This week’s portion from Leviticus and its companion in Ezekiel deal mainly with the conduct of priests in the Temple. Except for those who read these verses solely with the hope that the Temple will one day be re-built, most who confront them will doubt their relevance altogether.
I have thoughts that suggest that they’re utterly relevant. So, stay with me!
We know that God’s mission statement for our people of faith is principally that we become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
One could surely understand this mission narrowly and conclude that such a kingdom includes just a few priests and a multitude of followers, and that it applies only when the physical Temple is standing.
Or, one could read it more fundamentally to understand that the Text regarding priests was not just literally applicable in the ancient past or an unknown future, but it also serves a continuing purpose. To hold this view, one may think, at all times, that each of us has an “inner priest” of sorts – a force of conscience or perhaps a “headmaster” of our soul – who helps move our whole being toward a life in tune with our mission.
Without such a view, frankly, we must come to the difficult conclusion that we have been left for two millennia with the grandest of goals and no way of achieving it. On the other hand, if we hold to the view, the Bible remains powerfully alive for us in offering specific ways on how to fulfill the glorious mission we have been given.
Put another way, the Bible’s concepts of holiness have an ongoing vitality through teaching our “inner priest” how to live. Further, they shine a light on these ways of holy conduct, helping extend God’s sovereignty in the world.
Now, friends, I acknowledge I’m engaging here in God-speak. For those made uncomfortable with that, be patient with me. This is the talk of the Bible. But, whatever the language, happily, these ideas lead to lessons that are valuable to all.
With that understanding in place, I want to devote the remainder of the space of this blog to a contemporary reading of the Ezekiel verses that teaches our “inner priest” – in our time – how to help us fulfill God’s expectations.
Basically, the prophet is showing us what it means to live in the Divine presence. In that nearness, our “inner priest,” just like the ancient priest, has the responsibility to help us serve God’s purposes by living in a manner that is supportive of it.
Crucially, this service calls upon the “inner priest” to exercise judgment in ways that lead us to be dutiful to God. Thus, the two great duties – love of God and love of neighbor – come centrally into play, as do related requirements of righteousness, justice, and loving-kindness.
According to Ezekiel, the priest must be fully devoted to life and careful to avoid mixing in all of our dramas and demands in such a way that living in God’s ways is disturbed or otherwise weakened.
As the ancients supported their priests, we must make a hospitable home for our “inner priest,” who guides us in making offerings to God and others. In these ways, we, like our ancestors, express our gratitude, readiness to serve, and obligation to repair and return to God’s path when we stray.
Rabbi Schneerson taught of our inner “high priest” as the innermost aspect and core of our soul, which is permanently bound to God. Seeing the Text’s language on priests in this context, we find deeper, fresher, and relevant truths.