Yesterday, we noted the Torah’s command in the beginning of Parashat Emor (21:8), “Ve-kidashto” (“You shall make him sacred”), referring to the nation’s responsibility vis-à-vis the kohanim. Torat Kohanim, as well as the Gemara in Masekhet Yevamot (88b), explain this verse as instructing the nation’s leadership to enforce the kohanim’s compliance with the special laws relevant to them. Thus, if a kohen marries a woman whom kohanim are forbidden to marry, the nation’s leaders are to use coercive measures to force the kohen to divorce the woman.
Or Ha-chayim, commenting to this verse, notes the Torah’s sudden shift in the way it refers to the kohanim in this context. Throughout this section, which discusses the special laws of the kohanim, the Torah addresses the kohanim in the plural form. In this verse, however, it speaks of an individual kohen: “You shall make him sacred, for he offers the bread of your God; he shall be sacred for you…” Or Ha-chayim suggests an explanation for this shift based on Chazal’s understanding of the command as referring to the case of a kohen who wishes to ignore the special restrictions that apply to the priestly tribe. A kohen might decide to excuse himself from these laws by virtue of the fact that there are plenty of other worthy kohanim available to fill the roles of the priesthood. This kohen might recognize the need for a priestly tribe, and respect the need for a special code of law applicable to this tribe in order for it to be distinguished and elevated, but he might figure that the tribe will fare perfectly well without him. The Torah in this verse thus addresses this individual kohen, who thinks that his “defection” will have no effect on the tribe of kohanim, and demands that he be forced to comply with the special restrictions that apply to this tribe.
Or Ha-chayim’s insight into this verse bears relevance to all of us, and not merely to kohanim. When we see many other very capable “kohanim” all around us “serving” competently in many different capacities, we might assume that our “service” is not needed. We might, like the kohen envisioned by Or Ha-chayim, conveniently excuse ourselves from any “priestly” duties, from the hard work and dedication needed to serve the nation and the world, figuring that any impact we will make is in any event negligible. Or Ha-chayim here teaches us that each and every individual must remain committed to his or her role, that we all have a vital, unique contribution to make. We are to pursue the highest standards we can and maximize our potential to the very fullest, and never assume that others are already doing our job for us.