This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Rabbi Dan Margulies
The process of installing the kohanim included two separable elements: lemale et yadam—”to install them into an office”, and lekadesham—”to make them holy”. The installation thus reflects the kohanim’s dual role: they occupy an office and perform functionary duties, and they have an elevated holy status among the nation that enables them to serve a bi-directional conduit between the people and God.
Which parts of the miluim play the role of installing the kohanim into their office, and which play the role of imbuing them with added holiness?
The usual way to make something holy is to approximate something else which is already holy, as we find in our parasha, “what/whoever touches the altar will become holy” (Shemot 29:37), as well as in the process of designating a sacrifice by declaring “it is for God” or in taking a vow prohibiting some object “like a sacrifice.”
That explains why the miluim require such an extensive menu of sacrifices, why the kohanim need to serve in the mishkan for a week (without leaving), and why they are daubed with the blood of the sacrifices. All these were part of lekadesham.
In contrast, there is no clear paradigm in Chumash for investing someone into office (although the process of installing the kohanim may become a pattern for the future.). We can suggest that those processes which do not seem to fit the hakdashah process, such as clothing the kohanim in their special clothing and anointing them with oil (cf. Megilla 1:9) – are by default processes of investiture.
These separate transformative processes are unified and distinguished by being effected by a liquid. Blood connects to holiness, sacrifices, and purification, and oil inaugurates and dedicates a person or an object to a new role.
The simple reading of the Torah is that the first miluim should be eternally sufficient. However, Yehezkel (chap. 43-46) describes what seems to be a future miluim for the third Temple. Furthermore, the required sacrifices are different than those for the first miluim!
Menahot (45a) records a dispute about these contradictions between the Amoraim Rabbi Yohanan and Rav Ashi, following a Tannaitic dispute between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Yose. One side holds that these apparent contradictions can only be resolved in the future by Eliyahu haNavi, i.e. they are incomprehensible to contemporary earthly readers. The other side holds that the prophecy of Yehezkel describes a process of miluim which inaugurated the second Temple, even though no such process was necessary for the First Temple.
Why would either the second or third Temples even need a miluim at all? The halakahah shows clearly that kohanim retain the elevated kedushah they gained at the first miluim —they remain prohibited to marry certain women or to become temei met, they can eat (at least some) terumah, and they are still empowered to bestow the priestly blessing.
We can suggest that they maintained the aspect of lekadesham, but that the aspect of lemale et yadam lapsed when the first Temple was destroyed, because could no longer fulfill their offices. Therefore, when the beit hamikdash was rebuilt after the Babylonian exile, and when it will be rebuilt after the current exile, the kohanim need to be re-initiated into their offices with a whole new miluim process. The official installation—lemale et yadam—needed renewal after the exile because the office itself had lapsed.
Maybe every type of installation into an office or position in Judaism, or even more broadly in life, is comprised of these two parallel tracks found in the miluim: giving the person a heightened status appropriate for their role, and the actual investment into their office. As with the kohanim, the heightened status is often something that a person retains even after they no longer actively participate in the duties of the office (e.g. a professor emeritus, or a talmid hakham who has forgotten their Torah learning – see Menahot 99a “Rav Yosef …”). There is a difference between doing something continuously (say reaching a 60th wedding anniversary or retiring after 30 years at the same job) and filling multiple similar roles in succession. Consider the example of Rabbi Akiva, who reached a certain level of mastery after 24 years in the Beit Midrash even more than two consecutive spans of 12 years. When we experience that discontinuity something is lost and needs to be renewed.
Recognizing the dual nature of installation processes has two significant implications. First, we need to recognize that elevated offices do require that we give formal respect to their occupants by giving them a higher status—this is the concept in halakha of showing kavod harav but also the basis for the recitation of the berakha shehalak mehokhmato lebassar vadam. If we skip the hakdashah elements of the process, we are demeaning the office as a societal institution, not only the person.
Second, we need to recognize that putting someone in office gives them a permanent status. We therefore need to consider the consequences of raising someone up only to have them leave the role after having been invested. What does it mean to have hundreds of people with advanced talmudic and halakhic educations who do not work in a rabbinic profession? How does that change their relationships to rabbinic authority and to their own standing in the community? Is it an improvement on existing communal structures because of the raised baseline of Torah education? Does it come with a cost? What does it mean when people pursue advanced academic degrees at a rate far outpacing the number of professorships that will ever become available in those fields? Our educational systems and communal culture do a disservice to people when we set them up for greatness without giving them enough to do with it once they earn it.
(This devar torah is based, in part, on shiurim on Masechet Yoma given by Mori veRabbi Dov Linzer at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah 5776-5777)
Rabbi Dan Margulies (WBM 2016) serves as a Kollel Fellow and Co-Director of Community Learning at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and as Assistant Rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale – The Bayit.