Bnei Yisrael are told to take Terumah for God. The famous question is asked why it doesn’t say natan, to give. Perhaps we could suggest that the Torah is saying that all of Bnei Yisrael are kohanim and this terumah is really a taking for themselves. (Furthermore, the fact that the Torah uses the word “terumah,” in this general giving, indicates that all of our giving is inexorably linked to a kohanic experience.) In a piece in my first cousin’s book, “Awaken to a New Day,” Rabbi Yakov Nagen (Genack) shares insights to show how we are all kohanim, and brings down a gripping story that illustrates what this status means in real time.
It is an obligation of the kohanim to wash their hands and feet from the kiyor in the Beis Hamikdash every day (Tamid 1:4). This idea transported itself to all of Bnei Yisrael, who must wash their hands upon awakening (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 2:1).
This is appropriate, for indeed we are compared to the kohanim, “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:6)
If every man is a kohen, then the world he lives in is akin to a Mikdash, and therefore when one washes his hands in the morning, he must remember the purpose of his life and the mission he must carry out.
In a shiur at Yeshivat Otniel, my cousin asked the question, “Why is there a specific mitzvah to wash the ‘hands’ and ‘feet’ in the morning?” One of the students answered based on the verse “Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the Lord” (Exodus 30:20). The student explained that to “come” to the Mikdash, one must sanctify his hands and feet and “actively” use them to serve God. In summation, the student said, one must prepare his hands properly and cause his feet to go in the right direction to achieve his spiritual mission.
The student who gave this answer was Staff Sergeant Noam Apter a”h, who along with Gabriel Hoter, a”h, Zvi Ziemen a”h, and Corporal Yehuda Bamberger, a”h were murdered on December 27, 2002, when militants entered the kitchen of Yeshivat Otniel where these men were preparing the food for the rest of the yeshiva who were dancing in the dining room.
The militants never made it to the dining room because Staff Sergeant Noam Apter a”h locked the sliding door separating the kitchen and the dining room.
Indeed, that night Staff Sergeant Noam Apter a”h used his hands and feet properly to carry out the highest of missions, to die al kiddush Hashem and save over 100 students and faculty.
We should realize our heightened kohanic status, and that our “taking” of Terumah is for us and that all of our givings are framed as Terumah, connecting up to the kohanic weltanschauung.
Steven Genack is the author of “Articles, Anecdotes & Insights,” Genack/Genechovsky Torah from Gefen Press.