Cohen-Levi: The Tribe, the Family Heritage

The Heritage

What is a Cohen?

The lips of the Cohen shall keep knoledge,
And Torah you shall seek from his mouth,
For he is a messenger of HaShem.

Malachi 2:7

The first and father of all Kohanim was Aharon HaCohen , the brother of Moses of the tribe of Levi, who served as the first Cohen Gadol – High Priest. All of Aharons male descendents have the status of Kohanim. This covenant was made with the Sons of Aharon for all time.

Kohanim are chosen to fill a role of spiritual leadership. Traditionally, they have been Torah teachers and Halachic decision makers. In past times Kohanim were responsible for performing the sacred service in the Holy Temple.

Today, a Cohen is distinguished by the special mitzvot he fulfills and the honors bestowed upon him.

The Hebrew word Cohen means “to serve” as the verse states: “…[bring] Aharon your brother and his sons… to serve (le-chahano) Me…” (Exodus 28:1). The word “Cohen” is rooted in the word ken meaning “yes” or “proper” and in the word kivun which means “to direct.” A Cohen, therefore, is one who directs himself and others in the proper service of God.

There are distinctive character traits which are part of spiritual the heritage of Kohanim. They gave God’s blessing of peace with love and serve as a conduit of blessing to the world. They are joyful and giving and have a loftier degree of holiness. In the times of the Temple, they were known to be quick and diligent.

Throughout history the tribe of Levi as a whole and the family of Kohanim in particular have been zealous for the honor of God. Kohanim led the revolt against Greek influence and rededicated the Temple, creating the holiday of Chanukah.

Kohanim strive to exemplify the teachings of Aharon: to love and seek peace, love humanity and bring them to Torah.

Kohanim are an extended family, and there should be a deep feeling of brotherhood between them. 


The Cohen Personality

A. Traits of the Kohanim

1. 'Your Holy People'. Holiness is an elevated spiritual status manifested by particular Mitzvot. The role of the Kohen in the Temple, and in the nation in general, sets him apart as one chosen for Godly service. Aharon as Kohen Gadol was the first to attain a level of holiness sufficient to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to attain atonement for the Jewish nation. A degree of this holiness is passed on to his descendants.

2. With Love. Kohanim must feel love for the Jewish Nation and to communicate that love through their peacemaking, blessing and selfless service to the people.

3. Peace. The Kohanim bless the people with 'Peace" which is the vessel upon which all other blessings depend. There are various aspects of peace which the Kohen is to promote: peace in personal relations of an individual and his neighbors; peace in relationships between the nation and the Creator; and universal peace for all mankind.

4. Kindness and Giving. Kohanim are related to the aspect of kindness, balancing harsh judgment. The role of the Kohen in society and the Temple Service was to attain atonement and forgiveness for the people, giving of himself for the community.

5. Joy. Kohanim are to bring joy to others and to the Creator. in the Temple Service, the sacrificial process required the Kohen to be in a joyous state. The gematria (numerical value of the Hebrew letter) of Aharon HaKohen equals 348 = joyful.

6. Blessings. Kohanim bring blessings to the people through the Blessing of the Kohanim and most particularly through their holy activities. 'Blessing' is a beneficial increase in the well-being of an individual or nation as a result of God's sending a flow of goodness, material and spiritual. Kohanim were made a conduit to bring this blessing into the world.

7. Glory. Aharon HaKohen represents the Sfira of Hod on the mystical tree of Life of the ten aspects of Divine influence. 'Hod' is a combination of the ideas of beauty, praise and self-expression. The Kohen, particularly the Kohen Gadol, with his splendid garments and elevating service, manifested glory to the nations.

8. Diligence. In reference to the Service in the Temple, Kohanim were relied upon as being diligent, swift and efficient in the performance of their duties.

9. Zealousness. The roots of zeal, the active expression of deep feeling in defense of God's honor, is ingrained in the Kohanim from the time of Levi. The Torah explicitly praises the zeal of Pinchas, son of Elazar and grandson of Aharon. His intolerance of sin and willingness to take up arms in the irradiation of its destructive effects, earned for him the Kehuna, the covenant of peace. The Macabees, the family of Kohanim who led the battle against Greek influence during the time of the Second Temple, also exemplify the proper application of this trait.

10. Deliberateness and Independence. A Kohen may at times exhibit strong will and determination, as the prophet Hosea wrote "Your Nation is like quarrelsome Kohanim", indicating that the trait is found among Kohanim.

11. A Kohen helps other Kohanim. As Kohanim are an extended family, they feel a particular affection for each other.

The Heritage