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Friday, 24 February 2017

How do you call up a child of a cohen who is not a cohen?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 32


The region had been a battlefield for years.  First King Amraphel and his allies conquered the neighbouring city-states, controlling them for twelve years.  Then the slaves rebelled.  It was a rough year, which culminated in much devastation and human suffering. 

Suddenly word arrived that Lot had been taken captive.  His uncle Abram did not think twice about the rescue mission.  With bare resources, off he goes and almost singlehandedly takes down the major national armies of his day.  By the end of the daring operation, AB’RAM began to be called by the nickname RAM’BO!

In recognition of his extraordinary accomplishments, Malkitzedek, King of Shalem, greets him bringing a meal of tribute.  He was a cohen (v’hu cohen) to the most high G-d.
“Blessed be Avram!  And blessed be the Most High G-d!”

Our Sages ask: why wasn’t he simply called Malkitzedek the cohen, king of Shalem?  They answer that the Torah separates him from his cohen title, because he was a cohen (v’hu cohen), but his children were not.  Instead, the priesthood was transferred to Avraham’s family (Nedarim 32b).

Let’s say we established a fellow as a cohen based on his father’s lineage, but then word got around that he was the child of a divorcee mother.  So we demoted him.  Then a single witness showed up and testified that he was a bona fide cohen; we thus reinstated him.  But then two witnesses arrived and testified that he was indeed the child of a divorcee, and so once again we demoted him.  And then finally, an additional witness arrived saying that his cohen status was intact.  Now what?
All opinions agree that the two individual pro-cohen witnesses would be counted as one larger testimony, thus equalling the anti-cohen testimony.  The question is, however, should we be concerned that reinstatement might cause people to disparage the beth din (court)?

If this fellow is not a cohen, how do we call him to the Torah?  As the child or spouse of a divorcee, we would call him up for a later aliyah, say revi’i or chamishi (the 4th or 5th call up).  But the problem is that his father was a cohen (at least in the case of the spouse being the divorcee).  So do we call him up, “Yaamod Reuven ben Shimon hacohen, chamishi! (Arise, Reuven the son of Shimon the cohen for the 5th aliyah)?  Calling up someone who sounds like a cohen for chamishi would certainly raise a few eyebrows in shul!  But to dump his father’s cohen status doesn’t seem fair either!

One idea suggested by the poskim (halachic decisors) is to call him up as ‘Reuven ben Shimon v’hu cohen.’  Remember why our Sages say that Malkitzedek was described as v’hu cohen he was a cohen, but his children were not.  Thus we find an ancient model of describing someone as a cohen without implying anything about their kids’ status.

But it begs the question.  Malkitzedek didn’t marry a divorcee.  Why did he not merit to pass on his cohen status to his descendants?  Rabbi Zechariah quotes Rabbi Yishmael:  Malkitzedek’s failing was that he blessed Avraham before blessing Hashem, saying, “Blessed be Avram!  And blessed be the Most High G-d!”

We are called a ‘kingdom of priests.’ You and I are all cohanim before Hashem!  But if you want to maintain your priestly status, you need to ensure you get your priorities straight.  Sure you need to thank people in your life, but first and foremost you always need to remember to thank the Almighty.  He’s the One who has given you His bounty.  Any mortal human being who has played a part in bringing Heaven’s blessing to you must be thanked – but only as the vehicle of Hashem’s blessing.  G-d first, man second.

In our home, our kids know the bentching (Grace after Meals) drill: You finish your meal. You bentch.  The last word of bentching is what?  Shkoyach!  That’s a nod to the balabosta (mommy) for a meal well done!  We normally add a few words of personal thanks to it.  We saw our parents do that; and no doubt, they learned it from their parents.  First we bless Hashem, our spiritual Provider; then we bless Ima & Aba, the physical providers.

A student of the Chasam Sofer once went for a shul probah – a try-out for the pulpit position.  Rabbi Sofer gave him a stellar reference and it seemed like a shoo-in for the young man.  The position, however, ended up going to another candidate.  Crestfallen, he went back to his teacher, seeking solace.
Rabbi Sofer told him, “Know, my son, that what a Book of Tehillim can accomplish, even the Chasam Sofer cannot accomplish.”  In other words, given the rabbi’s stellar reference, the student believed it was a done deal.  The other candidate, however, understood that blessing truly comes from Hashem, and he poured out his heart before his Creator.  And got the job.  First G-d; and only afterwards, man.

You are a priest of the Most High G-d.  Bless Him, thank Him.  And never forget who truly serves you the bounty of this world.  May you forever thank Hashem, followed by His servants whom He has sent to deliver the blessing!


(Thank you to Hashem and to Rabbi Mendel Senderovic for some of the ideas in today’s Life Yomi!)