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We Can All Be the Kohen Gadol!

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Jan 12, 2023

The גמרא סנהדרין נט: (as well as עבודה זרה ג.) says that a גוי who learns the ז’ מצוות בני נח is considered like the כהן גדול. Why did the גמרא choose to make this comparison to the כהן גדול? There is another time in ש"ס we see a story involving a גוי and a כהן גדול. The גמרא tells us in שבת לא. that a גוי heard about the honor accorded the כהן גדול and sought that כבוד for himself. He came to שמאי and הלל asking that he be converted in order to be made a כהן גדול. Whereas שמאי rejected him, הלל took him in, and told him that in order to become כהן גדול, he has to know the relevant הלכות. He started learning, and came across the פסוק of והזר הקרב יומת. When he learned that even דוד המלך falls under this category of a זר, he realized about himself that he would never reach that level he sought to attain, and converted wholeheartedly.

Perhaps we can suggest that these stories are connected. When the גר realized he couldn’t be a כהן גדול, he recognized his place in the world. If a גוי stays contained within the realm of the ז' מצוות, he recognizes his place, and can achieve his full potential. Thus, we say he is like the holiest person, because realizing one’s place and fulfilling their potential is achieving a level of קדושה that no one else can achieve.[1] What the גר failed to realize originally was that he can be equal to the כהן גדול even without the fancy garments; he would have gotten the honor anyway. However, when he tried to chase the כבוד that didn’t belong to him, his role in life changed. He was no longer contained within the realm of the ז' מצוות בני נח. That is why שמאי rejected him. However, הלל saw that this flaw can be corrected, and gently showed the גר an elevated life of תורה and מצוות.

In life, we are often looking at other people and measuring ourselves up against them. While we need to grow and strive to grow, we also need to be happy with the role we occupy, and what we are meant to accomplish. One of the קנייני תורה listed in the ברייתא at the end of פרקי אבות is המכיר את מקומו, and the מדרש שמואל in his second interpretation understands this to mean that one recognizes his ultimate מקום in גן עדן, meaning his destiny. If we recognize our destiny, then we will know how to best accomplish what we need to in this world. We should look within ourselves, at the situation הקב"ה gave us, and not look to other people to see how we can do better.


[1] עיין דרש משה שמות ו.כו


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