The first aliyah

The first aliya given to the kohen is a recurring event where the kohen is called on first to bless the torah when it is read publicly. This privilege is amazing as it is and has been practiced for – at minimum – four occasions every week for two thousand+ years.

An original observation to this mitzvah is made by Rabbenu Asher (the “Rosh” שמות טו, כב); Shevet Levi gets a full 50% of the total weekly aliyot! -Why is it that one tribe out of twelve should get 50% of torah aliyot?

In fact, giving precedence to the kohen is a positive mitzvah and applies to more instances and real-life scenarios than the public torah reading, such as speaking first at a gathering and officiating at the grace-after-meals blessing. For more information on this mitzvah and it’s modern application, see our article sanctifying today’s kohen.



The Arizal’s insight

From a kabbalah viewpoint, the first aliya given to the kohen is truly amazing, Rabbi Yitzchok Luria explains that the first two aliyot -that of the kohen and the levi- are symbolic of chesed and gvura of zeir anpin that encloth the two upper parts -one of netzach of abba and one of hod of abba. No yisroel – explains the arizal – has the spiritual strength to reveal these parts other then the kohen and the levi when they are given their respective aliyot (Kisvei Ari, vol. 8 p. 316-317).[paypal_donation_button align=”center” border=”3″ price=”10″]

Asking the kohen out

Letter from Igud HaKohanim reminding the tzibbur about the important מצוות-עשה to sanctify the kohen by giving him the first torah aliya

Letter from Igud HaKohanim reminding the tzibbur about the important מצוות-עשה to sanctify the kohen by giving him the first torah aliya

It happens sometimes; the gabbai approaches and informs him that the first two aliyos are “needed” and he is asked to exit the room as to make the more aliyot available to non-kohanim.

As a kohen, it is important to recognize how you may forgive the first aliyah while being present. As a kohen may forego his kehuna privileges (restrictions apply, see foregoing kehuna privileges) essentially making leaving the kriah-area entirely unnecessary.

However, from a general viewpoint, it is flawed for both the gabbai – and entire minyan – to “excuse” the kohen of his first aliya even if done in the politest manner, for reason that it is a positive mitzvah to sanctify the kohen practiced by worldwide jewry, whereas the “needed” aliyah, may it be a yartzeit, ufruf, wife had a baby etc., is a minhag that varies depending on community.

The kohen’s right

It is also important to realize that halachically, that first aliya is the kohen’s halachic right whether or not the gabbai calls him up. Meaning even if the gabbai ignores his obligation to the kohen – and even went ahead and calls a yisroel up, the kohen may simply go up to the torah, hold it’s eitz chayyim’s, and make the blessing.

Help sanctify the kohen

We hope you enjoy our efforts to increase the sanctity of our nation’s kohanim, your contribution is important and helps us continue this campaign;

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