutifully carry out our responsibilities.
To my son and his fellow defenders on the border of Gaza. May God protect them and keep all of us safe.