A Kingdom of Priests
We are here between ourselves, so we may frankly make the confession that we did not invent the art of printing; we did not discover America, in spite of Kayserling; we did not inaugurate the French Revolution, in spite of some one else; we were not the first to utilize the power of steam or electricity, in spite of any future Kayserling. Our great claim to the gratitude of mankind is that we gave to the world the word of God, the Bible. We have stormed heaven to snatch down this heavenly gift, as the Paitanic expression is; we threw ourselves into the breach and covered it with our bodies against every attack; we allowed ourselves to be slain by hundreds and thousands rather than become unfaithful to it; and we bore witness to its truth and watched over its purity in the face of a hostile world. The Bible is our sole raison d’être, and it is just this which the Higher anti-Semitism is seeking to destroy, denying all our claims for the past, and leaving us without hope for the future.
- Dr. Solomon Schechter, from an address titled “Higher Criticism — Higher Anti-Semitism“, delivered at the Judaean Banquet, March 26, 1903
I believe that this describes what it means for us to be the “mamelkhes kohanim“, Hashem’s “kingdom of priests”, with humanity as our flock.
Many consider Yeshaiah’s calls to bring Torah to the masses in a similar light (pardon the pun):
אֲנִי ה קְרָאתִיךָ בְצֶדֶק וְאַחְזֵק בְּיָדֶךָ וְאֶצָּרְךָ וְאֶתֶּנְךָ לִבְרִית עָם לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם
I, Hashem, have called to you in righteousness, and will hold your hand tightly, and given you to be as the people’s covenant, as a light for the nations.– 42:6וַיֹּאמֶר נָקֵל מִהְיוֹתְךָ לִי עֶבֶד לְהָקִים אֶת שִׁבְטֵי יַעֲקֹב וּנְצוּרֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהָשִׁיב וּנְתַתִּיךָ לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם לִהְיוֹת יְשׁוּעָתִי עַד קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ
And He said: It is too easy for you to be My servant, to establish the tribes of Yaaqov, and the besieged of Israel, and I shall submit you as a light for the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth.– 49:6וְהָלְכוּ גוֹיִם לְאוֹרֵךְ וּמְלָכִים לְנֹגַהּ זַרְחֵךְ
And nations shall walk to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.– 60:3
And leaving the “light for the nations” image, Yeshaiah also has:
וְהָלְכוּ עַמִּים רַבִּים, וְאָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה אֶל הַר ה אֶל בֵּית אֱ-לֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, וְיֹרֵנוּ מִדְּרָכָיו, וְנֵלְכָה בְּאֹרְחֹתָיו: כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה, וּדְבַר ה מִירוּשָׁלִָם.
And many nations will go and say: Let us come and ascend to Hashem’s mountain and to the house of the G-d of Yaaqov; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will go in His light; because the Torah will come out of Zion, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.– 2:3
Which is echoed by his contemporary, Mikhah (4:2). But all of these are descriptive, in the future tense, rather than prescriptive, in the imperative. Hashem is describing what will be, perhaps in a messianic context.
It is the pasuq in chumash which makes it clear that it is an imperative. We are duty-bound to be a priesthood for the nations. The world is a glorious mosaic, each nationality bringing its strength to the body of humanity. Ours is to provide its spirituality and moral voice.
וְעַתָּה, אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת בְּרִיתִי, וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים, כִּי לִי כָּל הָאָרֶץ. וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים, וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ: אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
And now, if you surely listen to My Voice and guard my covenant, you will be for Me a treasure among all the nations; for all the world is Mine. And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation — these are the things you should tell the Benei Yisrael!– Shemos 19:5-6
And if we are dissatisfied with the level of morality and spirituality among the congregation, our reaction should not be to deride our parishioners, but to inspire them.