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

Give and take

Tos­fot under­stands that it is the Yisroel’s who “presents” the kohen with the the nicest por­tion. Like­wise, Rabbi Yaakov Ba’al HaTurim’s torah com­men­tary reads is “ליתן לו מנה יפה ראשון” –imply­ing that the kohen dosn’t “take” but “pre­sented” with the nicest por­tion

The three item list by the school of Rabbi Yish­mael is explained in detail by the Ris­honim and Achronim;

  1. To speak first: mean­ing when there are mul­ti­ple per­sons on a panel of speak­ers address­ing a crowd, the kohen is given the first slot.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Other appli­ca­tions

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


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