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P6. Priests Ministering While Spiritually Unclean.    [Make a Comment]

Priests are not to minister to others while they are spiritually unclean and in need of repentance.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Leviticus 16:5-11, 15-19
He is to take from the community of the people of Isra'el two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. Aharon is to present the bull for the sin offering which is for himself and make atonement for himself and his household. He is to take the two goats and place them before ADONAI at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Then Aharon is to cast lots for the two goats, one lot for ADONAI and the other for 'Az'azel'. Aharon is to present the goat whose lot fell to ADONAI and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat whose lot fell to 'Az'azel' is to be presented alive to ADONAI to be used for making atonement over it by sending it away into the desert for 'Az'azel'. Aharon is to present the bull of the sin offering for himself; he will make atonement for himself and his household; he is to slaughter the bull of the sin offering which is for himself ... Next, he is to slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, bring its blood inside the curtain and do with its blood as he did with the bull's blood, sprinkling it on the ark-cover and in front of the ark-cover. He will make atonement for the Holy Place because of the uncleannesses of the people of Isra'el and because of their transgressions - all their sins; and he is to do the same for the tent of meeting which is there with them right in the middle of their uncleannesses. No one is to be present in the tent of meeting from the time he enters the Holy Place to make atonement until the time he comes out, having made atonement for himself, for his household and for the entire community of Isra'el. Then he is to go out to the altar that is before ADONAI and make atonement for it; he is to take some of the bull's blood and some of the goat's blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. He is to sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, thus purifying it and setting it apart from the uncleannesses of the people of Isra'el.

Leviticus 21:6 (Maimonides RN76; Chinuch C265)
Rather, they are to be holy for their God and not profane the name of their God. For they are the ones who present ADONAI with offerings made by fire, the bread of their God; therefore they must be holy.

Leviticus 22:2 (Maimonides RN75; Chinuch C278)
Tell Aharon and his sons to separate themselves from the holy things of the people of Isra'el which they set apart as holy for me, so that they will not profane my holy name; I am ADONAI.

Leviticus 22:8-9 (Maimonides RN75; Chinuch C278)
But he is not to eat anything that dies naturally or is torn to death by wild animals and thereby make himself unclean; I am ADONAI. The cohanim must observe this charge of mine; otherwise, if they profane it, they will bear the consequences of their sin for doing so and die in it; I am ADONAI, who makes them holy.

Matthew 5:23-24
So if you are offering your gift at the Temple altar and you remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift where it is by the altar, and go, make peace with your brother. Then come back and offer your gift.

Supportive Scriptures

Leviticus 11:29-32
The following are unclean for you among the small creatures that swarm on the ground: the weasel, the mouse, the various kinds of lizards, the gecko, the land crocodile, the skink, the sand-lizard and the chameleon. They are unclean crawling creatures; whoever touches them when they are dead will be unclean until evening. Anything on which one of them falls when dead will become unclean - wooden utensil, article of clothing, leather, sacking - any utensil used for work; it must be put in water, and it will be unclean until evening; then it will be clean.

Matthew 7:3-5
Why do you see the splinter in your brother's eye but not notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the splinter out of your eye,' when you have the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother's eye!

Luke 6:41-42
So why do you see the splinter in your brother's eye, but not notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove the splinter from your eye,' when you yourself don't see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother's eye!

1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Don't you know that you people are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? So if anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you yourselves are that temple.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Or don't you know that your body is a temple for the Ruach HaKodesh who lives inside you, whom you received from God? The fact is, you don't belong to yourselves; for you were bought at a price. So use your bodies to glorify God.


The Leviticus 11, 21, and 22 Scriptures quoted above are cited by Maimonides and HaChinuch as cumulatively commanding the Levitical cohanim of old to refrain from ministering in the Holy Sanctuary while they are ceremonially unclean. I have expressed my view elsewhere in this book, that ceremonial cleanness (ritual purity) in the Tabernacle and Holy Temple of old are analogous to repentant holiness today when our New Covenant Temples are not of brick and mortar, but are our physical bodies (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Since Scripture teaches that we who are Yeshua's disciples are priests under His New Covenant Priesthood (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10), how much more must the commandment to the Levitical cohanim apply to us! We must therefore refrain from ministering to others while we ourselves are spiritually unclean and in need of repentance. That is not an invitation to "stop ministering" - it is a commandment to "repent before ministering."

This principle that a priest had to be spiritually clean before he could minister in the Temple was operative even as far back as Moses. We find a powerful example of this in Leviticus 16:5-11, 15-19, which commands the Cohen Gadol (on Yom Kippur) to first sacrifice a bull for himself and his family before he could conduct sacrifices in behalf of the people of Israel. Matthew 5:23-24 teaches that if we have sinned against our brother (or he thinks we have), we are to make things right with our brother (i.e. repent of our sin and reconcile with him) even before presenting our offering to God. That of course speaks of a time when animal sacrifices were still being offered in the Holy Temple, but the application for today is clear: We should not think that we can have a reconciled relationship with our Father in heaven without first repenting of our sins and reconciling with our brother on earth.

Matthew 7:3-5 and Luke 6:41-42 teach a related lesson using the example of a splinter in the eye - something with which we are all familiar. The smallest splinter in our eye is so disabling to our sight that it might as well be an entire log. The splinter and log are symbolic of sin, and we are instructed to correct ourselves and repent of our own sin (that blocks our sight and judgment) before we are qualified and able to minister correction and repentance to our brother.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides' mitzvah RN75 and HaChinuch's corresponding mitzvah C278 prohibit cohanim from ministering in the Temple sanctuary while they are ceremonially unclean; there is no Meir counterpart. Also, Maimonides' mitzvah RN76 and HaChinuch's corresponding mitzvah C265 prohibit cohanim who are t'vul yom (bathed but unclean until sundown) from serving in the Temple sanctuary; there is no Meir counterpart of this mitzvah either. I do not see how Maimonides and HaChinuch derive their respective mitzvot from the Scriptures they cite, but other Scriptures on the subject make it clear that they are correct.


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