“And you shall be for me a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation” (Shemot 19:6)
G-d chose the Jewish people from among all the peoples of the Earth as His holy nation, the ones chosen to receive the Torah and to carry His name. The fact that any member of the human race should be chosen above the angels to serve as the ambassadors of the King of the world begs clarification. An angel is totally spiritual, free from weaknesses of the flesh that cause one to violate the Will of the Creator and it would seem, therefore, that the perfect choice for the elevated, prestigious status of Kohanim would best be served by the spiritual beings rather than the physical.
Rabbeinu Yosef Chaim, zt”l, of Baghdad, the Ben Ish Chai, explains the correctness of Hashem’s choice with a parable. A tourist was walking through the marketplace and saw a beautiful sculpture of a bird offered for sale by one of the many shops on the avenue. The artwork carved from wood and stone was so lifelike that one could imagine it soaring to the clouds.
“How much is this bird?” inquired the curious buyer.
“Ten gold coins,” answered the merchant.
“How can that be?” asked the surprised tourist. “A real bird that can fly can be purchased for a few pennies.”
“A bird that flies is made by Heaven and there are millions of them all over the Earth. This bird is a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of art created with the special talents of the human artist. It is, therefore, rare and expensive.”
An angel is spiritual and has no earthly desires and, therefore, is naturally “holy.” There are myriads of them in G-d’s Creation. But the human being is made of the physical earth and is infused with base desires, which fight the urge to do the Will of Hashem. Therefore, should a person overcome his or her natural tendencies and behave in a spiritual fashion, this is truly a special, novel form of holiness that deserves special recognition and reward.
The Jewish people followed the lessons developed by the Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov in overcoming base instincts and serving G-d with all of their hearts, body and possessions. This sterling behavior was unique and endeared them to Hashem and so He gifted them with His greatest prize, the Holy Torah — a “lekach tov” (a good acquisition) — as a guide to happiness and reward in this world and the next.
One should appreciate the value Hashem places upon us and the great love He has for us and try one’s best to perform at the standards that will maintain our uniqueness — our status as a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation. In a world full of values contrary to those of the Torah, and behavior contrary to the Will of Hashem, adherence to Torah and mitzvot increases one’s value and endearment to Hashem.
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.