“You will not bear a sin because of it, when you separate its best part; and the sanctities of the Children of Israel you should not desecrate...” 18:32
- You Shall Not Desecrate – This prohibition refers to a Kohen (priest) who offers to assist a farmer in his chores, in return for his Terumah [tithes]. (Every individual Jew could decide to which Kohen to give his Terumah.) By doing so, the Kohen disrespects the sanctity of the Terumah and deserves to be punished. – Talmud, Bechoros 26b
Although the Torah instituted priestly tithes in order to provide basic material support for the Kohanim, who devoted their lives to the service of Hashem, it wasn’t meant to be treated as a business. The tithes were sacred, and they needed to be treated with esteem. A Kohen who attempts to manipulate the system by improperly positioning himself to receive the tithes, demonstrates a petty self interest which in turn, engenders a loss of respect for him as a spiritual leader in the eyes of the people. This verse teaches us that the Kohen, as a representative of Torah, must always conduct himself with integrity and altruism, for his personal honor is not the only thing at stake. His sacred duty to communicate the will of the Almighty will be compromised as well. This lesson applies not only to Kohanim, but to each and every Jew as the ambassador of a higher form of morality.