Rabbi as Priest & Prophet
We have often discussed in the past that Messiah Yeshua fulfills the role of both prophet and priest. But I have learned over the years that even though I think that I am overly repeating myself, people often either don’t recall us talking about it or find it a good refresher. So I’d like to talk about it again today, but I’d like to cast it into a new light as we celebrate the eminent inauguration of a new rabbi in our midst.
The kohen, the priest, served in the Temple. They were tasked with teaching Torah to people. They were also tasked to be pursuers of peace like their forefather, Aharon. Hebrews 5 describes them as gently bringing back those who have gone astray, making the sacrifices on their behalf.
The priests actually only served in the Temple a few weeks out of the year. The rest of the time they lived in the midst of the people, celebrating their simchas with them, and teaching them.
The Torah tells us that if someone kills another by accident they can flee to a city of refuge, where the family cannot take vengeance upon them. But when the Kohen Gadol dies, the person is free from all repercussions. The idea being that the whole nation mourns at the death of the Kohen Gadol and therefore all other grievances are left behind. Ideally at least, the kohen was loved by the people and he served to bring people together in unity and love.
The Navi on the other hand served a very different role. He was often called upon by Hashem to bring harsh words of judgment and warning to the people. While he often did bring words of consolation to people it was always in the context of a call to repentance. It was conditional.
The prophet saw things as black and white whereas the priest saw things more grey. Some say that the fact that the Kohen Gadol wore the ephod made of wool and linen expresses his role as a mediator and one who saw nuances in things. Likewise, he wore a breastplate with the names of the 12 tribes engraved upon precious stones, expressing his solidarity with the people. The prophet does not wear the ephod or the breastplate and brings the stark message from God to the people.
Consequently, the navi was not always very popular with the people. In fact, most of the prophets were killed! By tradition, Isaiah was sawn in half. Jeremiah was cast into a pit and sent to Egypt, where he was later stoned. Amos was tortured and killed. But their deaths were deaths on behalf of the One that they served. They gave their lives gladly to accomplish the goals set before them by God.
Yeshua came in the role of a navi, a prophet. He brings words of comfort to the people who are willing to recognize their sins, but he also brings harsh words to those who won’t. He cries out “...woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in!” He talks about people being cast into darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. He castigates people for pointing out a splinter in someone’s eye, while blind to the log in their own. This sounds more like Jeremiah or Ezekiel than Aharon! Consequently, Yeshua had the same fate of many of the prophets and died at the hands of those who saw him as a disturbance and a threat. But like the prophets he gladly gives his life because it is part of his Father’s mission.
But upon his resurrection, Yeshua adopts the role of kohen. He is our Heavenly Kohen Gadol who sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. As priest, he seeks to bring peace between us and God. And he mediates that peace with his own blood. He is not only our perfect kohen gadol but also the perfect sacrifice.
Our Sages tell us that Moshe was meant to be both navi and kohen, both prophet and priest. But he forfeited that priestly role with his reluctance to speak on behalf of the people and the honor was given to his brother Aharon. But we do see him acting in both roles. He brings dire warnings and prophetic words of judgment to Paro. But he also lays his life on the line for the sake of people, asking God to wipe his name out of the Book of Life instead of them.
Midrash Tanchuma states that the Mashiach will be greater than Avraham, Moshe, and even the angels. This agrees with the author of Hebrews who declares that Messiah Yeshua is greater than Moshe because he is the faithful Son, and not just a faithful servant. And as the Son, he is higher than the angels. Yeshua fulfills that role of prophet/priest in a way that Moshe did not and could not.
Tomorrow we celebrate the smicha of our very own Rabbi Ken. He will finally be Rav Kalman-Rav! This is indeed a joyous and momentous occasion for our congregation. It will be my honor and joy to officiate his inauguration into the brotherhood and sisterhood of MJRC rabbis.
Ken, as a congregational rabbi, you also have the dual role of Navi and Kohen. You will be an agent of our Master, Yeshua Rabbenu, the Perfect Navi and Kohen Gadol.
Like the priest, your duty is to live in the midst of the people, teaching them, celebrating their joys, and comforting them in their sorrows. You will get to officiate both weddings and funerals. You will officiate over benei mitzvahs and also sit at the bedside of the sick and dying. Your calling as a congregational rabbi is to be a pursuer of peace like Aharon. You will have to choose love in the face of adversity. You must see the grey while others sometimes can only see black and white. You symbolically wear the ephod mixed with both linen and wool. And like the Kohen Gadol, you wear our names on your breastplate, interceding for us and sacrificing on our behalf.
But you also are called to be a prophet. An old preacher said to me years ago that every sermon should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. In your role as navi, you will need to afflict the comfortable. You will need to bring words that are not always popular and say things that we do not find comfortable to hear. But they are important words from Hashem that must be said.
Having known and worked with you these many years, I am eminently confident in your ability to fill both of these shoes. You have always impressed me with your gentleness and attentiveness to others’ needs. It is my prayer for you that Hashem will dispense an extra omer of grace and fortitude as you embark on your rabbinical journey.
And for the rest of us the task belongs to come alongside Rabbi Ken in loving support. May we accept his teaching and leadership with humility and grace. May we not burden him too much with our quirks and peccadillo. And I ask you to join me in regularly praying for him on a regular basis as I am sure you will.
May God bless you and keep you as you bless us and keep us.
May Hashem shine His face upon you as you shine yours upon us.
May Hashem give you shalom and you bring us your words of challenge and peace.