This week’s Torah portion speaks about the laws of Tazria’ spiritual cleanliness , Only a Kohen, a priest, was authorized to diagnose and declare an individual spiritually-sick. Even in a case where all the indications were obvious, the person is still “pure” unless a Kohen states otherwise. Even if the only Kohen available is an ignorant child, a trustworthy scholar reports his findings to the child-Kohen who then announces the ruling. Why was the Kohen so indispensable? Why can’t the expert himself make the declaration?
Thousands of years ago the priests were charged with blessing their fellow Jews. To this day, it is they who still spread out their hands and extend Divine blessings. Kabbalah explains that priestly souls evolve from the Divine chamber of love making them uniquely suitable as conduits for G-d’s blessing. Indeed, the blessing recited prior to the ritual states: ..“ G-d commanded us to bless his people Israel with love.”
This is also why according to the Zohar an unmarried Kohen could not serve as an agent of the Jewish people in the Holy Temple. His capacity for love and selflessness is undeveloped. Only a married Kohen who shares his life with another understands and maximizes his potential for caring, affection, and unselfishness. When you are unmarried, you may be extremely kind, but at the end of the day you have the luxury of doing things your own way. You need not answer to anyone, which is why so many people today opt for the single life.
As parents, educators, spouses, employers and colleagues, we might need to criticize, rebuke, and sometimes penalize. Yet all-too-often these are done more as an outlet for our own frustration, rather than as a tool to help these people become the best they can be. We may call it discipline and justice, but if it is not based on kindness and the desire to help, what we are doing is destructive, and not constructive.
So if you are not feeling Kohen-like, don’t issue a verdict! It’s easy to define somebody as “impure” if you do not understand their pain. So don’t criticize your spouse unless it is out of love, and not as a result of your own stress. But if you learn how to be a Kohen and your criticism is motivated by concern, it will have a totally different effect. It will build and not destroy.
NOTE: The Vulcan salute made famous on Star Trek had a reputation for being difficult for some people to make without practice, and actors on the original show reportedly had to position their fingers off-screen before raising their hand into frame. In fact, in the motion picture Star Trek: First Contact, a human is unable to return the Vulcan gesture and instead shakes the Vulcan’s hand.
In his autobiography I Am Not Spock, Leonard Nimoy wrote that he based it on the Priestly Blessing he saw as a child attending an Orthodox synagogue. Kohanim use both hands, thumb to thumb, representing the Hebrew letter Shin (ש) which stands for El Shaddai pronounced as Shakkai meaning Almighty G-d.