Sanctifying the kohen? Aren’t the entire nation of Israel sanctified? as the נביא Yirmiyahu said “קודש ישראל להשם ראשית תבואתה”? what then is this mitzvah all about?
The torah commandment to sanctify the kohen is a positive mitzvah1) 1 instructing the nation of Israel to sanctify the kohanim sons of Ahron.
When this mitzvah is explained by rishonim and achronim, the term “sanctify” is often joined with synonyms such as “greaten” (Rabbeinu Asher) and “respect” (Rambam), the Torah description of hashem’s choosing of Ahron and his sons to officiate as kohanim is found in two areas; the first in ספר שמות where hashem instructs משה רבינו;
ומשחת אתם ומלאת את ידם וקדשת אתם וכהנו לי
And you should anoint them and fill their hands, and you should sanctify them and they will serve me
שמות כח מא–
This is followed by הקדוש ברוך הוא saying how he will himself sanctify Ahron and his sons for service in the mishkan;
וְאֶת אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת בָּנָיו אֲקַדֵּשׁ לְכַהֵן לִי. וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהָיִיתִי לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים. וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְשָׁכְנִי בְתוֹכָם
And Ahron and his sons I will sanctify to serve me. And I will dwell amidst the sons of Israel, and I will be to them a G-d. And they will know that I am hashem their g-d who took them out of the land of Egypt to dwell amidst them
שמות כט מד–
The מצוה where בני ישראל are commanded to sanctify the kohen is given in ספר ויקרא, פרשת אמור;
וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ כִּי אֶת לֶחֶם אֱלֹהֶיךָ הוּא מַקְרִיב קָדֹשׁ יִהְיֶה לָּךְ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה’ מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם
And you should sanctify him since the bread of your G-d he brings –holy he should be to you, since holy I am, your G-d who sanctifies you
ויקרא, פרשת אמור–
All times and places
Although the psukim cited are spoken in context of the kohanim performing service in the mishkan, Chazal explain that even in times when there isn’t a mishkan or mikdash, the kohen retains his sanctity, and is required to abide by the restrictions applicable to kohanim. Likewise, the kohen merits to be sanctified by בני ישראל in all matters pertaining to kedusha and even mundane matters;
The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught; “You should sanctify him” (the kohen) in all matters of holiness; To speak first, to bless first and to take the nicest portion first
–ברייתא quoted in Gittin 59b, Horiyot 12b
- To speak first: meaning when there are multiple persons on a panel of speakers addressing a crowd, the kohen is given the first slot.
- To bless first; Both by ברכת המוציא (the blessing before eating bread)2) 2 and by ברכת המזון (the blessing after the meal)3) 3 the kohen is given the privilege to lead in thanking and blessing G-d for the meal. The kohen is also given the first aliyah.
- To be given the nicest portion first; This is relevant at any event and occasion where the kohen could be given precedence; a serving waiter instructed to give the kohen first, a choice seating area presented to the kohen, letting the kohen go first on line etc.
Related to the mitzvah of sanctifying the kohehn it seems from the talmud yerushalmi that the list of דבי רבי ישמעאל is those three things and more, the talmud yerushalmi quoted Rabbi Chanina who says that when three people walk, the kohen is given the middle spot.4) 4 Other instances are not causing the kohen to wait5) 5 , and the kohen signing his name first on documents that multiple people are signing.6) 6