By Helaine Bach, NFTY-SW
The creators of Spiderman said it best: “With great power comes great responsibility.” The power of influence is one that can not be taken lightly, under any circumstances. Whether this power comes from a radioactive spider bite or the status as a Kohen in biblical Israel, individuals who are given power over others are responsible for the well being of those who they influence.
The Kohanim, or priests, in biblical time were the decedents of Moses’s brother, Aaron. This week’s parasha, Teztaveh, speaks in great detail about the priests. In Exodus Chapter 29, the ordination procedure is described.
The ordination begins with the gathering of two unblemished rams along with a young bull and a mixture of unleavened breads. Aaron and his sons are then lead to the entrance of the tent of meeting and washed with water. Aaron, who is to be the high priest, is clothed in the elaborate vestments which have been made with care by the finest of craftsmen. He is anointed with oil and then then his sons are also dressed in fine clothes of the Kohanim. The next step includes the slaying of the beasts brought for sacrifice and marking the vestments as holy with the blood of the animals. Parts of the beasts and the unleavened breads are offered to G-d and others are eaten by the priests. If there is any extra in the morning it is not to be eaten because it is holy. After this initial series of steps, there are seven more days filled with meticulous sacrifices to G-d in name of the priests. At the end of the seven days, G-d will consecrate Aaron and his sons as his priests.
This definitely seems like an arduous process for the Kohanim to receive their status as holy. I’m sure somewhere during those seven days of sacrifice they wished they could have received their power as easily as a radioactive spider bite. Perhaps it is this intricate affair which makes their status among the Israelites so high. If it is this difficult to make something happen, it’s got to be good, right? Of all the Jewish people, traveling for forty years in the desert and later in the times of the first and second temples, the Kohanim were the the people chosen to represent G-d to the people. Many parshiot in the Torah begin: V’ydabeir adonai al Moshe v’al Aharon laimor, G-d said unto Moses and Aaron….. Moses and Aaron were used as the vehicle for G-d’s message unto the Israelites. Eventually Moses and then Aaron died and the task rested solely on the decedents of Aaron, the Kohanim.
This duty of relaying the message of G-d gave the priests a great deal of influence over the actions of the Israelites. They had a responsibility towards the Israelites to communicate the information without error. If they were not successful in doing so, the Jewish people would not have faith in the priests to perform their other tasks. The Kohanim performed many sacrifices for the Israelites that could only be performed by a Kohen, this made their jobs extremely important and gave them power in the Israelite society.
When someone is given this kind of power, they have an obligation to care for those around them, those who can’t care for themselves. This idea of “Hashomer Achi Anochi- Am I My Brother’s Keeper,” our obligation to care for others is one that NFTY as a whole is studying this year and is very prominent in the idea of influence. Those who have influence over others have a duty to be their brother’s keeper and assist those who are unable to help themselves.
This is the power of influence that comes with great responsibility. There is a quote from the movie the Princess Diaries in which the character Lilly Aldrin makes this point exactly. “Wanting to rock the world, but having zip power like me, now that’s a nightmare. But you, wow. Wow is having the power to affect change, make people listen, How many teenagers have that power?”
The tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December brought this issue of priestly influence into the 21st century. I opened a weekly email from the URJ shortly after the shooting and was struck by one of the headlines: “Religious Leaders Push Congregants on Gun Control.” This is exactly the sort of thing that religious leaders should be using their influence on. Upon clicking the link, I discovered the article was one in the New York Times, describing the actions different clergy members took to influence their congregations to push for stricter gun control laws. The sway religious leaders have over their members can and hopefully will inspire the action to produce change on the issue of gun control laws.
That is what people with influence should be doing, “rocking the world.” Sure, it’s great to be able to tell others what to do and guide them, but the true concern of people of influence is to make changes that help to repair the world, Tikkun Olam. By doing this, they are in fact being their brother’s keeper, helping those who cannot help themselves.
This was the responsibility of the Kohanim of biblical Israel and it is now the responsibility of everyone here, the temple youth of North America. I have faith that some day every one of you will have influence over a group of people, whether this be as a teacher in a classroom or as president of the United States. When you do, I hope that you will be mindful of the message “with great power comes great responsibility” and understand that this responsibility of the power of influence is not one to be taken lightly.