A Role Defined By Service

In a society in which we value democracy and strive to assign leadership based on merit, what can we learn from the priesthood?

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We Are All Priests

While the priesthood offers us a compelling model for the importance of service, it was still limited to the priests, a narrow slice of Israelite population. Yet the Bible democratically declares that service is not just reserved for this select, elite few. Earlier in Exodus, God proclaims: "And you shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."  This declaration implies that the role of servant was not limited to Aaron’s descendents: it was and is for all of Israel.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg articulates a compelling vision for Jewish public service, which he presents as an outgrowth of the Jewish idea that every human being is created in the image of God. This suggests that each person has infinite worth and that our obligation to other human beings is therefore limitless.

This obligation, Greenberg states, can be discharged only through public service, which he defines very broadly in economic, social, physical, psychological, mental, and emotional terms. He concludes that "service must be upheld as a norm expected of Jews" and suggests the eventual goal of a year or more out of every Jew's life to be devoted to public service as a communal norm.

Let us each accept the mantle of obligation upon ourselves to truly be a kingdom of priests, committing ourselves to serve our communities, God, and the world, so that our belief in the infinite worth of each human life is truly reflected in how we spend our time and resources.

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Adina Gerver

Adina Gerver, a freelance writer and editor, is studying at the Advanced Scholars Program of the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. She has served as assistant director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning and program officer at the Covenant Foundation.