You will be to me as a Kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation (Shmos 19:6). In this final phrase in Hashem’s invitation to all of Am Yisrael to receive the Torah, Kohanim cannot be limited to the descendants of Aharon, Rashi translates “SORIM”, connoting importance.
Perhaps Kohanim relates to the origin and deeper meaning of the term in its common context referring to the descendants of Aharon. Rashi (29:30) proves from the phrase “HaKohen tachtav”, he who serves in his [Aharon’s] stead, that kohen is a verb, not a noun. This origin and deeper meaning of Kohanim applies to all members of Am Yisrael.
In contrast to other systems of law which focus on individual’s rights, the Torah emphasizes responsibilities and service (Robert Cover, Obligations: A Jewish Jurisprudence of the Social Order, Jewish Law and Religion Volume 5, page 65, 67 (1987)). Indeed, it is only by serving Hashem and His people that one can be part of a holy nation.
Contemporary “rights” movements and advocates have influenced portions of the Jewish and even Orthodox community. Some explicitly reject the Torah’s basis of holiness, namely refraining from prohibited relations (Rashi Vayikra 19:11). Others demand fundamental and far-reaching changes in gender roles in order to actualize perceived rights. Insisting on rights instead of embracing the Torah’s responsibilities endangers our “holy nation” status as well. Indeed, Hashem’s aforementioned invitation to receive the Torah is presented differently to each gender (Rashi 19:3), indicating the timeless distinction in gender roles opposed by “rights” advocates.
As we celebrate Shavuos 5773, let us recognize that we are all Kohanim, serving Hashem and his people by fulfilling mitzvos and responsibilities. It is precisely this service which is described as a Kingdom, in the spirit of the mandate of a proper Jewish king (Rambam Melachim 2:6). Only by serving Hashem, and rejecting modern society’s calls for “rights”, which, outrageously or insidiously, oppose Torah principles, can we remain a holy nation.
Rabbi Mordechai Willig