Wednesday, March 15, 2017

RAV KOOK ON Tetzaveh Part 1: The High Priest's Clothes and the Convert

The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells the story of three Gentiles who wished to convert. In each case, they were initially rejected by the scholar Shamai, known for his strictness, but they were later accepted and converted by the famously modest Hillel. The Convert Who Wanted to be High Priest In one case, a Gentile was walking near a synagogue when he heard the Torah being read and translated: “These are the clothes that you should make: the jeweled breast-plate, the ephod-apron...” (Ex. 28:4). His interest was piqued. “For whom are these fancy clothes?” he asked. “They are special garments for the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest.” The Gentile was excited. “For this, it is worth becoming a Jew. I'll go convert and become the next High Priest!” The Gentile made the mistake of approaching Shamai. “I want you to convert me,” he told Shamai, “but only on condition that you appoint me High Priest.” Shamai rebuffed the man, pushing him away with a builder’s measuring rod. Then he went to Hillel with the same proposition. Amazingly, Hillel agreed to convert him. Hillel, however, gave the man some advice. “If you wanted to be king, you would need to learn the ways and customs of the royal court. Since you aspire to be the High Priest, go study the appropriate laws.” So the new convert began studying Torah. One day, he came across the verse, “Any non-priest who participates [in the holy service] shall die” (Num. 3:10). “To whom does this refer?’ he asked. Even King David, he was told. Even David, king of Israel, was not allowed to serve in the holy Temple, as he was not a descendant of Aaron the kohen. The convert was amazed. Even those born Jewish, and who are referred to as God’s children, are not allowed to serve in the Temple! Certainly, a convert who has just arrived with his staff and pack may not perform this holy service. Recognizing his mistake, he returned to Hillel, saying, “May blessings fall on your head, humble Hillel, for drawing me under the wings of the Divine Presence.”

No comments: