Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Parshat Beha'alotecha

Shining brightly

The portion opens with the commandment for Aharon to light the menorah daily. Rashi (on Numbers 7; 1) explains the juxtaposition between this and the offerings of the twelve princes of the tribes: "When Aharon saw the dedication offerings of the princes he grew despondent, that neither he nor his tribe was involved in the dedication ceremony. G-d said to him, 'By your life, your [offering] is greater than theirs, because you will light and prepare the candles [of the menorah]'." Ramban asks why the menorah should console Aharon more than any of the other tasks which he performed, such as offering the sacrifices, or burning the incense. He answers that the Midrash is referring primarily to the future dedication - the story of Chanukah. At that time the Hasmoneans, who were Cohanim, descendants of Aharon, rededicated the Temple, and through the miraculous kindling of the menorah this event is remembered for all future generations. Because of Aharon's great desire to take part in the dedication offerings of the Mishkan, his great grandchildren merited to be the agents through which the miracle of Chanukah took place.
Later in the portion (chapter 9) we find another group of people who gained merit because of their desire to be involved in the performance of a Mitzvah. When the nation was commanded to celebrate Passover in the desert, a group of people came to Moshe and complained that they were in a state of tumah (ritual impurity), and thus unable to bring the Pesach sacrifice. They didn't want to be denied the opportunity to perform this mitzvah. Therefore G-d gave Moshe the laws of Pesach Sheni. Someone who is unable to bring the Passover sacrifice at the proper time is given a second chance to fulfil the Mitzvah one month later. Rashi (9; 7) says that this section should have been given directly to Moshe, however through their desire to be involved, these people merited to be the catalysts for this commandment.
G-d commanded Moshe about the order of travel of the tribes. Moshe invites his father-in-law, Yitro to accompany them into the Land of Israel. In the Torah Yitro has seven different names (see Rashi to Exodus 18; 1). In this portion Moshe calls him particularly by the name 'Chovev', which Rashi explains as meaning 'love', signifying his deep love for the Torah, beyond that which is normally expected.
These three sections of this Parsha show the reward of going beyond the letter of the law in a desire to draw closer to G-d. We also find times when people are criticised for not going beyond the letter of the law. Chapter 10 contains two 'upside-down' letter 'nun's (verses 35-36). The Talmud (Shabbat 115b) explains that these verses really belong elsewhere (Numbers chapter 2). Rashi says that the reason that they were placed here is to separate between two consecutive narratives of sin. The following verse states, "The people took to seeking complaints...". However the sin preceding these 'nun's is not explicit in the text. Siftei Chachamim explains that it was the eagerness with which the people left Mount Sinai. Verse 33 says that the people journeyed from the Mountain of G-d. Certainly they should have been happy that they were traveling towards Israel, which they thought that they would be entering within a few days. However they should also have shown some remorse that they were leaving the site where they had received the Torah; perhaps they were afraid that G-d would give them more commandments if they remained there. This shows a great lack of eagerness to perform the Mitzvot.
The portion ends with Miriam speaking against Moshe. Rashi explains that she learnt that Moshe had separated from having marital relations with his wife, in order that he should always be in a state of readiness for G-d to speak to him. Miriam's complaint was that both she and Aharon were also prophets, yet felt no need to separate from their spouses. G-d punished Miriam with tzara'as for speaking against her brother, and explained to her and Aharon that Moshe's level of prophecy was quantitatively different than that of any other prophet before or since. Moshe's desire for intimacy with G-d, even at his own personal loss of intimacy with his wife, was rewarded by having the closest relationship with G-d that is possible for a human being to attain. Conversely, Miriam, who criticised Moshe for his devotion and stringency, was punished severely. Again, this is in contrast to the opening of the portion where Aharon strives for a closer relationship with G-d.
Perhaps this idea of striving for closeness is hinted at in the title of this portion. Beha'alotecha means 'when you cause the lights to become kindled'. The Talmud (Shabbat 21a, quoted in Rashi) derives from here that the light must be kindled so that the flame rises by itself. This tells us that the flame must be made stronger than necessary, so that it shines brightly while being kindled. The menorah is a symbol for G-d's presence in this world, and the flames striving upwards seem to be a metaphor for our relationship with Him. We must not be content to remain 'alight' with the flame of Judaism, but must constantly strive to draw so close to G-d that we radiate His presence to all we come in contact with.

Beha'alotecha summary

G-d tells Moshe to instruct Aharon how to kindle the Menorah in the Mishkan. The Levites are inaugurated into their task of serving in the Temple. Firstly each of them must shave his entire body, then he must immerse himself in a Mikva. They bring a sacrifice together, and the Israelites ordain the Levites to serve. Finally Aharon takes each individual Levi and waves him to designate him as sanctified to G-d. The Levites should serve in the Temple from the age of 25 until 50.
Those people who were unable to bring the Pesach sacrifice because they were Tamei (ritually impure) come to Moshe to complain that they have missed out. Moshe asks G-d what they should do and G-d commands the Jews about Pesach Sheni (Second Passover); those who were Tamei or too far away to bring the Pesach sacrifice on the 14th of Nissan are to bring it one month later, on the 14th of Iyar instead.
The Torah describes the moving of the camp. From the time the Mishkan was erected a cloud hovered above it, signifying G-d's presence. When the cloud rose it indicated that they should move on. G-d instructs Moshe to make two silver trumpets These will be sounded to assemble the people, and to indicate that they should break camp. In the future the Cohanim will be the ones to sound these trumpets. On the 20th of Iyar, in the second year after the Exodus, G-d tells the Israelites to leave Mount Sinai and journey to the Paran desert.
Moshe invites his father-in-law Chovev (Yitro) to accompany the Jews on their journey to the Land of Israel. Even though Moshe pleads with him to stay with them, Yitro decides to return to Midian. The people begin to complain. G-d displays His anger by sending a fire to consume the edge of the camp. The people cry out to Moshe, and when he prays the fire dies down. He names that place "Taveira" ("Burning").
The mixed multitude that accompanied the Israelites incite them to complain again about the Manna which they are eating. They ask for meat instead. G-d is angry and so is Moshe. Moshe complains that the Jews are too much of a burden for him to bear alone. G-d tells Moshe to assemble seventy elders and gather with them in the Ohel Mo'ed (Communion Tent). G-d will then give them prophecy, and thus enable them to assume partial responsibility for the nation. G-d also tells Moshe to warn the people that they will receive meat from G-d for a full month, until it makes them sick. Moshe questions how G-d will be able to provide so much meat and is rebuked for placing limits on G-d's powers. While Moshe assembles the seventy elders, two other people in the camp, Eldad and Medad, also begin prophesying. They say that Moshe will die in the desert and that Joshua will bring the Jews into Israel. G-d then causes a wind to blow which sweeps up quail from the sea and drops them over the Israelites camp. The people all gather quail for two days. The meat is still between their teeth when G-d sends a plague to strike them down. Moshe names the place "Kivrot HaTa'avah" ("Graves of Craving"). From there they travel to Chatzerot.
Miriam complains to Aharon on behalf of Moshe's wife. The Torah attests that Moshe was the most humble of any man on the face of the earth. G-d suddenly calls Moshe, Aharon and Miriam into the Ohel Mo'ed. G-d explains to Miriam and Aharon that the type of prophecy which Moshe receives is qualitatively different than any other prophecy. He rebukes Miriam for speaking against her brother and strikes her with tzara'as (a leprous disease). Aharon entreats Moshe who prays for Miriam to be healed. G-d instructs Moshe to leave Miriam quarantined outside the camp for seven days and then she will be able to return home. The whole camp waits for Miriam to return home before traveling onwards

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Parshat Nasso

Take a census of the sons of Gershon, as well, ..." (verse 22). Many commentators have asked about the seeming redundancy of the words "as well". Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that family of Gershon were charged with carrying the curtains and covers of the Mishkan, the external protective items. This is in contrast to their younger brothers, the family of Kehat, who were responsible for the actual utensils of the Mishkan. The Torah adds in the words "as well" to teach us that though their tasks are different from each other, and one seems more prestigious, both families and their respective functions are equally important.
The portion ends with the sacrifices of the twelve princes in the dedication service for the Mishkan. The Torah, which is normally so concise with words, repeats the details of the sacrifices for each tribe, though they are identical. Rabbeinu Bachaya (7; 84) explains that though each offering appears to us to be the same as the others, each of the leaders had totally different intentions in their gift. For example Yehuda, who was the tribe of kings, brought a silver plate, which symbolises the entire world over which Kings David and Solomon would rule. The tribe of Yissachar brought an identical plate, but to symbolise Torah, which was their domain, and which is likened to bread (Proverbs 9; 5). Zevulun, a tribe known for their seafaring trade, brought an identical plate to show their sphere of influence. And similarly for all the other tribes. We see from here that though each tribe had different abilities and skills, and though they were given individual tasks within the nation, they all brought the same sacrifice because they are all equally important.
One other main section of this portion is the laws of a Nazir. A person may decide, for various reasons, to take on a higher level of holiness in their lives. In order to do this the Torah forbids a Nazir from drinking wine, cutting his or her hair, and coming into contact with a corpse. The spiritual elevation of becoming a Nazir is incompatible with these activities. However, at the end of the duration of Nazirut (usually thirty days), the Nazir must bring a sin offering to the Temple. On the one hand, the Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 10; 28) says: "Since this person forbids himself from drinking wine and causes anguish to himself in order to keep away from sin [it is as if] G-d says, 'He is considered before me as a Cohen Gadol'". Contrasting this the Talmud (Nedarim 10a) says: "This person has only forbidden himself from wine [etc.] and is called a sinner (because he must bring a sin offering at the end of his time as a Nazir)". Though the Nazir strives for holiness, and in one aspect reaches the level of the high priest, because one's own personal task, which was to partake of the good things that G-d has put in the world, has not been fulfilled, that person is considered a sinner.
Following the laws of the Nazir, G-d commands Moshe to instruct the Cohanim with the text of the Priestly Blessing (verses 22-27). The Cohanim are to act as the conduits for G-d's blessing, both in the Temple and in the Synagogue. The ending of the blessings is 'Shalom', 'Peace', as the Sifra says, without peace any other blessings are worthless. The blessings are in the singular, showing that the path to peace is for each individual to play their role in the nation, and in so doing to bring out their own personal strengths. The ideal is not for everybody to be identical, but for everyone to fulfil their own unique potential within the nation.
The prerequisite for a person to be able to fulfil their role as part of the Jewish people is to recognise their importance as an individual. Without self-esteem a person will lack the strength and ability to play their part. This is the literal meaning of the name of the Parsha, Naso. In context it means to take a census, but it can also be translated as "elevate the head". Through defining the task of each person within the nation, a result of the census, each person gains self esteem and importance. Though their task may not be as prestigious as that of another, each individual plays an equally vital role in the well-being of the nation.

Nasso Summary

Moshe is instructed to take a tally of all the family of Gershon (one of the families of Levites) between the ages of 30 and 50, who are able to work in the Mishkan. Their task in the desert is to carry all of the tapestries and hangings that cover and surround the Mishkan. The males between 30 and 50 of the family of Merari (another Levitical family) are to be counted. Their task in the desert is to carry all of the beams and pillars, along with the pegs and bases with which they fit together.
G-d instructs Moshe to send anyone who is impure out of the inner camp of the Mishkan. The Torah then lists the procedure for the Asham (guilt sacrifice) which is brought for a false oath about a deposit left for safekeeping.
The Torah lists the laws of the Sotah (suspected adulteress). She and her husband who accuses her must come to the Temple bringing a sacrifice. She is to drink specially prepared water. If she has committed adultery she will die within the year, but if she is innocent she will be rewarded by becoming pregnant within the year.
The laws of the Nazir are listed. When a man or woman chooses to become a Nazir they are prohibited to drink any grape products, cut their hair, or to come into contact with the dead. This is for the duration of their Nazirut (usually 30 days). Upon completion of their Nazirut they must shave off all their hair, and offer it on the altar along with a sacrifice.
G-d told Moshe to speak to Aaron and instruct him how to give the Priestly blessing. The Cohanim shall be a conduit through which G-d's blessings will rest upon the people.
When the Mishkan was erected the Princes of each tribe brought sacrifices, one each day for the first twelve days. They also donated the silver and gold containers in which they brought their flour and oil offerings.
From this point onwards, G-d would communicate with Moshe from between the two cherubs on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Parshat Bamidbar

"Take a sum of the congregation of the Children of Israel, after their families, by the houses of their fathers, by the number of names, every male by their polls; from twenty years old and upwards, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel" (verse 2). Why did G-d require Moshe to take a census of the Jewish people? Surely G-d doesn't need Moshe to count the people in order to know how many there are, for the verse states, "He counts the number of the stars, he calls them by their names" (Psalms 147; 4). If G-d can count and name all the stars of the heavens, spanning the vastness of the universe, surely He can know the number of a few hundred thousand people standing in the Sinai desert.
Perhaps it was for Moshe's benefit. If the Jewish nation had been a democracy it would have been necessary for Moshe to take a poll to understand the needs of his constituents, but since everything was done at G-d's command, what benefit or need would Moshe have for a census?
The Torah seems to imply that the census was related to war, only the men were counted, and only from the age of twenty, when they are suitable for battle. One could have made the mistake of thinking that there was a tactical purpose in this census to establish the strength of the army. However throughout history, Jewish armies have never won battles based on strength of numbers. When G-d told Gideon to gather men for the battle against Midian he made him send the majority of the army home before the battle. "And the L-rd said to Gideon, 'The people that are with you are too many for me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me saying, my own hand has saved me...'" (Shoftim 7; 2). G-d commands Gideon to whittle the size of the army down from 32,000 to 300! In the desert, when the Jews were totally reliant on miracles for their sustenance, certainly they did not need numerical strength to win battles. Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that this is the reason that the Torah stresses and repeats "As G-d commanded Moshe, and they counted them in the Sinai desert" (I; 19). Lest we make the mistake of thinking that Moshe counted the people for any strategic purpose, the Torah repeats that the census was taken solely because G-d had commanded it.
In answer to this question, Rashi begins his commentary on Numbers with the following: "Because the Jews are so dear to G-d, He counts them all the time. When they left Egypt He commanded a census be taken, after the incident of the Golden Calf, when many people died, He counted them to know the number remaining, and when He was about to rest His Holy Presence upon them He counted them. On the first of Nissan the Mishkan was erected, and on the first of Iyar He counted them."
How does G-d's commanding for a census to be taken show how dear the Children of Israel are to Him? Ibn Ezra (Psalms ibid.) says that there is a difference between the Hebrew words minyan, and mispar, both of which mean number in English. The former refers to the total of the whole, whereas the latter denotes individuality within the group. It is the word mispar which is used in the taking of this census. Similarly, the people are to be counted according to "the number of names". A name represents the potential, uniqueness and the individuality of a person. By instructing Moshe to count the people, G-d is telling them that each person has a unique role to fulfil within the nation. Everyone is a vital part of G-d's plan. This is a clear message from G-d to the nation, showing them their importance. This explains why G-d commanded the census to be taken, and why Rashi describes it as showing how dear the Jewish nation is to G-d.

Bamidbar Summary

The book of Bamidbar opens with a census of all the males over twenty, the age when they are able to serve in the army. The total, excluding the tribe of Levi who were not counted, was 603,550. The Levi'im are placed in charge of carrying the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and all of its fittings throughout the journeys in the desert. G-d designates each tribe's place surrounding the Mishkan in which they will remain during their time in the desert. Yehuda, Yissachar and Zevulun shall be to the East, Reuven, Shimon and Gad are placed in the south, Ephraim, Menashe and Binyamin to the West, and Dan, Asher and Naftali in the North.
The Torah lists Aaron's genealogy. The Levi'im are instructed to safeguard the Mishkan, and to serve the Cohanim. The tribe of Levi is given the honour of looking after the Mishkan in lieu of the firstborn who were originally intended for the position. The Levi'im are subdivided into three family groupings and a census of their numbers taken, from the age of one month upward. Their total number is 22,000. The tally of firstborn males is 22,273. The firstborn are exchanged for Levi'im, and the remaining 273 firstborn have to redeem themselves for five shekels each. This money is given to the Cohanim.
Special instructions and precautions are given to the family of Kehat who are the ones who have to carry the vessels of the Mishkan. First the Cohanim must enter the Mishkan and cover all of the furnishings with special covers; only when they have completed this may the Kahatites come to carry them. Because they are in contact with the most holy parts of the Mishkan, they are most at risk of being killed if they don't perform their task properly.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Parshat Behar

Super Jews

This week's Torah reading contains the commandment of Sh'mita, allowing the land to lie fallow in the seventh year. The Midrash (Yalkut Tehillim 103) says about this mitzvah, "Bless the L-rd, you angels of His, you mighty ones who perform His bidding, hearkening to the voice of His word" (Psalms 103; 20). Rav Yitzchak Nafcha says that this refers to those who observe the Sh'mita laws. The normal course of the world is for a person to perform a mitzvah for a day, or a week, or even a month; is it possible to keep something for a whole year? Yet these farmers watch their fields become destroyed, and their vineyards ruined, and they remain silent.
A person can refrain from something for a single day, with extra strength of character they can continue for a week or a month, but to remain observant of this law of Sh'mita for an entire year, slowly watching years of hard work falling into ruin and seeing other people come in and treat the field as ownerless, is almost beyond the capability of a normal person. All of a person's resolve and determination to observe this law is worn down day by day. Therefore the Midrash refers to such people as "angels, the mighty ones".
The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) learns out from the same verse in Psalms the greatness of the Jewish nation as they received the Torah. "At the moment that the Jews said 'We will do' before 'We will understand' a voice came out of heaven saying 'Who revealed to My children this secret that the angels use, as the verse says, "You mighty ones who perform His bidding, hearkening to the voice of His word". First they obey, and then they understand. This ability to accept G-d's will unquestioningly, and only afterwards to attempt to understand it, is the secret of the Jews' strength as a nation. It is the phrase that they used at Mount Sinai, the phrase that the angels use, and it is also the only way that the nation can observe the commandment of Sh'mita. The people don't ask how they will be able to eat in the seventh year; they first observe the commandment, and then have faith and trust that G-d will provide for them.
We see that this commandment is almost beyond human capability to perform, being in the realm of the angelic. However, in the second of today's readings the Torah describes a severe punishment for not keeping the mitzvah of Sh'mita. "Then the land will be appeased for its Sh'mitot during all the years of its desolation, while you are the land of your enemies. Then the land will rest, and it will appease for all its Sh'mitot" (Leviticus 36; 34). The Talmud derives from here that exile results from Israel's failure to observe Sh'mita. Because of the seventy Sh'mitot that they had violated prior to and during the First Temple period, the Babylonian exile lasted for seventy years, during which time the land made up for the rest of which it had been deprived.
This shows the tremendous spiritual level of which the Jewish nation is capable of achieving. G-d demands that we achieve the status of angels, otherwise we are severely punished with exile and suffering. Being a nation like all other nations is not an option for the Jews; there is no middle ground. Either we reach almost inhuman spiritual heights, and receive the blessings detailed in Bechokosai, or we fail and incur the punishments and curses listed there.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bechukotai Summary

G-d tells the Jewish nation of the blessings and prosperity that they will receive for following the commandments. But if we do not keep the commandments then our crops will fail. We will be conquered by our enemies, and end up starving. Eventually we will be sent into exile and scattered amongst the other nations. Eventually the remaining few will realise that the punishments have come about through our disobedience and will repent and confess our sins. G-d will then remember His covenant with the Patriarchs and forgive our sins. G-d promises to never completely forsake us, no matter how far we have strayed.
If a person donates the erech (set value) of a person to the Temple they shall pay a fixed amount based on the age and gender of that person. If someone donates an animal to the Temple that is fitting for a sacrifice he may not substitute it for another. If it is an animal that cannot be sacrificed it shall be brought before a Kohen who will evaluate it and it must be redeemed and its value given to the Temple. If it is the owner who redeems it he should add on one fifth to that value.
If someone donates their house its value shall be calculated by a Cohen and paid to the Temple. If the owner redeems it he must add on an extra fifth. If someone consecrates their field there is a formula for calculating its worth. If the person who consecrated it redeems the field then he must add on one fifth. If the owner does not redeem his field before the Jubilee year, it becomes consecrated permanently to G-d and is the hereditary property of the Cohanim. If the field that one consecrates was not his hereditary property, and is not redeemed, in the Jubilee year it reverts to its original owner.
First born animals from species which may be sacrificed belong to G-d and may not be consecrated. If a non-kosher animal is consecrated it shall be redeemed for its value plus an additional fifth. Any item which a person declares as a cherem (taboo) cannot be sold or redeemed. The tithes of the land belong to G-d. If a person wishes to redeem them he must add an additional fifth. Every tenth animal that passes under the rod must be consecrated to G-d. No substitutions may be made whether for better or for worse.
These are the commandments that G-d gave Moshe for the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai.

Behar Summary

G-d instructs Moshe about the Shemita (Sabbatical year) for the land. For six years we may work the land, but in the seventh we must leave it to lie fallow. Anything that grows during this year may be eaten by anyone who wants it, or is left to the animals. We must also count a cycle of seven Sabbatical years and on the 50th year proclaim a Yovel (Jubilee year). This is also a year of rest for the fields and is a time when all slaves must be set free and all land returned to its original ancestral owners. The selling price of any land must reflect the fact that it will return to the original owners in the Jubilee year. G-d promises that in the sixth year the land will provide enough crops to last for Shemita and in the 48th year, also for the Yovel that follows. No land may be sold in perpetuity.
If a person becomes impoverished and is forced to sell their hereditary land, they or their relatives should redeem it as soon as they are able. The redemption price shall be calculated based on the sale price and the remaining years until the Yovel. Houses in walled cities may only be redeemed up until one year after they have been sold. If they are not redeemed by that time they shall become the permanent property of the purchaser. Houses in Levitical cities may always be redeemed, and if they are not redeemed they revert back to the Levites in the Jubilee year.
We are commanded to help our brethren who become impoverished with interest free loans. If a Jew becomes so impoverished that he is forced to sell himself as a slave, his master must not work him unnecessarily hard. The master must also provide food and accommodation for the slave's wife and children, and must set him free in the Jubilee year. Non-Jewish slaves however become hereditary property and should not be set free.
If a Jew is sold to a non-Jew as a slave he must be redeemed as soon as possible. We are obligated in all of these laws because G-d brought us out of bondage from the land of Egypt. We are commanded not to build idols or altars to false gods.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Emor

Making use of a Cohen

“And you shall make him holy” (21; 5)

The Talmud Yerushalmi says on this verse (Brachot 8; 5) that it is forbidden to make use of a cohen, and one who does so is considered as if they used things sanctified to the Temple.
However, since it is very difficult in practice to keep this law, since there are many cohanim and their families who rely on serving others for their livelihood (as workers, servants, or retailers). Therefore the poskim have ruled that if a cohen receives pay for his work, it is possible for him to forego his honour. The sanctity of the cohen cannot be greater than this, because the money that he earns is like a redemption for the Temple item (certain Temple items can be redeemed for money and lose their holy status in the process).
We find that even Sages of the Talmud would have oaid servants who were cohanim (look in Chulin 133a)
Furthermore we find that the Sages were not specific that it has to be a tangible gain for the cohen, for example paying him money, but even if he receives a spiritual gain one is able to make use of the cohen. We find in Bava Kamma 20a that Rav Chisda asked a certain Sage for the source of a particular Halacha that he didn’t know. The Sage replied with the condition that Rav Chisda must first serve him in some way. (Rav Chisda placed a turban on his head, to show that he was accepting him as his teacher temporarily). It is known that Rav Chisda was a cohen (look in Shabbat 10b). So we see that even for a spiritual gain of learning Torah it is permitted to make use of a cohen.
Furthermore, from here we can say that even if there is no physical or spiritual benefit, but it suits the cohen to serve, it is permitted for him. It is well known that just as it is forbidden to make use of a cohen it is also forbidden to make use of a Talmid Chacham. This is the meaning of the Mishna (Pirkei Avot 1; 7) ‘One who makes use of the crown (of Torah) will depart from the world’. Also in Megillah (28b) they said that it is forbidden to make use of someone who has learnt Mishna. Even so, the gemara there brings an incident with Reish Lakish who needed to ford a river, and someone came and carried him across the river on his shoulders. Reish Lakish asked him if he had ever learnt chumash or Mishna, and the man replied that he had. Reish Lakish was very upset that he had made use of a Talmid Chacham. The man said to him ‘it is good for me to be of service to the master’. It is explained there that Reish Lakish accepted his answer, and was no longer upset. It seems from here that even if a person is happy to be made use of, that is also considered some kind of reward, and is permitted. Perhaps we can extend this concept also to making use of a cohen.
Even though this reasoning is only said about a talmid chacham and not a regular person, it may apply also to a cohen. The Talmud (Kiddushin 33b) says that someone who is involved in good deeds is also considered like a talmid chacham (in regards to standing up before them, and giving them honour), so perhaps we can extend it to a cohen.
Some people want to bring a proof that it is permitted to make use of a cohen from the halacha that the slave who is a cohen does not get his ear pierced (if he wishes to extend his servitude beyond the seven years), because it would blemish him (Bechorot 37b). It is clear from this that a cohan can be a slave.
However the truth is that this is not a good proof, because it is known that piercing the ear is only for a slave that was sold by the Beit Din because he was a thief who could not repay what he stole. For the pay that he earns as a slave he pays back the theft. But someone who sells themselves does not have their ear pierced. Since this Talmud is only talking about a thief, therefore he has cheapened his cohanic status through his actions and the prohibition of making use of a cohen would no longer apply.
From everything we have explained, it is very painful to read that one of the greatest poskim (the kinesset hagedolah) gives a harsh ruling on this matter. He writes (OC hagahot Beit Yosef 31): Experience teaches us that someone who makes use of a cohen will not see any blessing in that thing.
From his words it implies that even if the cohen receives pay for his work it won’t help. This is a very difficult ruling, but its status is doubtful.