Friday, August 17, 2007

kohen and shofet - knowledge as inspiration

When faced with a difficult case of Torah law, the Torah tells us to go to “hakohanim halevi’im, v’el hashofet” (17:8), and warns not to stray from the advice of “hakohen ha’omeid l’shareis es Hashem Elokecha, oh el hashofet”(17:12). The role of “shofet”, referring to the Sanhedrin in Yerushalayim, the “court of last resort”, is obvious in determining the final word on matters of halacha, but what is the role of the “kohen” in this process? And as if to head of our interpreting the “kohen” here as Torah-teacher, the Torah stresses the ritual role of kohen, the one who is “omeid l’shareis”, a servent in the Mikdash.

Perhaps the message of the parsha is that investigation into Torah law should be pursued not just as a quest for knowledge, but as a quest for religious inspiration and insight. Doubt about Torah law is not just a result of lack of information, but is also a result spiritual accomplishment not yet been attained.

The “shofet” can instruct and inform, but without the “kohen” to uplift, knowledge is sterile and incomplete, and doubt cannot be overcome. Only when their message is taken together can the kohen and shofet resolve the difficulties we bring before them. (based on Maor v'Shemesh)


  1. anon12:36 PM

    It is a nice vort but it leaves unanswered something someone pointed out to me this week -- pashtei de'kra makes it sounds like there is some issur in not listening to the kohen which is punishable by death. veha-ish asher yaaseh bezadon livilti shemoa el ha-kohen ha-omeid le-shares sham es Hashem Elokecha o el ha-shofet -- umeis ha-ish hahu.

    Granted we have a halacha of zakein mamrei but what does the pshat in the pasuk mean for the kohen. Earlier the reference to kohanim and leviim I believe chazal teach us that kohanim and leviim should be on the sanhedrin ha-gadol, but what about this pasuk? any thoughts? thanks.

  2. When I looked up the pesukim I was surprised as well that few of the pashtanim address the issue. I think you have to say the kohanim represented a distinct mesorah of torah sheba'al peh - see the Netziv (IIRC in the into to shiltos he builds up the idea of two methods of torah sheb"ap, but I have not yet had a chance to double-check).

  3. Mike S.4:58 PM

    V'al pihem yiheh col riv v'col nega. Perhaps (I am working off the top of my head here, so do not slay me if I am wrong) the Cohen part is the nega, which must be pronounced by one, and the mita is the caret for coming into the beis hamikdash when you are tamei.

  4. Anonymous3:17 AM

    watch a chalitzah

  5. I remember being taught back in High School that the presence of a Kohen on the Bet Din, and the location of the Sanhedrin in the Lishkat Hagazit adjacent to Miqdash, were both intended to remind us that the study and application of Torah and halacha are the ultimate forms of avodat Hashem.