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    Priests or prophets? – Yitro

    birkat kohanim priestly blessing cohen cohanIn the Bible there are two ways of being a religious leader.

    One can be a kohen, a priest concerned with rituals and practices, or a prophet who preaches the word of HaShem.

    This week’s portion defines Israel as a people of priests – mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh – “a kingdom of kohanim, a holy people” (Ex. 19:6).

    We all minister to God in His sanctuary, not merely in the official house of worship but in the home (the mikdash m’at, the “miniature temple”), the factory, office, school and street. We have prayers to say, kashrut to maintain, Sabbaths and festivals to honour.

    Every day of the year, every stage in life has its rituals to observe. That might be called the particularistic dimension of Jewish identity: we are Jews far zich – “amongst ourselves”.

    From the example of Moses (Deut. 34:10) we also learn that we are a people of prophets with a universalistic mission amongst mankind. As prophets we belong to the world.

    Alenu, the great concluding prayer of every Jewish service, written by Rav in the 3rd century CE, sums up our two dimensions: particularism in the first paragraph, universalism in the second.

    The prophetic role begins with Judaism but is capable of being shared by other peoples.

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