There are multiple instances in תורה שבכתב where the kohen is described as being involved in torah instruction. The first such instance is found in vayikra;
וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר. יַיִן וְשֵׁכָר אַל תֵּשְׁתְּ אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל אהֶל מוֹעֵד וְלֹא תָמֻתוּ חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדרתֵיכֶם. וּלֲהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַקֹּדֶשׁ וּבֵין הַחל וּבֵין הַטָּמֵא וּבֵין הַטָּהוֹר. וּלְהוֹרת אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵת כָּל הַחֻקִּים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה’ אֲלֵיהֶם בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה
And hashem spoke to Ahron saying; wine and (undiluted) wine don’t drink, you and your sons with you when you come to (the) ohel moed, and (you will) not die, an everlasting statute for your generations. And to differentiate between holy and mundane and between the impure and the pure. And to instruct the children of Israel all of the statutes that hashem spoke to them in/by the hand of Moshe
- The kohen’s prohibition to work in the mishkan and instruct torah while intoxicated stands as it’s own parsha -a “parsha stumah”
The above-mentioned torah text tells us that the kohen should not work in the mishkan while intoxicated, and follows by saying that the kohen should likewise not engage in torah instruction during intoxication. Rabbi Eliyah Mizrachi explains the “vav”s of ולהבדיל and ולהורת as vav’s that connect the flow of intention (know as the ו החיבור), as if to include the word “ובבאכם” (and when you come) before both of those words. (Mizrachi to Shmini ch. 10) This flow, along with the kohen and torah instruction included in the same parsha (paragraph) impart a direct connection between the two.
This is one instance where the implication is that the kohen’s designation is not only to bring sacrifices, but to also to give sound and accurate torah instruction to בני ישראל. (see below for psukim showing the kohen’s torah instruction as his primary task and sacrifices as secondary)
Intoxicated kohen put to death?
Chazal explain that the death penalty stated by the torah is not as strict as it seems, as the sifra‘s drash saves the kohen from the death penalty by means of a kal v’chomer (sifra to vayikra 10), but of note is that על פי פשוטו של מקרא, the kohen’s torah instruction is put in quite a serious light up to the point where we need to “seek-out” a kal v’chomer to negate what most readers would assume at first glance.
The chosen man
The famed rishon, Rabbi Levi ben Gershon, cites the kohen as the elected man for torah instruction with the following reason;
וּלְהוֹרֹת; ..זה לכהן באזהרה לפי מה שנתבאר בזה המקום, וישראל אינו באזהרה, לפי שזה הדין יותר ראוי בכהן כי השגגה תהיה בהוראתו תזיק יותר לפי שהוא משותף לכל ישראל בעניין ההוראה כעניין שנאמר “יוֹרוּ מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ לְיַעֲקֹב..” (דברים לג י) ו.. “כִּי יִפָּלֵא מִמְּךָ דָבָר לַמִּשְׁפָּט..וּבָאתָ אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם ” (דברים יז ח) ואין העניין כן בישראל המורה הוראות
Rabbi Levi hereby explains that the kohen’s mistake in torah instruction has grander effects than that of the yisroel instructor as he his obligated in torah instruction more than the yisroel. Can we thus infer that the kohen’s correct and accurate torah instruction has a grander positive effect on בני ישראל than that of the yisroel instructor?
Other commentators echo that the kohen is listed in the torah not as to exclude the yisroel instructor but merely as a fact of “general order” that the kohen is sought after for torah instruction (Ezras kohanim, Rabbeinu Yona to Vayikra 10, Sha”ch on the torah to vayikra 10). Nice and okay, The yisroel torah instructor is never disqualified but the kohen instructor is known as the “routine” person that “usually” is known for reliable torah instruction.
In sefer Dvarim
Sefer Dvarim, know as the synopsis of the torah, is labeled by the ramban as not presenting any new mitzvos but merely repeating whats already been said in the first four sfarim (ramban, introduction to devarim). In the case of presenting the kohen as a torah instructor though, there are a few shiny areas where sefer dvarim magnifies the kohens designation to torah instruction;
כִּי יִפָּלֵא מִמְּךָ דָבָר לַמִּשְׁפָּט בֵּין דָּם לְדָם בֵּין דִּין לְדִין וּבֵין נֶגַע לָנֶגַע דִּבְרֵי רִיבֹת בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ וְקַמְתָּ וְעָלִיתָ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ. וּבָאתָ אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם וְאֶל הַשֹּׁפֵט אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וְדָרַשְׁתָּ וְהִגִּידוּ לְךָ אֵת דְּבַר הַמִּשְׁפָּט
If it becomes wonderous to you, something in judgement, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, and between wound and wound, cases of argument in your gates. And you will/should stand and go up to the place wherein hashem your g-d will choose. And you will/should come to the kohanim, the levi’ím and to the judge who will be in those days and you should seek and they will tell you the (proper judgement
Here, Moshe rabbeinu presents a “what if” scenario, what if the judges in the individual cities of Israel are deadlocked about a judicial decision? here they are advised to the “supreme court” -to the kohanim who, as בני בית of the holy temple, are fortunate to be immersed in getting things done quickly, accurately, and with g-dly spirit.
What about the שופט listed in the posuk after the kohanim? seeing that kohanim is plural and shofet is singular, some parshanim explain the shofet as the kohen gadol. But, again, this is not a set-in-stone necessity, as the shofet may include any qualified member of the Jewish nation, it is only highly likely that this individual be a in fact the kohen gadol.
Rabbeinu Bchaye brings this next instance a bit closer to home;
כִּי יָקוּם עֵד חָמָס בְּאִישׁ לַעֲנוֹת בּוֹ סָרָה. וְעָמְדוּ שְׁנֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם הָרִיב לִפְנֵי ה’ לִפְנֵי הַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַשֹּׁפְטִים אֲשֶׁר יִהְיוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם
When/if stands an abominable witness against a man, to wrongfully accuse him of wrongdoing. And both of the men who have the dispute should stand before hashem, before the kohanim and the judges who will be in those days
This case, explained by sifra as being a monetary dispute, is to be brought before hashem, before the kohanim and judges that be. Interestingly, targum yonathan reads כהניא דייניא -“the kohanim the judges” (without the וי”ו before השפטים)- but that may totally negate בני ישראל from being judges and is a fringe opinion.
So, reading הכהנים והשפטים as we should, rabbeinu bchaya points out something spectacular; in the entire sefer dvarim it is always written לפני ה’ אלהים, but here we only ready לפני השם.
This, explains Rabbeinu Bechaya, is to negate thinking that all monetary disputes must go before the בית דין הגדול, and in fact the posuk is describing courts in all cities of Israel.
From here, it may too be inferred that the kohen’s seat as judge and torah instructor is not just connected to Yerushalayim and the בית המקדש but is in fact in effect in all בתי משפט שבישראל.
Not all judgement is the kohen’s responsibility
כִּי יִמָּצֵא חָלָל בָּאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר ה’אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ..וְנִגְּשׁוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי לֵוִי כִּי בָם
בָּחַר ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְשָׁרְתוֹ וּלְבָרֵךְ בְּשֵׁם ה’ וְעַל פִּיהֶם יִהְיֶה כָּל רִיב וְכָל נָגַע
..Since them hashem your g-d chose to serve him and to bless in the name of g-d and on their word will be every dispute and every (tzaraath) wound
Dealing with the case of eglah arufa (decapitated calf), the kohanim are a required part of the kaparah (forgiveness) ceremony. Here, the torah adds in a peculiar description as to the reason for inclusion of the kohanim in the specified ceremony; “since they, hashem your g-d chose to serve him and to bless in the name of g-d and on their word will be every dispute ..”. Since the kohanim where chosen to serve g-d כי בם בחר השם אלהיך לשרתו they officiate at this ceremony as part of their duty.
But, what is this theme that kohanim are destined with; על פיהם יהיה כל ריב “and on their word will be every dispute”? This seems to imply that the kohanim are assigned to be judges for every dispute that arises in the nation of Israel?
Thankful to chazal, the sifri absolves the kohanim of this tremendous responsibility and limits the term כל -“every”- to no more than three items;
- Rivei parah -(sound explanation not yet found as to why there would be a dispute regarding the parah adumah)
- Rivei sotah -resolving the dispute where a husband accuses his wife of adultry
- Rivei eglah arufah -resolving the dispute where the land of Israel is angry at the people for being fed innocent blood
The zera avraham commentary explains that any disagreement that would arise regarding these three areas, the outcome is to be decided solely on the opinion of the kohanim.
וּלְלֵוִי אָמַר תֻּמֶּיךָ וְאוּרֶיךָ לְאִישׁ חֲסִידֶךָ..יוֹרוּ מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ לְיַעֲקֹב וְתוֹרָתְךָ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל יָשִׂימוּ קְטוֹרָה֙ בְּאַפֶּךָ וְכָלִיל עַל־מִזְבְּחֶֽךָ
And to Levi he said, your tumim and your urim to your man of kindness..they will instruct your laws to yaakov and your torah to yisroel, they will put incense in you your nostrils and whole-burnt sacrifices on your mizbeach
Both the beginning and ending of shevet levi’s blessing imply that it the kohanim who are being spoken to; starting from the term איש חסידך as referring to Ahron and ending with the words “they will put incense..” is directed at the kohanim who are solely authorized to bring sacrifice on the inner mizbeach.
It has been nicely pointed out by Rabbi Ratzon HaLevi Arussi that the torah mentions the concept of torah instruction before that of bringing sacrifices, thus showing that torah instruction is the “primary” task of the kohen.
- Rabbi Arussi explains the precedence of the kohen’s torah instruction as coming prior to his work in the mikdash. Image license courtesy of Wikipedia.or
Chazal talk about the kohen’s torah instruction
In a number of places, chazal expounded on the topic of the kohen’s role in torah instruction. An extended article on chazal’s view is found on our post Chazal views on the kohen as torah instructor.
Althugh the psukim cited above combine the theme of the kohen as a torah instructor with the mishkan and בית המקדש, it nonetheless gives the kohen a boost and highlights him as a preferred individual to actively engage in torah instruction. It is these sources that encourage the kohen to dedicate himself to active torah instruction and imply hashem’s assistance and blessing to doing so.